Before you hit the sidewalks for the 25th anniversary Art Detour this weekend, we’re revisiting artist, writer, and advocate, Susan Copeland’s overview of the impact the arts have had in our downtown – originally published in the Nov/Dec 2011 edition of Downtown Phoenix Journal Magazine. Her article provides extra background for appreciating Artlink’s “Detour in Time” exhibit at the A.E. England gallery, open this weekend for First Friday, and Saturday and Sunday for Art Detour.
What is it about Downtown Phoenix that interests a college student, a developer, a cyclist, a chef, an artist or an engineer?
It’s the energy on the streets and the buzz in the cafes. It exists in every coffee-house conversation, every stroll down a newly shaded street, at any art opening, and in the first bite of sushi. It’s the young couple with the stroller, baby and fuzzy dog walking after dark. It’s the lunchtime food truck queues, the thunder of balls in the bowling alley, and the smell of fresh peaches at the market. Engaged people are creating new life in downtown Phoenix and the evidence can be seen, heard, felt and tasted.
This buzz is firmly rooted in the creative community that has worked for many years to bring downtown to life. It is evident in the history of the arts-led transformation of downtown, and how it has fueled revitalization and overcome the obstacles that challenge the continuation of this transformation.
Early Urban Arts Pioneers
The roots of this transformation can be traced through the history of Beatrice Moore and Tony Zahn, who came to Phoenix sight-unseen in 1986. They were drawn by the optimism behind the city’s name, the desert and the non-hip art scene. They created the very first Art Detour, an annual tour of artists’ studios with a small group of 20 art spaces. “It was a way for artists to show their own work independent from galleries. It was an educational event for the public,” Moore said.
“[Art Detour] was a way for artists to show their own work independent from galleries.”
– Beatrice Moore, GAMA
Moore and Zahn watched gentrification take place, often spurred by the unwitting ability of artists to make a place cool. Their first artist studio was in an old brick warehouse on the site where U.S. Airways Arena now stands. A new jail occupies the site of their second studio. Recognizing that a renter’s fate is determined by his landlord, they bought their first building.
“Artists need to get ownership,” Moore said. “Young artists are not planning for their future. New construction is often not affordable for studio space.”
Their purchase and renovation of historic buildings along Grand Avenue not only created affordable artist studios, but also helped to transform a formerly decrepit downtown stretch of boarded-up buildings into a revitalized corridor that draws thousands of people to art openings, studios, a growing number of bars and restaurants and the annual Grand Avenue Festival.
“It is a diverse and younger crowd, and has introduced a lot of new folks to the museum.”
– Jim Ballinger, Phoenix Art Museum
A Detour Takes Hold of Fridays
The success of the yearly Art Detour led another group of artists to start a monthly tour called Phoenix Arts After Hours. This gave birth to the nationally lauded First Friday, a self-guided tour of art spaces and galleries held on the first Friday of every month. It has become the core of the downtown arts scene.
The Phoenix Art Museum has participated in Artlink’s First Friday art walk on and off since its inception. “We’ve had a very positive connection with First Friday,” said museum director Jim Ballinger. “We’ve had anywhere from 800 to 2,000 people come through the museum on a First Friday evening. It is a diverse and younger crowd, and has introduced a lot of new folks to the museum.”
Would there be as many new restaurants, condos, galleries and hotels downtown without the presence of 10,000-plus people wandering around downtown on First Friday? The presence of the creative community has brought life, vitality and identity to downtown.
“The easiest way to find a community in Phoenix is to participate, get involved.”
– Cindy Dach, Roosevelt Row CDC
The Row Takes Shape
When Cindy Dach and Greg Esser moved here from Denver, they struggled to find a community. Eager to renovate and without any appealing living spaces available, they began an odyssey. Fifteen years, several buildings and many projects later they helped make Roosevelt Street a cornerstone of the downtown arts community. “The easiest way to find a community in Phoenix is to participate, get involved,” says Dach. That they have. They formed the successful eyelounge and 515 artists’ collectives, MADE Art Boutique, Kitchen Street Studio and the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation (CDC).
