Best Arts Festival 2017 | Canal Convergence | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Art festivals happen a lot around these parts. Maybe too often, even for art lovers. The old model of throwing up a bunch of booths filled with artwork isn't all that captivating anymore. The best art festivals bring art to unexpected places, blend visual with performance art, and have plenty of ways for festivalgoers to get creative instead of being passive observers. That's just what happened at the last Canal Convergence, when artists and community members gathered along the banks of the Arizona Canal. Festivalgoers enjoyed four nights of art installations and performances including live music, mural painting, and dance by creatives from both the local and international scenes. Most spectacular were light-based installations that set the desert landscape and waterway aglow, creating beautiful settings for snapshot-loving types and "Wow" moments that sparked lively conversations between strangers and friends.

Andrew Pielage

The closest you'll get to having a Lisa Sette-caliber eye is probably walking around the Valley art tastemaker's gallery. If you're lucky, perhaps you have pockets deep enough to purchase a piece from her stellar stable of artists. Assuming you're not ready to drop all the dollar bills on politically charged sculptures, paintings, and mixed media, you'll just have to settle for soaking up work by Carrie Marill, Angela Ellsworth, and Rachel Bess in a beautifully revamped subterranean Al Beadle building. Naturally, Sette, who brings three decades of curating expertise to each show, presents them all in perfectly appointed fashion.

The best up-and-coming gallery in Phoenix is a reboot. The Sagrado Galleria first opened in 2012 in the Grand Avenue Arts District. But it closed for a time, and reopened in November 2016 at its new south Phoenix location. During its first year in the new space, the gallery presented works by dozens of local artists. But it's more than just an arts venue. It's also a community space. The Sagrado Galleria is a place where visitors from diverse backgrounds enjoy visual art, music, workshops on topics such as ancestral birthing practices and colonization, film screenings, and performances. There's even a pop-up coffee bar and opportunities for local artisans to sell their works. The gallery also partners with community groups on murals and other projects, smashing the stereotype of art galleries as isolated, sterile places where only hardcore art lovers gather or feel at home.

The easiest way to check in on Arizona State University's mega-talented art students? Visit Grant Street Studios in the warehouse district south of downtown Phoenix. The former textile factory is home to master's candidates' studio spaces (which are open for touring once a year and also by appointment), and the Herberger Institute facility also has two galleries where grad students, alumni, and faculty regularly display art. Your best bet for variety is Step Gallery. The student-run space hosts MFA thesis exhibitions, work from alumni, and the occasional group show. Which easily makes it one of the most exciting places to discover local art in the Valley.

Julia Fournier thrifts Pucci dresses like nobody's business, but that's not the only reason to stop by this funky enclave, fronted by Fournier's vintage shop, The Bee's Knees. Fournier also shows local art, and The Hive houses Wasted Ink Zine Distro, billed as the hub for local DIY zinesters. Round things out with drinks from Silent Flight coffee and make a day of it.

Janet Echelman, an internationally renowned sculptor, took the title for her monumental 145-foot aerial sculpture from poet Ralph Waldo Emerson's reference to the patience evident in nature. Installed in downtown Phoenix in 2009, the sculpture draws one's gaze up toward the sky, creating shadows that mirror the complexities of urban life. During a time of fast-paced development, Echelman's sculpture prompts reflection on the fact that patience can be a virtue or a vice in the world of urban planning. With its shifting light patterns and nighttime colors that change depending on the season, it's a visual reminder that cities and communities are in constant flux. But the sculpture is also a beacon, drawing people from surrounding areas to converge in a common space, where the interplay of diverse ideas mirrors the sculpture's own delicate web.

Once upon a time, Arizona was under water. These days, artist Danielle Wood uses ceramic sculptures to remind us of that fact. Calling to mind the interchangeability of cactus and underwater flora, she has created Desert Playa as part of the recent IN FLUX cycle of temporary, site-specific art installations across the Valley. Presented at The Arts at Marshall Square, Wood's work assembles a fired and glazed coral colony in a muted palette of off-white and gray. At night, the sculptures are all the more striking. Lit from within, they look downright otherworldly, the utterly still shapes harking back to an age long past.

Lauren Cusimano

JB Snyder's artwork, which graces the official map for Roosevelt Row, has become the new face of an ever-evolving arts district. It's a beautiful mix of order with chaos, infused with bright colors like lime green and canary yellow that convey a sense of vibrancy and forward movement. One of several Snyder murals in downtown Phoenix, it's a popular background for camera-happy tourists and locals. Snyder calls the mural Dressing Room 3.0 because he's painted three different designs on the same east-facing wall, starting in 2010. The latest design, painted in 2016, is a cheerful reminder that local love still rules in downtown Phoenix.

By nature of the medium, street art is temporary. Whether it's tagged, painted over, or eroded by the elements, it's the kind of creative expression that isn't designed to stand the test of time. Neither was a downtown Phoenix mural Keith Haring painted with local high schoolers back in 1986. The pop artist's kokopelli-adjacent "urban hieroglyphics" still pull heavyweight status in the zeitgeist, gracing Urban Outfitters accessories and becoming a Google Doodle. But that mural he painted on a since-demolished building at Central Avenue and Adams Street? After years of sun exposure, it was dismantled and apparently hauled off to the dump — save for one panel that was reportedly spotted at a nearby cafe before it disappeared. What happened to the rest? Who knows?

We've got to admit, CO+HOOTS is sort of brilliant: a shared workspace, which you pay to use, that promotes collaboration, offers mentorships and monthly networking events, and boasts the resources you need to make your business successful. In other words, CO+HOOTS has all the things you wish your local library branch had, but with a higher price point and better-looking people. Members can choose their membership level by the day, month, or year, and gain access to a co-working space filled with fellow entrepreneurs, a stocked fridge, and colorful conference rooms. On top of that, CO+HOOTS and its nonprofit foundation do so much to promote local businesses, build community, and increase diversity in the workforce. Let's get to work.

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