Trying to describe Artlink First Fridays is like the tale of the blind men and the elephant: One touches the leg and says the elephant is a tree. The other grabs the tail and declares the elephant is a rope. Still another feels the ear and insists the elephant is a fan.
The experience you have depends on the places you visit and the night you go.
At Crisis Gallery on McDowell Road in Phoenix, young men with goatees and women in fishnets gather to watch a pierced punk band belt out raw, ripping chords, and skeletons in brightly colored garb leer from Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) paintings by Moises Salcedo.
Across town at Gallery 3, the cornucopia of gourmet cuisine in a peaceful tree-lined courtyard is a work of art in its own right: Three kinds of dip and baguette crackers beg for attention alongside a selection of cheeses, lavosh rolls, cookies and portion-sized chili cheesecakes. Inside, perfectly lit walls highlight majestic landscape photographs by Diego Ceja.
Both galleries are featured on the monthly tour of studio spaces, but they’re a world apart.
"There’s no way to see it all in one night," said Steve Gompf of Mesa, who’s on the Artlink board of directors. Gompf said about half of all Artlink members live in the East Valley.
Dixie Swan of Scottsdale, who was at her second First Fridays event in January, contrasted the urban scene to the posh art walk on Thursdays in downtown Scottsdale.
"It’s not as postured as Fifth Avenue," she said. The central Phoenix event, she said, has "lots of energy and youth."
Each area of the tour has its own vibe. The west side, with 17 stops, has an industrial feel and, Gompf said, "an underground-ness."
Cases in point: On the first Friday in January, the "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll" show at the Paper Heart included artists body-painting nude models. The Trunk Space coffee house had a trapeze in the rafters for a circus act.
The north side is more mainstream, with spaces like Occam’s Edge (a hair salon by day) featuring sports caricatures, pottery, metal art, mixed-media works and hats. The subdued Gallery 3 is also on the north route.
But the crowd isn’t segregated. Hipsters, bohemians and the black-eyeliner goth set nonchalantly brush by middleaged professionals in turtlenecks and jeans, sport coats and dress slacks at any of the given locations.
"You’ll see families with strollers and people from redtile neighborhoods in Lexuses," Gompf said.
But if you’re worried about being pegged as a newbie, he gave sage advice: "Do the art thing and dress in all black."
Take an artistic adventure
Artlink First Fridays is a monthly self-guided tour of art spaces in central Phoenix. More than three-quarters of the places on the route are actual studios and galleries, but there are also coffee shops, bars, restaurants, hair salons and yoga studios.
Though the event has been going on for about a decade, as recently as four years ago only 20 spaces participated, said Steve Gompf of Mesa, an Artlink board member. Today there are more than 60.
Artlink locations currently reach from 17th Avenue on the west, 12th Street on the east, Indian School Road on the north and Jackson Street on the south. Four shuttle buses make stops every 20 minutes at each space, and they’re organized by geography — north, south, east and west. Buses run 6 to 10 p.m., but many of the galleries and art spaces stay open later.
The hub is the Burton Barr Central Library at 1221 N. Central Ave., so if you’ve never been, it’s a good place to start. There’s plenty of parking at the library.
About 1,200 people ride the shuttle each month, Gompf said, and the event attracts 12,000 to 15,000 people total. Maps to the spaces are available at the library, all of the Artlink locations and online at
Tour de art
What: Artlink First Fridays When: 6 to 10 p.m. today; many spaces stay open later
Where: At more than 60 galleries in central Phoenix, with shuttle buses leaving every 20 minutes from the Burton Barr Central Library, 1221 N. Central Ave., Phoenix Cost: Free Information: (602) 256-7539 or www.artlinkphoenix.com