Open studio tours are a good way to experience art and artists. Every first Friday evening of each month you can take a free self-guided tour of downtown Phoenix galleries, studios and art spaces. It's called First Friday. First Friday is organized by Artlink, a nonprofit organization "...dedicated to bringing together artists, the public, and businesses for a greater understanding, appreciation, and promotion of the arts and the development of a strong and vital downtown Phoenix arts community."
How did the Phoenix First Friday events get started?
Here's a bit of history. During the latter part of the 1980s there was tremendous interest in downtown arts and entertainment which propelled, among other initiatives, the 1988 Bond election. The election made possible the new central library, the Arizona Science Center, and the Phoenix Museum of History. This new infusion of energy led to the Jackson Street Studios, an arrangement to accommodate artists displaced by the Talking Stick Resort Arena, which was called the America West Arena at the time, and subsequently US Airways Center. Artlink was founded with this energy, and some of the art spaces existing during that time, such as Alwun House, live on today.
The annual Art Detour, originally designed as simply an open-studios tour, was founded in the spring of 1988, and has attracted hundreds of artists and thousands of art lovers downtown every year.
The galleries and alternative art spaces open year-round were joined by music venues, cafes and individual artist studios and, during the 1990s, Artlink decided to organize this into the First Friday event.
How many art spaces are there?
First Friday has grown - during the 1998 Season there were 13 spaces open each Friday.
There are now more than 70 participants -- at times closer to 100 -- in the First Friday art walk. Spaces are situated from Indian School Road to Buchanan Street, from 12th Street to 17th Avenue - impossible to walk in one night. A free trolley service allows Phoenix First Friday visitors to reach most of the spaces.
If you aren't already familiar with First Friday's routes, just stop at Phoenix Art Museum first and pick up a current map. There's usually an ArtLink volunteer on hand who can answer your questions. Before you head out on Friday evening, check my tips on the next page.
What else happens?
There are a bunch of attractions and venues that open their doors with free admission on First Friday. You'll find music, lectures and fun for all ages. You'll never be able to get to all these in one night!
Should I dress up?
The downtown Phoenix First Friday event is not about glitz or champagne or cocktail parties - it is about the inner-city urban experience. No need to dress to impress. Artists living and working downtown exhibit downtown. Thousands of people enjoy what is offered during each First Friday event, and several exhibitions sell half of their offerings during these openings.
When is it?
The First Friday art walk in downtown Phoenix is held on the first Friday of every month, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. For more information about First Friday, contact Artlink at 602-256-7539.
What does it cost?
Nothing. First Friday is free.
First Friday might seem complicated if you've never done it. It really isn't. If you're like me, you want to know what 's going to happen before you get somewhere. Here are some tips to help you be prepared for First Friday, and to understand how it works.
First Friday Tips
- I don't know why the organization's website calls it both First Fridays (plural) and First Friday (singular). It has always been just First Friday, without an "s". Go with an open mind, and don't get frustrated if there are some changes or surprises along the way.
- First Friday has grown dramatically over the years. That's great for the downtown Phoenix arts community, but it also means that you probably won't get to see all the art spaces in one evening. That's OK — they will be there next month.
- The First Friday attendees are predominantly young people, but all ages can be seen browsing the various galleries.
- What else is there to do beside visit galleries, art spaces and cafes? Plenty! Various museums and venues open their doors with free admission on First Friday.
The shuttle options have varied over the years, and sometimes from month-to-month. Beginnig February 2017 there are three shuttle routes: Grand Avenue, Roosevelt Row/Central, and Warehouse/Downtown. All three routes will intersect at the Connector Hub at Arizona Center, 400 E. Van Buren St., where parking will be validated for the first two hours for First Friday trolley riders. If you don't want to drive, use Valley Metro Rail.
There are five trolley hubs/park 'n' rides:
- Phoenix Art Museum (1625 N. Central)
- Oasis on Grand (15th Ave. and Grand Ave)
- CityScape (First Street and Washington St.)
- Arizona Center (400 E. Van Buren St.)
- Unexpected Gallery (734 W. Polk at Grand Avenue)
Trolley hubs and routes are subject to change. You can park for free at Phoenix Art Museum, subject to availability. Keep in mind that parking meters in Phoenix are NOT free until after 10 p.m. on Fridays.
- The shuttles constantly circle throughout the evening, stopping at the hubs in approximate 25-minute intervals. The shuttles start at 6 p.m. and are clean and comfortable. The last circuit is at 9:30 p.m.
- Crowds are usually sparse at early in the evening, and some galleries might be a bit slow to open right at 6 p.m. Activity picks up between 7 and 8 p.m.
- The shuttle and galleries map is very useful if you are unfamiliar with the area, or if you don't have a particular destination in mind.
- At the Phoenix Art Museum, you can get a full First Friday map. They are also sometimes on the shuttle buses, but they may run out later in the evening.
- Don't count on the Shuttle Bus drivers to be able to give you much information about the stops.
- There are cafes and other food stops along the way. Why not stop, enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee, and then start again?
- The last shuttle circuit is at 9:30 p.m.
- If you are on a schedule, or just don't want to take a shuttle, there are places to park along the street nearly everywhere on the First Friday routes, but some may have meters. As a matter of fact, you might not want to depend on those shuttle buses even if you aren't on a schedule. My experience with their dependability has varied.
- First Friday is an opportunity for people with political beliefs, condos to sell, petitions to sign, or other information to share to be out and about. If you aren't interested, just be polite and say "no thanks."
- Wouldn't you like to support these artists and businesses and take home a piece of art?
All dates, times, prices and offerings are subject to change without notice.