Panel discusses unique quirkiness of First Fridays, downtown art scene


Photos by Evie Carpenter and Jessie Zook

First Friday streets are crowded with stilt walkers, vendors and different types of uniquely dressed people. Galleries are filled to the brim with what they hope to be possible buyers, many of who will probably just look and walk on.

Downtown Devil Discussions hosted a discussion about the past, present and future of Phoenix’s First Friday Art Walks with four panelists Tuesday : Artlink Phoenix President Mike Oleskow, veteran Phoenix artist Pete Petrisko, Eye Lounge Co-President David Bradley and South Mountain Precinct Sgt. Tim Palmer.

The panelists agreed that First Fridays would ideally keep the arts and appreciation of arts alive.

“If we lose that, I think we lose the soul of the city,” Oleskow said.

But the panelists also said a majority of people don’t go for the art, but rather for the social aspect.

Sgt. Palmer described First Friday attendees as teenagers who come for the scene, young adults who attend galleries and join in the street activity or the older crowd who come for the arts and restaurants.

With lots of people going for reasons that do not include buying art, panelists were asked for the cost-benefit analysis of staying open during the art walk.

There are risks involved with a large number of people tramping through a gallery, Bradley said, but it is worth it because of how many people view the artwork.

Bradley said he is glad First Fridays are a safe event that can bring together different people.

Petrisko has been involved in First Fridays since its conception. Initially, he said, he was not a fan of hosting the art walk on Fridays because it would lead to a popular “circus.”

He described the art walk as a pendulum. After becoming a giant festival heavy with street vendors during the Roosevelt Street closures on First Fridays, the art walk now is swinging back toward the art.

“Bottom line is it’s about the art,” Petrisko said. “Without the art, there is no First Friday. It’s just another Friday…”

With the overall change of First Fridays from its initial purpose, the panelists mentioned the growth of Third Fridays and other art events such as Art Detour and the Collector’s Tour.

Bradley said that he has counted roughly 2,300 people going through his gallery on First Fridays, 300-400 people on Third Fridays and roughly 50-100 on other Fridays.

At one point, the panelists talked about the differences between Grand Avenue and Roosevelt Row on First Fridays.

Petrisko described Roosevelt Row on First Fridays with a grunt.

“When you go to Grand Avenue it’s definitely a more whimsical, bohemian feel,” he said.

The conversation expanded past First Fridays to the Phoenix arts culture in general.

After the discussion, audience members were able to mingle and talk with the panelists.

Active community member and local designer Thomas Topero said he liked the discussion. Topero said he has been attending Downtown Devil Discussions since its foundation.

“It engages people that may not know as much about the topic as well as those of us that are heavily involved with things,” he said.

Local artist Lee Berger said he liked the discussion, but had some criticisms. He said he wished he saw more representation from places other than Roosevelt on the panel. He said he felt the same way about the previous entrepreneurship discussion.

Bradley said he felt the discussion was thought-provoking and he hoped he sparked thoughts in the audience. He said First Fridays is not something found in every city.

Another panelist, Ruben Gonzales, 11th Monk3y co-founder, was unable to make it to the discussion due to traveling issues.

Next month’s discussion will cover the gentrification of neighborhoods, including the arts district.

Last semester’s Downtown Devil Discussions will be available online as part of the Downtown Devil Magazine. The purpose is to continue the conversation on the previous discussion topics.

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Correction: Feb. 1, 2013

This article incorrectly stated the next Downtown Devil Discussion would be about the gentrification of artists, not the art districts. It has been corrected to explain that the discussion will be about renewing the arts district, not artists.