Best Art Exhibit 2023 | 'Mr.: You Can Hear the Song of This Town' | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

How does one decide the best art exhibit of the year? Is it the prominence of the artist or the cultural significance of the work? If we're going strictly by how many people saw and enjoyed the art, the clear winner is "Mr.: You Can Hear the Song of This Town," which occupied the Steele Gallery at Phoenix Art Museum this past winter. The contemporary Japanese artist's work — bright, whimsical and inspired by anime — was a delight for eyes of any age and any level of artistic knowledge, and we watched during one of the museum's PhxArt After Hours events as attendees stood rapt, scanning the intricate, colorful pieces to glean every detail.

In our opinion, there's nothing more glorious than Phoenix in November, when the weather has finally cooled and it's once again a joy to be outside. It's just one reason why the annual Canal Convergence event, produced by Scottsdale Public Art, is the best art festival of the year. The tagline of Canal Convergence is "Water + Art + Light," and the inventive light-based works created by artists from all over the world are just the beginning. For 10 days, the Scottsdale Waterfront is abuzz with creativity and excitement. There are tours of the area, art-making activities for all ages, live music, dance performances, food and drink vendors and more. Much of the programming is free, which is just one more reason we eagerly await the return of Canal Convergence each year.

Though off the beaten path, Alwun House is always one of our must-visit First Friday destinations. The big orange house has been a haven for the Phoenix art community for 50 years and shows no sign of changing. Owners Kim Moody and Dana Johnson have kept things fresh by continuing to show work by some of Phoenix's best artists, hosting marquee events like the local Burning Man community's IgNIGHT party and opening the Art Park in the space next door, giving them more room to entertain and delight the art-loving denizens of the city. Make sure you check the calendar before you go, though; some events, like Exotic Art Show, aren't exactly family-friendly.

Sadly (or not, depending on your point of view), Super Bowl weekend has come and gone. But the best souvenir of those crazy days is "Welcome to Phoenix," the bright, beautiful mural that still graces Adams Street between First and Second streets. Painted by local artist Kayla Newnam, the mural is 10 feet high and a whopping 190 feet long. Desert images like gila monsters, cactuses and mountains are done in bold colors, all surrounded by a striking sunset. Newnam's design was chosen out of almost 50 submitted, and the people of Phoenix were able to participate in bringing it to life; Newnam hosted two Community Paint Days during the creation process. Next year, "Welcome to Phoenix" will greet visitors arriving for the NCAA Men's Final Four.

The 2023 Super Bowl wasn't just an opportunity to show the world our excellent nightlife and gorgeous weather; the depth of our city's artistic talent was also on full display. One of the most prominent examples was Lucinda Hinojos's design for the Super Bowl tickets themselves. The Vince Lombardi Trophy stands amid a boldly colored desert landscape that's also graced by drawings of Native Americans in traditional dress, hummingbirds, cactuses and more. The NFL tapped Hinojos, who also goes by the moniker "La Morena," to create art for a number of related pieces, including a souvenir football. In case you didn't pick up one of those (or snag a ticket for the big game), you can see a mural featuring her designs near First and Washington streets.

Skateboarding plays an important role in Indigenous communities. As a 2018 article explains, "Where societies built upon the principle of movement, of following the natural environment, are restricted to plots of land, skateboarding is now recapturing that connection with the world around them." So when the U.S. Postal Service decided to make an "Art of the Skateboard" stamp series, it reached to out four Native artists for the designs, including Arizona native and skateboarder Di'Orr Greenwood, a member of the Navajo Nation. Her skateboard incorporates eagle feathers and a design reminiscent of a rising sun. The new stamps were unveiled in a dedicated ceremony in March at a Phoenix skate park and are designated as Forever stamps, meaning we can appreciate their beauty for years to come.

Imagine an art gallery that's always free, open 24/7 and full of work by some of Phoenix's most prominent artists. That's the Oak Street Alley, a small, narrow stretch of road in central Phoenix that runs along Oak Street between approximately 14th and 15th streets. Stroll down the street (or drive, but walking's better) and take in all kinds of murals: pop-culture-related, desert-themed, political or just plain beautiful. The offerings change every once in a while, so we recommend occasional visits to see what's new. You can stop by today, or you can wait for the Oak Street Alley Mural Festival, an annual event usually held in the spring, when the community comes together to celebrate this little stretch of art with vendors, live music, community painting events and more.

Downtown Phoenix's First Friday artwalk continues to increase in size, scope and chaos, but for our money, the one place we try not to miss lies just north of Roosevelt Row. Heard Museum, a world-renowned repository of Native American art, consistently offers some of the best First Friday programming around. In June 2022, it served up an all-Indigenous drag show in honor of Pride Month; this past January, to celebrate the opening of an exhibit about surfing, First Friday attendees witnessed a Hawaiian blessing and enjoyed Hawaiian music and dancing. Besides the special programming, First Friday is also a chance to check out the museum's excellent permanent collection and current exhibitions, an exploration that normally costs more than $20 per person. Best of all, the museum's First Friday hours begin at 5 p.m., meaning you can hit it first before heading downtown for the rest of your evening.

The idea of a "digital future" is often a dystopic one, à la "Black Mirror": brains uploaded to the cloud, swivel cameras following your every move. Yet local arts magazine Digital Future — which publishes a sometimes-quarterly print issue of photography, fine arts and literary work — is interested in the gritty art that exists, already, in our digital world, warped by it but also shaping it. The magazine presents work by local photographers and artists alongside essays on Phoenix's underground music scenes and subcultures, among other topics, all presented beautifully and minimally on big glossy white pages. You can find copies of the publication at hip locales around downtown Phoenix, like Futuro and Central Records, though the magazine often sells out quickly. Over the past year, Digital Future has proved an exciting new platform for up-and-coming Phoenix artists — charting out its own vision of the future, digital and tangible, in the city.

Despite the fact that Phoenix was built on Native lands and the state has 22 tribal communities, Indigenous culture isn't often something non-Native people in Arizona know much about. Remedy that by marking the calendar for the Indigenous Peoples' Phoenix Fest on Indigenous Peoples' Day in October, when Cahokia PHX transforms Roosevelt Row into a massive celebration organized by and featuring Indigenous culture and talent. Last year's second annual event — the first time it spread beyond Cahokia PHX's space — was a huge hit, probably because it offered so much more than most festivals. It spreads out over several city blocks, drawing thousands to enjoy collaborative and multifaceted experiences beyond the usual entertainment and booths. Last year included a fashion show, skateboarding competition, film screenings, live mural creation, food trucks, music, storytelling, exhibits, Indigenous vendor booths and more. And, unlike most festivals that take place in the daytime, this one starts in the late afternoon and goes well past dark, so you can hang out until the end to experience as many of the elements as possible.

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