By Liz Massey, Dec. 4, 2014.

December is the month when the Valley of the Sun’s weather finally cools down. Outdoor excursions no longer feel like a trip inside a brick pizza oven. What better time, then, for the Phoenix Center for the Arts to host a holiday event that celebrates the cultural and creative treasures of the metro area?

Here’s are eight reasons to attend the Phoenix Festival of the Arts, now in its third year, as explained by Lauren Henschen, marketing director for the center and an organizer for the event.

1. Shop for one-of-a-kind holiday presents.

More than 75 art vendors will be selling their wares at the festival, and they represent a broad spectrum of media — from ceramics and mixed media to photography, glass, jewelry and metalwork.

The presence of the art vendors at the festival harken back to the roots of the event, which Henschen said evolved from a small annual student art sale. She said some of the center’s art instructors will sell their work alongside former students of the center who are now earning money from their artistic skills.

2. The Phoenix Mural project.

It’s not just professionals who will get a chance to flex their artistic muscles at the Phoenix Festival of the Art, as painters of all ages can join acclaimed local muralist Hugo Medina in creating a wall-length community art project. Henschen explained that attendees are welcome to either bring their own art supplies or use those provided by the festival.

3. Live performances (on two stages).

Festivalgoers can take in local acts on the outdoor main stage that range from a variety show hosted by the Arizona Music Project and a performance by the Phoenix Children’s Chorus to appearances by the country/bluegrass band The Blue Goats and the quirky rock group Captain Squeegee (left). Openly gay singer-songwriter Adam Smith will perform on the main stage Saturday at 4:20 p.m.

On the indoor Third Street Theater stage at the center, attendees can enjoy a series of what Henschen described as “mini-festivals,” including a dance marathon and a brief film festival Saturday and a poetry slam Sunday.

4. The opportunity to connect with Valley arts organizations.

One of the primary purposes of the festival is to increase the visibility of arts and culture in Phoenix, and attendees will be able to mingle with representatives from many local arts organizations, including the Phoenix Women’s Chorus, the Shemer Art Center, the Phoenix Film Foundation, the Phoenix Conservatory of Music and many others.

“We have a big representation from arts organizations, and they bring their audiences, so people leave the festival knowing a lot more about the Phoenix art scene than they did before,” Henschen said.

5. Plenty to eat and drink.

Not only will the Hensley Beverage Company run the beer/wine garden, but six to eight of the area’s top food trucks will be feeding hungry patrons each day, and the dining area of the festival can be considered a celebration of the culinary arts. Some of the food truck vendors include Waldo’s BBQ, 2 Fat Guys Grilled Cheese, Cactus Corn, Mama Toledo’s, Palettas Betty and Satay Hut.

6. The Phoenix Arts & Culture Guidebook.

There will be 5,000 copies of this guidebook distributed at the festival. It will function as a program outlining the events of the weekend, Henschen said, but it will also be a comprehensive guide to Valley arts organizations and activities, one that is useful all year long.

7. Family-friendly activities.

The festival will feature a Family Zone north of the Phoenix Center for the Arts building, which will carry forward the center’s educational mission by providing children and teens a place to participate in hands-on arts activities.

8. Free entry and free parking.

According to Henschen, 10,000 visitors are expected to attend the festival at Margaret T. Hance Park in central Phoenix. The site offers free street parking nearby and easy access to the Valley Metro light rail system.

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