Wayne Rainey, Kimber Lanning and Dach/Esser all bought buildings and created art spaces within six months of each other. The prices were low enough at the time to make the spaces affordable. Dach says that artists are natural problem solvers. “We looked at the closed up buildings and dark spaces and said, ‘Yeah, this sucks. How can we fix it?’”
“It’s the small things that form the connective tissue that makes the big things work.”
– Ed Lebow, Phoenix Public Art Director
It is this type of creativity, community involvement, forward thinking and innovation that many people believe will move Phoenix forward. Ed Lebow, Public Art Director for the City of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, says, “It’s the small things that form the connective tissue that makes the big things work.”
Small ideas yielding big results are creating an organic identity for downtown today. The little farmers’ market that grew into a grocery store, coffee house, wine bar and community gathering space is another perfect example.
Chicago transplant Cindy Gentry fell in love with the historic Santa Fe Depot in the warehouse district near Jackson Street. Her goals were to create easy access to healthy food for low-income residents, help keep farmers on their land and create jobs. “Our focus was on low income people but we didn’t want to do it in a vacuum,” Gentry said. “We wanted to create a place where people from all backgrounds could come together.”
She was drawn to downtown because “the creative energy of the city lies here. A connection to the arts community was a logical choice.” Although the Santa Fe Depot market never happened, Gentry [as executive director of Community Food Connections] did create the Phoenix Public Market, a grocery store and a thriving farmers market, with a strong emphasis on organic produce and handmade crafts, that anchors Saturday mornings downtown. Says Gentry, “The creative energy that is here in Phoenix is looking for places to get out.”
“The creative energy that is here in Phoenix is looking for places to get out.”
– Cindy Gentry, Community Food Connections
That creative energy is apparent in the art-centric downtown development of developer and indie rocker Tim Sprague, of Habitat Metro. Two of his current projects are the adaptive reuse of an old hotel, the Oasis, to create affordable living and work spaces for artists, and, most recently, a remodeling of the Lexington hotel that centers around arts and culture.
“Humans have talent that we should recognize and celebrate,” Sprague said. “Performing arts, music, media, theatre – they are the spice of life. Art has the ability to bring people together to initiate discussion. It’s an automatic switch for turning on tolerance and bringing together diverse ideas.”
“The organic arts scene that developed brought focus to the downtown,” he said. “It provided the cushion and continuity for things to keep happening. It brought traffic and people downtown that would not have come. It made downtown relevant.”
This ability of the artistic community to create relevance and continuity was evident to George Kritikos and his wife Stacy, who left Chicago to buy and take over the Athenian Grill, a Greek restaurant on Central just south of Roosevelt. Kritikos believes that the arts community is good for the area. Historically, he watched how the arts helped in the transformation of downtown Chicago from a scary dark place. “(Mayor Richard) Daly cleaned up the streets. There was artwork, painted cows, landscaping, lighting. All of it together helped take away the scary aspect of the streets. Then coffee shops and restaurants starting popping up.”
“The organic arts scene that developed brought focus to the downtown. It provided the cushion and continuity for things to keep happening. It brought traffic and people downtown that would not have come. It made downtown relevant.”
– Tim Sprague, Habitat Metro
Filling the Gaps
The biggest stumbling block to this transformation in Phoenix may be the empty lots that divide all of the cool, hip things from each other. When you look down First and Third streets at night, south of Roosevelt, it is dark and scary. People are afraid to walk north from the Sheraton and Alta Lofts.
But the creative community is working on a solution for that too.
Many temporary uses for empty lots have been proposed, but shot down for fear of them becoming too popular and permanent – leading to a potential for public outcry when the temporary project has to make way for a permanent structure. Nevertheless, two artistic uses have recently been implemented.
On Roosevelt near Fourth Street, the Roosevelt Row CDC, has cleaned up, dust-proofed and put temporary lighting in an empty lot to create the First and Third Friday A.R.T.S. (Adaptive Reuse Temporary Spaces) Markets, giving small local vendors the opportunity to become part of the popular art walks. Small booths dot the lot twice each month selling everything from ice cream to hand-crafted wood items.
