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.

  • Upton Sinclair

    I’d have to agree on this one. The real art scene is west of 7th Ave. The space there is affordable and this is where the true opportunities are for artists. Young people with fresh ideas have the opportunity to really carve out that space at this point. As for the seedy elements, since when does great art happen around gelato shops?

  • Jay Moh

    First, I want to say that I respect your right to an opinion, and for stating it too, but different people have different views on things.

    I can appreciate your comments about the generic vendors selling hard drives, but I personally put the same value on those kinds of wares as I did the Yuma-yard-sale style garbage that was out there — and still is, to some extent. I really can’t say much good about the vendors I’ve seen lately, but hopefully if the event gets bigger, more significant and unique vendors will show up with some good stuff — whatever “good stuff” might mean to both you and I.

    You seem to have a thing for old run-down parts of town with hookers, crack dealers, and vagrants. Do you really think that appeals to people who want to come downtown, or already live here? It’s okay that you like your thing, but there’s gotta be the scene for other people too.

    What you’ve pointed out is how people are congregating around the Portland block during FF. Let’s face it, FF is about the socializing, for most people. You don’t get social by going out to where nobody else is. The Grand Ave area is a little more dark and less well traveled by the social lifers, but that’s okay. The struggling artists need their cheap space to work in. If it wasn’t cheap, they couldn’t be there.

    Looks like you a pining for yesterday. Well, it’s gone. Or in this case, it’s moved.

    Different people need different things. The appreciation in value of the Portland area is good for the people there, but it’s also really good for the Grand Ave scene too. After all, why are the Grand Ave people there? They want to be popular like the Portland area. And, depending on how they work at it, and where/what they want to go/become, they will benefit greatly by what’s going on downtown, over-all.

    As for the cops and the barricades, they apparently need to be there because the FF crowd is kinda rowdy, rude, and that sort. I’ve had multiple instances where I’ve been driving up and down 7th Street during a FF, and at the Portland crosswalk, with the Shell, Quiznos, and Circle K, people just walking in the middle of the road on a green light, with zero regard to traffic that has the right of way. If I’m unlucky enough to get a red light, I get to see people swearing at each other, throwing soda bottles, littering, and generally being looser wanna-thugs. It ain’t cool.

    It’s okay that you like what you like, and you can point it out, but don’t knock what other people enjoy unless you want to get told about your appreciation for neighborhoods with hookers and homeless vagrants.

  • I think you have just identified the key difference between our views of what being in a city is like. I actually enjoy having hookers and vagrants getting in arguments on the side of the street, it is a great reminder of the grit and reality of living in a city.

    While there are some who probably are hoping for a gentrification of Grand Ave, Portland-style, but I love it for what it is….a dark, gritty, exciting urban neighborhood.

    • Are you kidding me right now? You “enjoy having hookers and vagrants getting in arguments on the side of the street”? It’s just a perk of the city to have somebody else’s economic misfortune around to give your life a sense of cultural authenticity?
      They’re not characters at Disney Land, those are real human beings that are actually suffering and you’re using them as props in your urban experience?
      Do you think families that drive in from the suburbs to play in the city one night a month are any different from your objectification of the homeless?
      You’re not a ‘downtowner’, you’re a cultural tourist.
      This is absolutely unacceptable.

  • waXee

    dayum Alex…..well said!