Art is a process of self-discovery, and that path, when followed by a population of artists, can play an important role in creating the character of a city.
The identity of Phoenix is made stronger by our arts community, from the small business owners who occupy gallery space, to the evolution and success of First Fridays. The city benefits from the inspiration and new ideas discovered through a creative process, but “if you don’t provide for your artists, they leave.”
So says Matt Baker, founder of Metropolitan Arts Institute.
Believing arts education is one way to provide for young artists, Baker in 1998 founded Metro Arts as a tuition-free, college preparatory visual and performing arts school for grades 7-12. The charter school is modeled after California art schools like Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica and Idyllwild Arts Academy in Idyllwild-Pine Cove.
“Phoenix is an adolescent city. We need more people to found organizations that get others thinking about our identity and who we are,” said Baker, the current Head of School. “One advantage to living in an adolescent city is anyone can do that. After grad school I wasn’t planning on staying in Phoenix, but the opportunity to start this school came up, and I’m still here.”
“If you don’t provide for your artists, they leave.”
– Matt Baker, Metropolitan Arts Institute
In public high schools, art and music programs always seem to be on the chopping block, while a heavy emphasis is placed on athletic programs. For students serious about sports, traditional high schools provide fields, weight rooms, pools, and dedicated coaches.
Talented athletes have more opportunities to be seen by scouts or receive scholarships than do talented artists who may not even have a chance to take an art elective until their junior year of high school. By then, too much time has passed to create a well-rounded portfolio.
“Students come to Metro Arts in 7th and 8th grade, explore different art forms, then come into their freshmen year prepared. Like playing a sport, it’s best to start young,” said Baker.
280 students are enrolled this year with 60-100 on a waiting list. Prospective students must be in good academic standing with at least a C average, have passed the AIMS test, and had no serious disciplinary action on their student record.
“Being an artist doesn’t mean you get to be lazy. It means you are creative. You have to produce,” said Baker. At Metro Arts, students have the guidance, encouragement, and opportunity to do just that.
Part of the vision of Metro Arts is to create a pre-professional environment that exposes students to the realities of life in the art world. Two big art shows are held each school year in which students compete to get in by submitting their best work, which is juried, just as in the professional world. Students have other opportunities to show their work at the Phoenix Art Museum, the ASU Art Museum and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
An Artist Grows in Phoenix
Last year as a freshmen, Bela Elvin painted a self-portrait; won second place at the Arizona Student Film Festival for a public service announcement she collaborated on about healthy eating titled “A Series of Unhealthy Events;” starred in a play; and wrote her own for the 5 Minute Play Festival titled “Dr. Khatte Tells his Tail,” a one act play about an intellectually suppressed cat.
Now a sophomore, she is gaining valuable hands-on experience and building an impressive portfolio while also completing the required high school academic courses in biology, geometry and humanities.
Bela’s mother, Katie Elvin, a poet and artist herself, was renting a room at 11 East Ashland, a former art gallery in Phoenix, when Bela was born.
“She came into the world surrounded by art. When she was a little girl I knew I wanted her to attend an art school,” said Elvin. “Artists think differently and may not flourish in a traditional school. I wanted to help her build skill sets to do the things she wants to do in the future.”
Bela speaks about her school and education with the maturity of a sophomore in college, not a sophomore in high school. Her passion for her work and excitement about the training she receives at Metro Arts brightens the room like houselights in a theater.
“If you just want to breeze through classes and do the bare minimum required to pass, you can do that just like you can anywhere. But if you want to make the most of your arts education, you can. The teachers have experience and vast knowledge of what they do. The academic teachers are just as passionate about their subjects as the arts teachers.” She says her math teacher considers the subject an art form. “I was terrible at math until I took his algebra class.”
