42nd Annual Tempe Festival of the Arts takes over Downtown Tempe

Above: Thousands of visitors flock to Mill Avenue for the 40th Annual Tempe Festival of the Arts to view and purchase artists' work from around the country. (Photo by Johanna Lovett) Lifestyle | 17 Mar |

A sure sign of spring in Arizona is the return of the Spring Tempe Festival of the Arts in Downtown Tempe. Now in its 42nd incarnation, the beloved Valley event returns just in time to take advantage of Arizona’s renowned weather, impressive creative community and leagues of Spring Training tourists from around the globe. This year’s festival boasts nearly 350 visual artists from all over the continent who flock to Tempe to commune with other creatives, display and sell their artwork, and enjoy a 3-day long celebration March 29th through the 31st along and around Downtown Tempe’s famed Mill Avenue and adjoining thoroughfares. 

The festival takes place rain or shine from 10 am through 5:30 pm daily, with an outstanding assortment of art, artisans, live entertainment, food and drink, interactive activations for kids and families and open-air fun for all. The event is free to attend and draws upwards of 225,000 visitors including locals and tourists alike during the long weekend. Produced by the Downtown Tempe Foundation as one of its signature staples, this year’s spring festival brings fresh talent, artwork, musicians and opportunities to engage with the creative community. Arizona-based Karolina Adams is this festival’s Featured Artist, who specializes in ink and graphite creations. Adams illustrates life from within her head, with a quirky style and a touch of sophistication, mirroring her playful character with a serious core.

Part of the festival’s allure is the immersive experience stimulating all senses. Attendees enjoy wandering street performers, buskers, four programmed areas with live music including the Third Street Acoustic Space, the Unplugged Lounge and two stages; one at Centerpoint Plaza and another at Hayden Station.  Attendees will enjoy an array of music including local favorites like The Sugar Thieves, Jake Dean Band, AZ Rhythm Connection, Karen O & The No No No’s, Walt Richardson Band, Haymarket Squares and performances by the Phoenix Conservatory of Music and many others. 

Another popular aspect of the event are the numerous food and beverage options for all ages. Festival fare is found throughout the entire footprint including a Food Court featuring Blue Banjo BBQ, Island Noodles and Sally’s Corn on the Cob.  Food trucks are a popular place to nosh on favorites like The Maine Lobster Lady, Waffle Crush and Yellowman Fry Bread. The Sweet Street area offers delectable edibles like Churro GoNutz, Curbside Crepes (offering sweet and savory crêpes) and Yummy Yummy Dole Whip. Attendees will encounter snack vendors spread throughout the festival including the likes of Country Lemonade, Eureka Old Fashioned Soda, Mustache Pretzels, Pura Vida Grinds, Sweet Pickins Kettle Corn and many more. Additionally, the Cottage Edibles area offers sweets, treats and cottage-industry style housemade goods, gifts and surprises like candles, soaps, bath bombs and more. Adults find respite and relaxation along with an assortment of Arizona-made, brewed and distilled spirits within three interconnected Beer & Wine Gardens including bottles for sale and samplings of wine from Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, Burning Tree Cellars, and Provisioner Wines among others, spirits from CaskWerks Distilling Company, Desert Diamond Distillery and more, as well as award-winning beers from local producers Pedal Haus Brewery and Four Peaks Brewing Company. Tickets are required for samplings and can be purchased online in advance or at the entrances to the 21+ Beer & Wine Garden areas day of.

Families are particularly drawn to the festival’s free admission and lively atmosphere. Kids Block is a hands-on interactive block for young artists and a youth exhibition featuring 300+ student works from around the Valley on display and for sale. Also featured is a spectacular array of K-12 art in the Young Artist Exhibition and Competition. Havin debuted at last fall’s 50th Fall Tempe Festival of the Arts, and back by popular demand is the Young Collectors program, wherein a child can begin their art collecting journey by purchasing their very own piece of art handcrafted by one of the professional artists vending at the festival for just $5.00, fostering a lifetime appreciation for the arts. Another family favorite is Chalk-A-Lot Street, with specially curated chalk murals done by professional artists.  Guests may try their own hand at chalk muraling themselves in the Kids Block area.

Two of our largest annual undertakings are the Spring and Fall Tempe Festival of the Arts, which have really put Arizona on the map with regard to North America’s amazing and vibrant art scene,” said the Kate Borders, the Executive Director of the Downtown Tempe Authority.  Borders notes that “The community has come to know Tempe as the place to connect, share and sell a marvelous mix of handmade artwork, jewelry and cottage goods. With these festivals we’re not only supporting our local creative communities, we’re building bridges at a national level and bringing much-needed recognition to the explosive artistic output found right here in Arizona — and that’s part and parcel to our organization’s mission.” 

While parking and ADA accessible parking are available at select parking garages, street meters and paid lots around Tempe, the most convenient ways in and out of the festival are by bike, foot or public transport including Valley Metro’s Light Rail, which runs throughout the Valley to nearby stops in Downtown Tempe including the 3rd Street and Mill Avenue stop, as well as the Tempe Transportation Center located at Veterans Way and College Avenue.

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