Making her way downtown

Catrina Kahler shares her love for downtown Phoenix and its art and culture

In the middle of downtown Phoenix the Interstate 10 slices through several historic neighborhoods – one of them being the Roosevelt historic district.

Colorful murals, walnut trees and antique-looking homes reject the familiar, dull and monotonous look of suburban Arizona that Catrina Kahler had come to know so well. When she discovered the neighborhood she says she thought to herself, “How could I have lived here all my life and never known of this place?”

“If I didn’t know about it, thousands of people probably didn’t know about it,” Kahler says. “I was in events, I did media and I worked with cities. I was fairly knowledgeable about city development, economic development, and I had no idea this was here.”

With experience in event planning, Kahler felt inspired to pursue an array of creative endeavors to promote the area such as founding the Downtown Phoenix Journal and serving as president of Artlink, a nonprofit that helps coordinate First Fridays.

She also owns her own marketing company, Urban Affair, which publishes the Downtown Phoenix Journal and is appropriately named after her love for the city.

“I respect people’s talents greatly,” Kahler says. “So I feel like this community with all these creatives and writers and photographers and architects and artists and planners and historic preservationists, I mean they have such a wealth of knowledge and such an enormous amount of talent. … People should know about that.”

At Arizona State University in the 90s, Kahler felt apathetic toward her classes, rotating from history to teaching to liberal arts unaware of how she would apply what she learned to a future career.

“I just was not getting the level of engagement I wanted, I wanted to be more hands on,” Kahler says. “I think that’s a trait I have. I do learn by doing.”

She left ASU to answer phones at a sports and event marketing firm, which soon ascended into coordinating events and eventually becoming a PR representative for the firm — accustoming her to downtown and ultimately preparing her to pursue her own goals. “I was the utility player,” Kahler says. “I did whatever I could to help.”

Above all, she learned how vital the arts were to the growth of the city. “It just became part of that natural thought process that you couldn’t separate the arts and culture from the success of downtown,” Kahler says.

In 2010, she reached out to Artlink to help produce their map for First Friday, a monthly nighttime art walk attracting visitors from around the Valley. She has worked for them since and now serves as president. Albeit not an artist herself, Kahler’s appreciation for the arts is evident.

“I’m surrounded by people where I’m in awe at what they can do,” Kahler says. “An artist can take a blank canvas and with a few strokes, can create something that can make someone cry, or laugh or remember something.”

Artlink is currently planning Art Detour 29 – the 29th anniversary of the event that helped launch First Fridays on March 16-19. The event differs from First Friday in that it takes place annually in the spring and gives visitors an opportunity to tour several artists’ studio spaces.

“To see the space where the artist is inspired, and creative and create works that we sometimes just see on a wall or a pedestal­, to see where these things are born, is special,” Kahler says.

Kahler works out of the Coe House, a 121-year-old home in the heart of downtown Phoenix that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Art receptions are held in the downstairs living room and an array of tenants, ranging from a chiropractor to graphic designer, enhance the collaborative environment of the building.

Courtney McCune, managing editor of the Downtown Phoenix Journal, says her favorite project she worked on with Kahler was recent. Inspired by Netflix’s “Gilmore Girls” revival and their resemblance to the characters, the two wrote a piece likening downtown Phoenix to Stars Hollow – the town from the series.

To dwindle Kahler’s sizable workload, Leslie Criger helps by coordinating with “articipants” for upcoming events and keeping local businesses updated with Phoenix Urban Guide, an intuitive online database Kahler developed.

Kahler and Criger have known each other for 15 years and have worked together for the past three years. Criger admires Kahler’s ability to conceptualize projects with precision from start to finish.

“She’s very thoughtful in the things that she does and why she does the things that she does,” Criger says.

“I like to consider myself a very simple-minded human being, so when I pay attention to what she’s doing, and she’s thinking so far beyond what I think, it’s pretty awesome to see the end result and go, ‘Oh, that’s why you did it this way.’”

Reach the reporter at or follow @HaileyMensik on Twitter.

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