All the arts teachers are also working artists from the Phoenix arts community. The Assistant Head of School, Lisa Starry, is the Artistic Director of Scorpius Dance Theater. Bela’s Mixed Media teacher is Sue Chenoweth, a painter whose most recent solo exhibition, “Spyhopping” opened at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in 2010. Chenoweth’s work has also been shown in New York and other galleries in Phoenix. Bela says she is excited to study under such an accomplished artist this year.
After she graduates from Metro Arts Bela plans to attend McGill University in Montreal, Canada to pursue a degree in psychology and theater, but for now she is focused on making the most of her sophomore year. She wrote another play that has been accepted into the 5 Minute Play Festival and she has kept busy by working on that production.
Her favorite memory of the last school year was when Alan Arkin visited Metro Arts and spoke to the student body.
“He told us that when someone asks us what we do, not to say, ‘I’m an actress’ but instead to say ‘I’m a person who acts.’ He told us to put ourselves being a human before our work. I liked his message because he was teaching us not to define ourselves simply by our work because that doesn’t say who we are as people, ” said Bela.
Perhaps our city can be defined by people like her.
Some news items don’t need translation. That’s why DPJ launched the From the Wire series, so we could serve the destinations here by posting information and announcements – in their own words.
Phoenix theater-goers are about to embark on a multicultural dance journey with the March 31st production of “The World Dances! A Celebration of the Universal Language“ at the Viad Playhouse in the Park. Professional performances representing India, Africa, Ireland, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Spain, Russia and more are on the itinerary for this global dance event.
She’s Got Hips Productions has assembled a diverse cast of professionals from around the country to stage this unique multicultural event. Performers include Michelle al Farfesha from New Mexico, and A’isha Azar from Washington along with Zahr Jamil Middle Eastern Dance Company, Divine Chaos Tribal, Maguire Irish Dance, Riyasha Daulat, Almagul Temirtekova and Arizona Dunun Ensemble.
A lifelong dancer and Middle Eastern dance professional. Mahin Sciacca launched this project to show the power and variety of dance across the globe. “In our shrinking world, we are increasingly aware of our human diversity. ‘The World Dances!’ is a window into the shared experience of dance as an expression of joy and a celebration of its many forms. We invite people to come take a trip around the world – right from their theater seat!”
More show details and ticket information can be found here.
The World Dances! A Celebration of the Universal Language
Date: Saturday, March 31st 7:30 pm
Location: Viad Playhouse in the Park, 1850 N. Central Ave.
Mahin has been teaching and performing Middle Eastern belly dance in the Phoenix area for over 10 years. She is the author of the internationally published “Daily Bellydance Quickies”, a national workshop instructor and free-lance dance writer for Shimmy and Zaghareet! magazines.
Bike Chic is a new DPJ series by Fashion intern, Cortney Kaminski. Each week she will be scouting locals who not only ride their bikes but look dapper doing it.
Occupation: Industrial Engineer
His neighborhood: Evans Churchill
Where spotted: Royal Coffee at the Market
What do you enjoy about Downtown? The ability to be able to walk, bike and train anywhere.
Where do you like to explore? I guess anywhere, Rum Bar at the Breadfruit is my favorite place; I kind of love rum.
Why do you use your bike as your mode of transportation? So I don’t have to use my car or my feet.
What he’s wearing:
• Jacket thrifted from Buffalo Exchange
• Banana Republic T-shirt and jeans
His biking essentials:
• Dahon Boardwalk folding bicycle
• Lights to make sure cars see him
What is art in Phoenix? A short piece compiled from my trip around Downtown Phoenix for Art Detour weekend. Thank you to all the artists, patrons, volunteers, and proprietors who took the time to speak with me.
(shot & cut by perry allen for dpj)
Downtown Phoenix is an ever-changing landscape, but amidst all the developments, bureaucracy, and continual struggle to create an urban core with an authentic sense of place, there is at least one event that has remained a constant feature and lifeblood in Downtown for over 20 years: First Fridays.
