One of the country’s coolest art festivals starts in a few nights—it’s Scottsdale, Arizona’s Canal Convergence. Set on the edge of the city’s canals, the free nighttime event is billed as “water – lights – art” and showcases incredible large-scale, light-based outdoor art, much of which is immersive and participatory in nature. Best of all? The art is reflected in the water, so you get twice as much of it!
Canal Convergence includes plenty of drop-in events, such as mask making, a one-hour walking tour of the displays with knowledgeable Scottsdale Arts staff, and even a “Dress Up with Crummy Clothes” dress-up space that lets you play fashionista while learning about how upcycled fashion works.
This year’s theme is “play” (hey! Just like Katy Perry!), so much of the art will integrate play into the public’s interaction with the pieces. Artists hail from all over the world, as well as locally. One of the pieces you can see is “Light Forest,” by L.A. based Liquid PXL. This consists of 16 10-foot pillars emitting synchonized light and sound that you can walk through along Soleri Bridge; the pillars “perform” a 15 minute light show. Another piece, “Spectrum Swing” by New Orleans artist Lindsay Glatz, invites participants to sit down and swing under rainbow light sculptures, trying to activate the colors—something that is only possible when all seven swings are in use.
Even when play is not the theme, the festival has a high-spirited vibe. In 2022, this writer overheard teens excitedly shouting to each other, "Come here!" to experience one of the installations that had previously been erected at Burning Man. It's great to see kids get so excited about art; this is hardly a boring gallery of static two-dimensional paintings. One installation that year released sudden bursts of harmless carbon dioxide that had guests screaming and then laughing in surprise.
This is the 11th year Canal Convergence has been in operation, and it runs 10 nights, from November 3 to 12. During the day, while you’re waiting for night to fall for the light show by the canal, visit three different art spots in the city: the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, the art pop-up turned permanent in Scottsdale Fashion Square called Wonderspaces, and the Native Art Market in Old Town Scottsdale, where Native American artists sell their work directly to consumers.