First Friday gets a facelift:  April’s ArtWalk to breathe fresh air into the monthly event

AZ Daily Sun, Mountain Living, April 2, 2023

Written by Gail G. Collins

As spring’s light glows in early evening, the silhouetted San Francisco Peaks afford a dramatic backdrop. Nestled below, downtown Flagstaff generates an energy all of its own, buoying people’s spirits. Heritage Square rocks with blasts of brass, and bodies sway to the beat as little ones dance and clap. A boy tugs at his mother’s arm and points at his drawing on display. Lively lit galleries beckon. There is art to admire—paintings and photography, jewelry and glasswork, wood and ceramic, crafts and creations. Some shops offer a treat or a sweet sip, while others stage a musician on guitar. At the corner, a tourist studies a map and points out a historic hotel, neon letters glowing. A happy babble floats upward from crowded streets, and First Friday ArtWalk is in full swing.

First Friday ArtWalk is held monthly, presented by Desert Financial Credit Union in partnership with Flagstaff Downtown Business Alliance and Creative Flagstaff. The venue welcomes and hosts activities with variations of music, art and food. The next event will be held on April 7, 2023 from 5 p.m.- 9 p.m.

“We are coming into a robust year for ArtWalk, and April ends up being the big kick-off for activities,” says community engagement manager Liz Hewat. “People are ready to be out and about.”

As always, 20-30 businesses and galleries participate in ArtWalk, offering integrated venues for pop-up art exhibits, handcrafted items and entertainment. “It’s a great event, community-driven,” says Hewat. “ArtWalk has been around in some capacity since the 90s—the gallery owners established the event.”

Often, owners and artists are present for conversations about their art and the community. People are engaged and want to learn more. This is ArtWalk at its best.

The highlighted businesses for April’s ArtWalk are Arizona Handmade Gallery/Fire on the Mountain, Art35N, Artists Gallery, Culture Connection, Heritage Square, Phoenix Avenue Gallery, Shane Knight Gallery and West of the Moon Gallery. Additional information and the full list of participants can be found on the Website

ArtWalk also showcases youth elements. The Northern Arizona Association of Realtors Youth Art Contest, in partnership with Creative Flagstaff and Flagstaff Downtown Business Alliance (FDBA), features artwork from artists, kindergarten age through high school.

This is the second year for the contest, and in 2022, more than 400 joined for the public vote for winners in the competition. The exhibition’s theme is “Through My Eyes: Diversity in my Community,” and beginning at 4:00 p.m., the finalists’ work will be on display in Heritage Square.

The Square will also blare with the beat of Thick Brass, a contestant of Coconino Center for the Arts’ Youth Battle of the Bands. No need to wander away for a bite to eat as Pizzicletta will be on site with food available for purchase from their mobile pizza oven.

Sarah Downing, outreach manager for Creative Flagstaff, explains the effort to “breather fresh air and vibrancy into ArtWalk. It’s a central meeting place for activities to promote art, science and culture.”

What began as a collaborative effort with FDBA in 2020, has developed since, focused on the downtown footprint. This includes programming on Heritage Square as well as an information booth to distribute maps and visitor guides highlighting activities, exhibitions, artworks, poetry readings, live music and more to free, walkable locations.

Flagstaff Arts Council rebranded as Creative Flagstaff in June 2021. It was an effort to shift and expand the original goals to reflect boundless imagination and an interdisciplinary spirit to support the community by investing in the creative economy. This provides connection and shared experiences. The agency grants BBB funds on behalf of the City to foster such artistic opportunity.

March was Youth Art Month, which produced more than 500 pieces of visual arts, producing entries for the contest.

“It is the endcap to the Youth Art programming,” says Downing. “We support broadening the idea that creativity isn’t elitist—leveling the playing field and access for all in the community.”

ArtWalk also exemplifies one of many efforts of the nonprofit Flagstaff Downtown Business Alliance. Their mission, to preserve and promote the historic downtown through free events to draw and engage residents and visitor, includes seasonal draws such as Movies on the Square, Locals’ Night and Holidays in Downtown.

Through these activities, economic viability is added to the area and the community in general. FDBA’s goal is to build a “more connected, beautified, active environment for people, who live, work and visit downtown Flagstaff.” Partnering with the City, Coconino County and Mountain Line, it advocates for important business issues, provides education to the public and acts as a strong voice regarding economic health. This involves enhanced marketing and promotion of the historic center.

There are 150-plus small, independent businesses downtown, and Hewat reminds, “ArtWalk is another way to support and engage local artists, business owners and have fun. It’s lively and there’s something for everyone in music and art mediums, whether it’s formal or pop-up.”

ArtWalk is a celebration—a way to come together monthly. Watch it in full swing. Be there, on the Square.  AZDS