Local artist Carol Roque has been a part of this tradition as a vendor at every First Friday since December 2006 when she began selling her work as a young art student. Roque remembers the years of the mid 2000s as a simpler time, when artists gathered in dirt lots along Roosevelt Row, where one man would bring a generator and for ten bucks he’d allow artists to plug their extension cords in so they could light up their booths.
As First Friday continued to grow and spill out into the neighborhood streets the City of Phoenix began to take notice and it wasn’t long before bureaucracy was inserted into the evolution of the monthly event.
Soon paperwork, applications, and licenses became required for artists to display and sell their work.
“The license was easy to get back then. The City helped so I got everything I needed.”
At the age of 25, Roque has been a regular for long enough to remember when such things were not needed.
Her friend and now collaborator, Aldo Jeffery, invited her to show her work at First Friday after he happened to see some portraits she had completed while studying animation at the Art Institute of Phoenix.
He offered her space at his table where she carefully set out her samples for display.
“I was so nervous that I don’t think I said a single word all night.” She may not have said anything but she made $45 from sales of her 5×5 prints that she sold for $5.00 a piece.
She stuck with school and earned a B.A. in Media Arts and Animation, although she never pursued animation. Instead, after graduation she taught herself to oil paint and set out to make a living as a full time artist.
Connecting Through Art
Since childhood, Roque carried notebooks with her which she explains were her closest friends; she filled the pages with drawings and portraits of people for whom she would name and create stories and details to explain their lives.
As a kid she attended 4 different schools before moving from the Los Angeles area to Mesa with her family. “It was easier for me to connect with my paintings than it was for me to make friends.”
The theme that runs through her work is loneliness, a feeling seen in the expressions on the faces of the people she creates. Some of the subjects have distorted faces, some have large noses, all have intense eyes that seem to be pleading for understanding and love. Roque says people comment that the people in her paintings look sad and depressing.
“That caught me off guard to hear. It was a reminder that I’m not the only one who feels sad, other people do too.”
Her first painting was completed in a digital print and ink class where she learned how to paint on a computer. She still uses the computer as a way to map out her visions. Once an idea is created digitally, she is able to choose which one she wants to turn into an oil painting.
“I have to keep focused and imagine what I want. I think through the whole painting digitally, then plan how to turn it into an oil painting. It’s much easier to do it this way because it’s planned out and I’m not just painting blindly. I can plan the composition and the under painting and I don’t have to worry if I’m painting the lighting correctly.”
She said she always admired oil painters and now prefers oil because she can blend colors infinitely, but “oil paint is really dangerous and toxic. My hands used to tingle all the time and I thought that was normal. It’s not. I take precautions and wear gloves now.”
Living an Uncomplicated Life
Her work is shown around town in coffee shops or bars. Earlier this month she had a show at Hair Pollution on McDowell with Jeffery and this month her work is on display at Buffalo Exchange as their Artist of the Month.
She will have a regular gallery on Roosevelt Row in May where she will debut her newest and favorite painting.
“No one has seen it yet and it’s still untitled. It’s a girl with purple lilac hair, you see her back and she’s looking back at you with a lot of pain and emotion in her eyes. It’s intense but pretty when you first see it. There is a heart stitched on her back with a yellow bird on her shoulder holding one end of the string.”
Roque says she’s grateful that her life is uncomplicated at the moment.
“Sometimes I just work inside all day and only ever come out to First Friday. I should probably get out and socialize more. I’ve had a level of success, people recognize my work. The next step is to pay my rent more regularly.”
She acknowledges that during her years participating in First Friday she has witnessed many changes but what hasn’t changed is the interest in the downtown art scene.
“People come for different reasons. There are a lot of teenagers, lots of middle-aged men and women and elderly people. It’s everyone.”
Roque is out every First Friday and Third Friday in front of MADE Art Boutique on Roosevelt Street sharing her work with the Downtown Phoenix community. On Third Friday she draws live and you can get a custom portrait in about 20-30 minutes for only 15 bucks.
Images courtesy of Carol Roque.