Time with compelling works and the artists who make them — that's what you get at the best student galleries, including the Step Gallery where Arizona State University presents Master of Fine Arts thesis exhibitions. It's located in a former warehouse, and its concrete floors and exposed ceiling beams provide a stunning backdrop for works in all media. This year, it's contained a neon landscape of icons created by Lily Reeves, wooden objects crafted by Alex Foster to spur adult play, a miniature production plant by Andrew Noble exploring relationships between humans and machines, and myriad other works that push past people's misconceptions of art as an isolated entity existing on the periphery of enterprises deemed more useful or exciting. For people who make the art rounds on First and Third Fridays in Phoenix, Step Gallery is always on the must-see list, because it's a place where you can see new works and talk with the creatives who gave them life.

Scottsdale Civic Center Mall

Weathered over time until its Cor-Ten steel took on a patina that looks like wood pulled from an Old West homestead, Louise Nevelson's monumental sculpture for Scottsdale Public Art is still the best piece of public art in metro Phoenix. Dedicated in 1973, it's officially titled Atmosphere and Environments XVIII. The sculpture reflects Nevelson's fondness for creating monochromatic assemblages using found wooden objects, arranged to form boxes within boxes. For a metropolis wrestling with its own growth, identity, and preservation of natural resources, the piece stands as a monument to free-flowing ideas, collaboration, and imaginative reuse of existing objects. It's a reminder that the past is important, but no more so than the open windows that beckon community members to find creative new ways of thriving together.

When the canals aren't rushing with water, it's easy to overlook the power of water, its essential presence in our lives, and the indigenous peoples who forged its pathways. Enter Reflection Rising, a work of temporary public art by Los Angeles-based creative Patrick Shearn of Poetic Kinetics, which was part of Canal Convergence in February and March. Comprising brightly colored strips formed into a panel suspended over Scottsdale Waterfront Canal, Shearn's piece affirmed the life-giving properties of the water that lay beneath it, even as it beckoned people who saw it rising in the sky to come explore the banks of the canal. As gentle winds made the sculpture rise, fall, or twist in the air, it reminded viewers of the vibrancy of the urban landscape surrounding it, and the many ways that both the natural and built environments are continuing to evolve over time.

Metro Phoenix got some impressive new murals this year, including large-scale works by brothers Gabriel and Isaac Fortoul, a pair of creatives who call themselves the Fortoul Brothers. They're still finessing the year's best mural on two long, adjoining walls at Garfield Elementary School, which is located in the Garfield neighborhood where they live and have an arts studio. The mural, which spans more than 200 feet, was commissioned by the Mollen Foundation, which works to promote healthy eating habits in children. It's a bold backdrop for garden beds where students and other community members grow and harvest food. The mural features the artists' characteristic imagery,formed with simple shapes and lines. Its themes include nature, sustainability, and growth — reflected in images such as the sun, trees, and assorted plant life. The mural is a testament to connections forged between artists and community members, and the importance of childhood time spent with nature and art.

Metro Phoenix has no shortage of eye-catching murals by talented artists. Meet Me at Daley Park by Tempe artist Jake Early is a mural masterwork. Its size alone is worth the drive over to Daley Park, near 15th Street and College Avenue, for a visit. Coming north on College, just north of Broadway Road, you won't miss it. After a design competition, Tempe Public Art awarded Early the job of painting a wall 400 feet long and 8 feet high. The wall borders a city facilities yard next to a railroad easement. Early managed to turn the stark, industrial area of the railroad tracks and easement into something visually appealing. The colors are vibrant, dominated by light green that symbolizes the area's agricultural past, and an 8-foot rooster near the wall's corner. The mural can't be taken in at once — it has to be toured to be fully appreciated. It's like an outdoor history museum, displaying scenes that encompass Tempe's past and present as well as college students on bicycles. The real Arizona State University students who bicycle to school on College Avenue can see themselves in the mural and know that they, too, are larger than life, connected to Tempe's past, but representing the hope of a better future.

Harkins Scottsdale 101

Every year, you can expect nothing but the best from Phoenix Film Festival at Harkins Scottsdale 101. In its 2018 edition, the festival screened over 250 films — everything from local movies to indies from Jason Reitman and Bo Burnham to documentaries about Mr. Rogers and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There is something for everyone in its 10 days of screenings. There's also no better place to showcase how great the local film scene is, both on the big screen, or in the audiences filled with enthusiastic film fans across metro Phoenix and the state.

Pollack Tempe Cinemas

If you missed your chance to see a recent big release in theaters, don't stress: It's almost certain that it'll end up at this east Valley hot spot. But Pollack Tempe Cinemas is more than just a place to see newish movies on the cheap. If you take a spin around the theater before finding your seat, you'll discover a cinephile's heaven with movie props and memorabilia sprinkled all over. Take a selfie with some life-size Star Wars characters, and if you get there with enough time before your show begins, you can hit the game room for a bit of fun. And don't forget about their Wednesday Classics, when you can watch films from long ago for the same price as any other film they screen — $3.50. Who said going to the movies wasn't affordable?

FilmBar

It's pretty common now to have a beer or cocktail while watching a movie, but nine times out of 10, that movie probably isn't something that came out before you were born. FilmBar is the one other time. But it's not just classics; FilmBar screens newer indie films only released in select cities, Big Gay Sing-A-Longs, documentaries, and anything else you wouldn't typically find at a chain theater. FilmBar is where you will find the most passionate cinema fans, but also those looking to see a movie they may never have heard of before. It's where you go to fall in love with film.

The future of cinema involves in-theater service where people bring you food, drinks, and snacks directly to your seat while you're watching the movie. If you can do that, while keeping ticket prices competitive with places that don't deliver food — you're doing it right. And if you add in all-local craft beers, food named after popular films and celebs (like the Robert Brownie Jr. Sundae, Home Alone Pizzetta, and Glazed & Confused popcorn), and fully reclining seats? You're the best. Not to mention the food isn't your typical theater food: RoadHouse Cinemas has made-from-scratch burgers, pizza, pretzels, four flavors of free-refill popcorn you can mix and match, and gelato. Show up too early? There's a full bar with TVs to watch a game, a lounge to hang out, and a patio with fire pits for when it's nice outside.

Frances

As holiday stress looms and people start wondering whether they're too busy for December First Friday, Frances Vintage gives them a reason to venture out, where they discover that it's better to undertake holiday tasks together in a space filled with merriment and creativity. Dozens of artisans converge on the Frances parking lot each year to sell their wares in a casual, friendly setting that transforms shopping obligations into opportunities to support local businesses, makers, and entrepreneurs. Everything at this holiday arts and crafts festival is handmade and local, so shoppers know they're supporting creatives in their own community, and don't have to worry that they're choosing gifts that anyone could buy with just the click of a computer key. By creating a sense of community, Crafeteria reminds participants of the everyday gifts that never get wrapped, but still warm the cockles of our heart.

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