After months of bickering, backbiting and finger-pointing in the Phoenix art community, it appears that there will be an Art Detour this year--but it may not look much like the ones the city is accustomed to.

Every year since 1989, the Valley artists' association Artlink has put together the Detour, a tour of galleries and studios intended to increase the visibility of local artists. The tour also features art symposiums and guest speakers, as well as performance artists. The event has historically been successful. Organizers had expected this year's event to draw about 12,000 people.

The trouble started last fall, when Artlink members received letters saying that the Detour was in danger, and if they did not take action to save it, there would be no event in the spring. When members of the Artlink board of directors received almost no response, they thought nobody cared. Some board members were irritated that so few artists seemed willing to help organize the event.

The Artlink board's second letter got more response from the membership. There would be no Detour this spring, it said, because of lack of funds and artists' interest. Faced with that sobering news, some members groused that they had already made contributions to Artlink, and knew the group was in line for a $10,000 grant from the Phoenix Art Commission. They wondered where all that money, earmarked for the event, had gone.

Actually, says Patti Swisher, Artlink's board president, the money was never there to begin with.

"The corporate fund raising was less this year than we had anticipated," she says.

Artlink had asked the city for $18,000 and was promised $10,000. But since the city money was in the form of a matching grant, it didn't materialize, either. Also, in-kind contributions--donations of goods and services rather than cash--had dwindled over the past couple of years.

Upon hearing that the Artlink board would not put together the Detour this year, artists and gallery owners realized that they would have to make it happen on their own.

Sheldon Finch, owner of the Finch Gallery on Central Avenue, says the event is important to his business, and that several galleries do a significant portion of their yearly business during the tour.

"Frankly, it's one of the reasons I located here," he says.
Finch and some other artists and gallery owners decided to put together the Detour themselves--though on a substantially smaller scale. It is scheduled for March 18-19.

This year, the Detour will feature the tour of galleries and studios, but will not have the symposiums of past years. Also, there will be no performance artists featured, and no jurors will be hired to judge works by participating artists.

Perhaps the biggest difference between this year's detour and those in the past will be the absence of shuttles from stop to stop. Visitors can walk between downtown studios and galleries, but will have to make car trips to other sites. In past years, Finch says, several shuttles have been used, but those buses were the most expensive part of the event. And last year, when there was enough money for several buses, visitors griped because the shuttles only ran every 30 minutes. With only enough money for one or two buses this year, waiting times would have been even longer.

Georgia Wolfe, executive director of COMPAS, a Phoenix fund-raising organization, agreed to oversee the financial administration of the Detour. She says that raising enough money for the scaled-back event shouldn't be too difficult.

"I don't think we'll be soliciting a lot of money," she says. The costliest items, such as printing, can be performed by companies that are willing to donate their time and materials, Wolfe says. The bulk of the money would come from the Art Commission's grant, which Artlink must now reapply for.

"Any time you change an event, you have to go back to the funding source and say, 'We've changed this event, do you still want to fund it?'" Wolfe says.

When the group goes back to the city with a new budget, the grant will be reevaluated. The commission is expected to agree to fund the new plan.

One thing Artlink's troubles have illustrated, members say, is the need for more representation on the board by artists themselves. The board now is composed mostly of businesspeople who volunteer their time. If more artists would serve on the board, such mix-ups might be avoided.

An idea floating around is an advisory board of artists, which was proposed at an Artlink board retreat last June. Unfortunately, Swisher says, the person in charge of forming that advisory panel is no longer with the Artlink board.

Board members agree there needs to be more involvement by the artists themselves. There's just one hitch--getting them to show up.

"Artists have their art," Swisher says. "That's what they want to do. They don't want to do some of these other things.

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Dave Plank