If you’re an aficionado of art and artists, music, or food fests who happens to be lucky enough to hang out anywhere near The Cays at Ocotillo don’t miss stopping by several of Phoenix’s now-famous First Fridays. They’re free self-guided monthly tours of downtown art galleries, studios, and creative spaces, organized by Artlink, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing art, business, and the public together for everyone’s mutual benefit.
Over the past 20 years, First Fridays have grown to include both serious art lovers and ordinary people from all over the Valley and beyond. They come out for people-watching, a nosh or two, a refreshing drink after dark, and cool music from indie bands. They love the assortment of funky merchandise they can find from tiny boutiques…and the bargains they can pick up from local artists, especially students from the nearby Art Institute. Participants often share on traveler forums about the “steals” they got from beginning artists, pieces that are now treasured parts of their collection.
Where It Began
The first glimmers of First Fridays shone in 1988, when Beatrice Moore (owner of Kooky Krafts) got together with several other artists to start Art Detour, a modest studio tour. Four years later, Phoenix Arts After Hours became a Wednesday-night event. At that time, Artlink became both the support organization and the originator of the Friday focus for the art “crawl,” while Art Detour still remains a stand-alone annual event. The inaugural First Fridays attracted a crowd of about 200 to 300, mostly fellow artists, friends, and families of the gallery owners; now, as many as 20,000 people show up.
Visitors now can stroll through, study, and sample the works of 100 participating art galleries (including one that’s actually a hair studio as well!), restaurants and bistros, and retailers during the weekly events. Refreshment options include the Film Bar, a combination Indie film house and wine and beer café; the Treehouse Bakery, a vegan sweets emporium; and Jobot Coffee and Diner, one of many sources for live entertainment.
This kind of a crowd-pleaser has its own “growing pains,” of course. Various arrangements have been made over the years with business owners — to make sure patrons understand they can still get to non-art-related enterprises during the time — and the city, which wanted to make sure participating vendors had permits. To take care of the latter situation, the A.R.T.S. Market was formed at Fourth and Roosevelt Streets, a pop-up retail area open only during First Fridays.
A.R.T.S. Market Vendors undergo an application process and are carefully balanced by Artlink to reflect a cross-section of different styles, cuisines, and products. Accepted vendors are notified by the Monday before each First Friday, except for food vendors, who are selected a bit further in advance and on a case-by-case basis.
A Helping Hand
For an event like this, you need a game plan: there’s a lot to see and do, and it’s spread over a wide area. Fortunately, the Artlink site lists specific “hubs” to visit such as Roosevelt Row and Grand Avenue, along with maps to assist you in finding your way around. They even encourage investigating what they call the “spaces in-between,” small galleries and eateries tucked into nooks along McDowell Road and on 1st, 4th, and 6th Avenues.
Getting around the downtown event is a snap on the free trolley — which includes validated parking for your own car. Along the way, you can enjoy newly cultivated “streetscapes,” including plantings and greenery to enhance the overall ambience (and lend some cool “green space” in the desert night). Alternatively, hop on the Metro Light Rail line, connecting the Phoenix Art Museum, the Roosevelt/Central trolley stop, and the downtown core. You can even call or text to get the schedule!
Daytime in Phoenix can be scorching, especially during the summer months — but the nighttime “heats up” with its own special magic during these First Friday nights. And a perfect “jumping off” point just might be your own luxury condo at The Cays at Ocotillo. Between fascinating and fun evenings under the stars and the soothing amenities of pools, scenic gardens, and meticulously kept surroundings at The Cays, you’ll truly have the best of both worlds — feeling like a pampered tourist, with all the comforts of home, sweet home.