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Reviving downtown Phoenix through art

[Source: Michael Tulipan, New York Times] — BOARDED-UP buildings and empty lots in the shadow of office towers hardly seemed a promising foundation for an arts district in rapidly growing Phoenix.  But once-neglected and dangerous Roosevelt Row, on the north side of downtown, turned out to be an irresistible lure for artists looking for cheap spaces in which to live and work.  Galleries, restaurants and a farmers’ market soon followed.

Today, Roosevelt Row is the city’s cutting-edge art destination, full of galleries like Perihelion Arts (610 East Roosevelt Street, No. 137; 602-334-6299) and Eye Lounge (419 East Roosevelt Street; 602-430-1490), which showcase contemporary, often challenging art and performances.  The area is also a popular draw during Phoenix’s monthly First Fridays art walk (artlinkphoenix.com).

Just as vital to the area’s resurgence is the Downtown Phoenix Public Market (721 North Central Avenue; foodconnect.org/phoenixmarket), founded five years ago by Community Food Connections, a local nonprofit with an ambitious agenda.  “The goals of the market were to increase access to healthy food and create a vibrant gathering space in the heart of the city,” said Cindy Gentry, the organization’s executive director.  Today, the market (open 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays) has over 65 vendors offering local produce, jewelry, herbal remedies and treats like delicious lemon strawberry basil sorbet ($2) from Crave Artisan Ice Cream, a local purveyor.

Last October, the market expanded to include Urban Grocery and Wine Bar (14 East Pierce Street; 602-254-1799), downtown Phoenix’s first grocery store in nearly three decades.  The grocery sells products from many market vendors and features an outpost of Royal Coffee Bar, as well as a wine bar serving Arizona labels (starting at $7 a glass).

For the fashion-minded, Spoken Boutique (610 East Roosevelt Street, No. 148) stocks trendy denim labels like William Rast and Bishop of Seventh, Wet Cement T-shirts and flirty dresses.  Local artists and residents drop into two-year-old Conspire (901 North Fifth Street; 602-237-5446), a laid-back boutique and coffee shop with offerings as diverse as handmade paper, quirky clothing and vegan doughnuts.

The area’s transformation was perhaps best encapsulated by Michael Carbajal, a former boxing champion and local celebrity who grew up on the hardscrabble streets of Roosevelt Row and is now a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. On a recent night’s visit to the bar at the year-old Asian tapas hot spot Sens (705 North First Street, No. 120; 602-340-9777; sensake.com) Mr. Carbajal spoke about the changes in the neighborhood. “It was rough,” he said, before dropping a shot of sake into his beer and gesturing to the sleek surroundings. “I like it better now. I can come here.”

Downtown Phoenix First Friday is Dec. 5

The fine folks over on Roosevelt Row ask, “Are you tired of frequenting the same spots in Roosevelt Row every First Friday?  It’s time to expand to the other areas of the Row with some hidden treasures.”  And here’s what they suggest:

  • Cross 7th St. and make your way over to the quaintest spot in downtown, the Welcome Diner at 10th St. and Roosevelt. Enjoy some local organic diner treats at this cozy spot from 5 to 10 p.m. every First Friday.  No one likes wandering around the Block Party on an empty stomach.
  • After you grab a bite to each, head over to The Alwun House at 12th St and Roosevelt.  Their annual Gift and Collectible Sale is opening this Friday from 6 to 10 p.m., and runs through Dec 23 (hours: Tue-Fri, Noon to 6 p.m).  This is a great chance to browse local artists hand crafted giftables at rock-bottom prices starting at as little as $5.  Visit with friends sipping complimentary spiced apple cider, tea, or coffee in the gardens and enjoy one of the oldest galleries in the Row.
  • It’s time to bring in the holiday season with Christmas at the Cathedral beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Cathedral Center for the Arts.  Enjoy the music of Camille Saint-Saëns and Christmas Carols with the Cathedral Choir and Organ.  Tickets are $15 at the door, students and seniors are $10, and reserved seating is available in the first two rows of the Cathedral for $25.  Click here for reservations.

Gallery Openings this First Friday include:

  • Pravus Gallery opens Soft Serve this Friday featuring new work from seven different artists. Don’t miss local favorites Blinky, Josh Rhodes, J-Rod, Sent Rock, Betso, Josh Taylor, and Zoso.  The opening reception goes from 6 to 10 p.m.
  • If you haven’t stopped by one of Roosevelt Row’s finest new additions, this Friday is a perfect time to check out The Art of Light Gallery at 906 N. 6th St.  For just $1 a ticket, you can participate in a raffle for 4 original paintings with all proceeds going to the MS Arizona Chapter.  The raffle will run from 6 to 10 p.m. this Friday so make sure to peek in this great spot and contribute to this great cause.
  • Perihelion Arts presents Elbow Grease from the artist duo known as The Molten Brothers’ from 6 to 10 p.m. on Friday.  The team utilizes their individual and collective skills to create an exciting show of work that explores political, social and pop-culture themes.  Don’t miss these exceptional, thought-provoking mixed media collaborations, including kinetic sculpture, painting, and drawing.
  • Just Breathe, a Wellness Sanctuary is expanding its gallery space with an eclectic group of fine local artists.  Enjoy ongoing exhibitions from artists and photographers, as well as new work from Sarah Kriehn, while soaking up the peaceful vibes.  Make sure to look into their weekly class, workshop, and massage schedule to keep down the stress during the holidays.

For more information about First Fridays, including shuttle information and a map, click here.