Downtown Phoenix arts community sees life after COVID-19 closures

Above: Image by Aida KHubaeva from Pixabay Experience AZ | 9 Oct |

Downtown Phoenix art galleries opened on October’s First Friday, reviving the art community after months of closures due to COVID-19. 

Tea lights and signs marked the entryway of Anderson Contemporary Cubism on Friday, Oct. 2 in the hopes of bringing in bystanders, art enthusiasts and possible customers to the gallery’s opening. 

The studio, located at 707 N. 15th Ave, is easy to recognize by a mural of thorny vines and one-eyed white creatures on its west facing wall.

The studio owner and local artist, Holly Anderson, was excited to hold her first ever gallery opening even in the face of a pandemic.

“Now I’m just hoping that people will wear their masks but will come out and enjoy themselves,” said Anderson, “I’m just excited for people to engage and feel some emotion evoked by the artwork.”

COVID-19 caused a majority of businesses across the country to close at the beginning of 2020. According to Yelp’s Local Economic Impact Report for September, 163,175 U.S. businesses on Yelp have closed since March 1, 2020.

Phoenix businesses like Anderson Contemporary Cubism are slowly opening and owners like Anderson are hoping to move forward this fall. 

After owning her studio for five years, Anderson said she decided to open it up to the public eye during the pandemic because, “What better time is there than the present?”

Anderson, like many throughout the country, faced a lot of economic uncertainty when COVID-19 came and she started losing business.

“I’ve been doing this for almost 12 years, and this was the first time in my life where I was like, ‘Oh gosh how am I going to pay my rent this month,’” said Anderson.

Anderson mainly sold acrylic canvases before COVID-19 but with a lack of business she found time to experiment with ink and found a new passion.

“I just decided to focus on my craft because I didn’t know what else to do. I did a bunch of research and developed new skills and new strategies and I am actually phasing out of all of my acrylics and working on ink now,” said Anderson.

Before opening her own gallery, Anderson mainly sold her art online or at different art events like Phoenix’s First Friday and Art Detour prior to the pandemic. 

First Friday is one of the largest self-guided art walks in the nation that once spread throughout downtown, bringing people far and wide to enjoy art, music and culture.

Thousands of people used to attend the monthly event that included pop up vendors, food trucks and live music in addition to a variety of galleries and art shows. COVID-19 and subsequent health recommendations led to the event’s closure throughout the entire summer.

Morgan Cole, an Arizona State University sophomore, used to attend the event every month during her first semester in the fall of 2019. After moving from Sacramento California, the event helped Cole get accustomed to life downtown and gave her a sense of community.

“I loved First Friday because Phoenix is a really big city, but First Friday made it seem small, like a small town,” Cole said.

The last event Anderson sold her art at was Art Detour, an annual art event in Phoenix, that took place during March.

“It’s strange because Art Detour was here and it passed and now everything is so different,” said Anderson.

Artlink, a 32-year-old Phoenix non-profit, formed after the first Art Detour and has helped promote First Friday for the past 26 years. 

Recently Artlink has opened their own gallery space, mood room, for artists whose shows were canceled throughout the summer. 

“We are putting on shows that were lost during COVID-19 for one reason or another; they were canceled, couldn’t be renewed, lost their space, and some of the spaces were just too small to be able to negotiate responsibly with social distancing,” said Art Link’s Curatorial Programs Director, Grant Vetter.

The non-profit expected great things to come out of October’s First Friday and has bright hopes for the future of downtown Phoenix’s art community.

“Normally September and October is when we really kick off, so I think we will really see big changes starting this October First Friday,” said Art Links Oasis on Grand Marketing Director, Brittany Butler.

Anderson had a number of people visit her gallery during its opening Friday night and she is pleased to have her work back on the walls. 

She is ready to break the social barriers that were put in place during the pandemic and return to creating work that inspires others.

“I’m ready to take the mask off and talk to people because that’s what I live for. I love to evoke emotion through artwork and have people experience what I experience,” said Anderson.

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