I’ve always been a fan of the other guy. When all of my friends wanted to go to Disney on vacation, I wanted to go to Universal Studios. I used Linux, yes Linux, as my home computer operating system way before it was cool. I played soccer when everyone else played football. And now, I realized, I have fallen in love with another “other.” I am officially in love with the other Downtown.
I solemnly swear that I won’t let this turn into one of those “First Fridays aren’t cool anymore” posts, but I do feel obligated to give a little bit of that as background. There were really two signals for me that First Friday wasn’t what it was five years ago. The first was when “the city” took over. I don’t mean the city of Phoenix literally, but when they turned what was a casual collage of artists and quirky creators into a sea of industrial tents, hemmed in by traffic barricades and crowded with police, a big part of what made First Friday special died. The second signal that First Friday was in decline was when people started referring to it as the “artwalk.” These weren’t Downtowners, mind you, but people from the suburbs who would ask me, during the first week of the month, if I was attending the artwalk. Yuck. The artwalk, an activity during which a collection of bourgeois pseudo-art-admirers stroll from one Gilbert Ortega location to another, was nothing like the grungy, dingy First Friday that I loved.
It has been saved, though. The salvation of First Friday is Grand Avenue. My renewed love affair with Grand started on December First Friday, when I attended the opening party at Fractal, which is an awesome collaborative space located in Bragg’s Pie Factory. They say that getting there is half the fun, and that was certainly true this evening. I drove from my home in Biltcadia to my personal park and ride (a.k.a. the parking garage at a friend’s condo) and took the train down to the art museum to catch the trolley to Grand. Well, I will spare the gory details, but it was 57 minutes later when I arrived, after missing a train by 30 seconds, waiting for the next one, standing outside waiting for the trolley at the art museum for 15 minutes, and so on.
When I finally got off the trolley in front of Sapna Café, I was instantly reminded of what a First Friday experience was supposed to be like. It was a lot of different people walking down the street: crazy dudes on souped-up scooters, chicks on kick-ass bikes and lots of piercings. There was no one walking around who looked like the only reason they ended up on this street was because a hotel concierge handed them a map. It was a sense of random, unintentional, but amazing community. No one had a tent full of clocks made out of computer hard drives that they were selling under the watchful eye of a security team; instead, people were being themselves with other people who were being themselves.
The galleries on Grand have some amazing art. There are some kick-ass installation pieces, found items and even crafty stuff, in case you’re into that. But, the thing I loved best was witnessing the transformation of a neighborhood. The rows of warehouses are coming to life as a new community of artists, idea people, drunks and a few crazies — all of the things that it takes for a real neighborhood to work. And, I hope there will always be some warehouses, some seedy hookers and some homeless people walking around, because that is part of what keeps a place grounded.
This wasn’t my first time on Grand. I have hung out at the Paisley a time or two, and even had a crazy night at Chez Nous before it shut down. But, on this night, I saw the grungy, amazing soul of what a Downtown arts community is supposed to look like. It is in the double-digit avenues, and it is awesome.