Arizona ArtBeat: First Fridays

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Since their introduction more than two decades ago, First Friday art walks have become an important part of downtown Phoenix and its arts community. We’ll take a look at the evolution of First Fridays with a representative of Artlink, the group that started this Phoenix tradition.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Artbeat" takes us to downtown Phoenix, where art and culture come alive every first Friday of the month.

Mike Sauceda: If you make it out early to Roosevelt row on first Friday, there's plenty to see as the crowd starts filtering in. The early birds can catch the best views of the murals, cool off at one of the dozens of quiet getaways nearby, or have a chance to chat with artists, vendors, and other colorful characters. But the show really starts at sunset, when musicians, painters, dancers, and other performers start carving out front yards, sand lots and sidewalk corners for a stage. While various shops and galleries begin to light up. One shop owner has used proceeds from a small organic garden co-op to start a boutique. Several artists have their work on display.

>> Basically we would rent the gallery to an artist every first Friday, and put that money back into the garden. So now it's a boutique, handmade and found, so there's vintage stuff. We do event night, that's kind of what it is.

Mike Sauceda: Another newer gallery takes you back to the days of 25 cent arcade and classic cartoons.

>> My earliest memory is riding my bike to the electric elephant with my dad. And then there's an arcade at the mall, which I went to every weekend. We don't really have a rule book. We just like who we like. There's no real specific -- what's popped out at us. Basically it's entitledled "strange magic" and it has a lot to do with the cartoons I watched. Especially growing up here, you got a treat like that. I've been doing first Friday for about 10 years.

>> I don't really meet a lot of artist who's grew up here. I meet a lot of imports. And a lot of people who come here and fall in love with the scene. It's really a unique area down here.

Mike Sauceda: Most of the big openings, musical acts center around Santa Rosa vet row, there's also plenty of sights to see off the beaten path. Whether you're looking for that perfect piece of decor, tasty street food, a good show, or just a chance to cool off after a long week, first Friday is the best destination downtown for families, dates, and groups of all sizes. Of course admission is always free.

Ted Simons: Here with more about first Fridays is Mike Oleskow, he is the interim president of Artlink, and an owner of the Afterhours gallery in Phoenix.

Mike Oleskow: We're at First Avenue and Mcdowell.

Ted Simons: Artlink really was the start of all this, wasn't it?

Mike Oleskow: It was. Just a little background, Artlink is the oldest volunteer-run, it's a nonprofit, it's a 501(c)3 arts organization. Probably 1989, I think we were talking some dates there earlier is when it started its first art detour. And that's when Phoenix was kind of new and young, and the arts scene was not as let's say expanded and as easily accessible as it is today. Pretty much most of it was downtown in the arts warehouse district. Think of the ice house, now we're at the -- where the stadiums are. Now it's pretty much spread all throughout what I'll call metro Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Who was behind the original effort?

Mike Oleskow: People like Beatrice Moore, who still is a gallery owner, and she has property along Grand Avenue. Which is one of the main thoroughfares of first Fridays and third Fridays. You also have Roosevelt row, there are quite a few. I don't have all the names, I'm still kind of new at this.

Ted Simons: It's interesting, you mentioned Grand Avenue. Back in the old days, it seemed like as you mentioned Jackson Street and that area was ground zero, we get up to Roosevelt, that becomes ground zero, which still is, but Grand Avenue becomes a major factor as well. It seems as though the focus of concentration moves every once in a while.

Mike Oleskow: Not only moves, it kind of expands. It kind of evolves. So you have galleries that will open and close, businesses open and close, it's pretty much what the economy is doing. But I see it expanding more North. So you have Melrose, galleries out to the artery, which is at Indian School and seventh. So it is taking a larger footprint than it has before.

Ted Simons: Casual observer looks at Roosevelt on first Friday and remembers when it was almost mayhem. Almost chaos. It was just jammed, the street was closed, people were vendors here and things were there. Seems a little more in control, a little more sedate now. Some would say things are cooling off. Is that true?

Mike Oleskow: I wouldn't say it's cooling off. Especially with the summer coming. But it does slow down a little bit in the summer, and the crowds are starting to not be quite as large, because we also have third Fridays now. So the first Friday crowd, which tends to be skewed a little younger, maybe a little more toward party, is now being replaced somewhat on the third Friday with a little more serious arts buyers and some people who want to explore the area at another time beyond first Friday.

Ted Simons: So is third Friday now catching on more than it has?

Mike Oleskow: It is catching on quite a bit. You'll find a lot of the galleries are doing openings on third Fridays as well. So we have quite a few openings this first Friday, July 1st. So it's definitely worth checking out. But I recommend that people see an area and maybe go back another area at a different time. So go to Roosevelt, go to Grand, go to Melrose, go to some of the galleries that are north of McDowell and just check them out.

Ted Simons: A couple of things I noticed of late. Something called the arts market. What is that?

Mike Oleskow: The arts market is something that Roosevelt row has created. They're taking empty lots that were along Roosevelt and turning them into vendor spaces. So they will have vendors there, they'll have food trucks, and entertainment, music, and making what was just an empty lot, now a fun exciting place to go.

Ted Simons: Those folks have to get license or permits.

Mike Oleskow: Roosevelt row is handling that. They're having a summer special. The vendors are getting a 50% discount for first and third Fridays.

Ted Simons: Is that something to the community builder's agreement?

Mike Oleskow: I can't say I know about that one.

Ted Simons: It sounds to me somewhat similar.

Mike Oleskow: It could be.

Ted Simons: The whole pop-up gallery idea. Where do we take first Fridays from here? When the weather gets Bretter and the kids come back to school, I'm guessing the crowds will increase as well. But it seems like a very changing sort of thing.

Mike Oleskow: It is a changing sort of thing. Let me take you through the summer first. We are going on hiatus with the shuttles. It's kind of the focal point at the art museum. The Phoenix art museum is the central hub for Artlink and where we provide information and maps. Here's an example of one of the maps. The inside of the Downtown Phoenix Journal. Not only does it provide information on the galleries and studios, but it has restaurants and businesses, and everything you need to do on first Friday. That is still available. At the art museum on first Fridays. But the shuttles will be on hiatus July and August. Hope to pick up September.

Ted Simons: And full stride again in September.

Mike Oleskow: Full stride again.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here.

Mike Oleskow: I appreciate it.

Mike Oleskow: Artlink Interim President

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