A few blocks southeast of the A.R.T.S. Market is Valley of the Sunflowers, another Roosevelt Row temporary adaptive reuse project, which broke ground in September, and will feature an entire block of sunflowers. It is the brainchild of Kenny Barrett, downtown resident and newly appointed project director for Roosevelt Row’s A.R.T.S. program. With grant funding from Intel and volunteer support from the community, the project will produce sunflower oil that the students at the adjacent BioScience High School will help harvest. They will then use the oil to run the biofuel car that they are creating.
As little as it is, the Valley of Sunflowers project may just be one of the most important projects in downtown Phoenix in the past 10 years. It has brought together young people, artists, engineers, developers and the city to create a project that is sustainable, creative and breaks the boundaries of what it is possible to accomplish in downtown Phoenix. Most importantly, it removes the barrier of fear and apathy toward addressing the problem of the empty lots.
It is easy to see why a college student, a developer, a cyclist, a chef, an artist and an engineer would be drawn to a place like Phoenix. The vibrancy and buzz that created places like Paris, Chicago and Portland are in their infancy here. Phoenix will not recreate or become any of those places. It is creating its own identity. It is growing organically because people want this sustainable lifestyle. More and more people are choosing an authentic experience: enjoying coffee and a crepe at JoBot; shopping for handmade one-of-a-kind items at MADE; finding organic locally grown produce at the Public Market; mingling with neighbors at Faces, Places and Spaces amidst the art at Bragg’s Pie Factory; or lingering over a late night imported beer at Carly’s. If none of these places and events are familiar, then you are missing out on the core of the new Phoenix.
Hugo Medina is a force to be reckoned with; he’s not just a talented muralist and the winner of the Public Art Award category in the newly announced Mayor’s Arts Awards, he’s someone who can rally a community and make things happen.
In this case, that “something” is an extraordinary public mural that will emerge over this weekend at the inaugural Phoenix Festival of the Arts. The mural will be extraordinary in both size and scope and it took a dynamo like Medina to make it all work.
Using Facebook, Medina put out a call to artists to participate in the project. “I wanted a diverse group of artists to get involved,” said Hugo. “Everything from accomplished muralists, to fine artists, students, graffiti artists, and novice painters.” Over 80 artists responded to his call.
Medina’s concept created a simple but elegant way to bring artists into contact with each other and the public. Each of the 80 artists will have a 4’ X 8’ wooden panel (donated to the festival by Home Depot) to make their own. In between each artist panel will be a blank panel where the community will be invited to participate. The two artists working on either side of the blank panel will collaborate on an idea for the community to realize.
This allows for each artist to make their own work, but also gives artists who may have never met previously the chance to work together. The only restriction on the work is that it not be negative and that it is in some way focused on Downtown Phoenix. By placing the blank community panels between the two artist panels, Medina is hoping that a natural flow will develop from one panel to the next.
The mural will be completed during the three-day festival and when done, will consist of 160 four-foot high panels, stretching for 1,280 feet. There will be several mural stations throughout the festival where the public can watch the artists work, or grab a brush and participate. Everyone is invited to lend a hand and make their mark, including kids.
Bring the whole family down to Hance Park this weekend to the Phoenix Festival of the Arts to make your mark on this unique public art project that is bringing artists and the public together to create something everyone can be proud of and enjoy.
“Come Monday morning, I’ll be working with the City of Phoenix to pack up the panels and move them to the corner of Central and Indian School,” said Medina. This is the new PHX Renews site at Indian School Road and Central Avenue; a large empty space that has been activated into temporary multi-use public space. “I’ll curate the placing of the panels around the park,” he continued. “Some will be placed along the fence to make them visible from the street, and others will be scattered along the paths within the fenced space.” The panels will remain at the site for the next three years.
If you go:
Event: Community Mural at Phoenix Festival of the Arts
When: Friday, Dec 7 through Sunday, Dec 9
Times: Friday 2 to 9 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
What’s required: Your creativity. Paint, brushes and wood panel canvasses will be provided.
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Mayor Greg Stanton will present the first-ever “Mayor’s Arts Awards” at the Phoenix Festival of the Arts this weekend.
Stanton launched the awards to highlight the cultural richness of Phoenix and recognize excellence from the visual and performing arts in the community. A panel of distinguished members from the arts and culture areas selected awardees in five categories based upon excellence and community impact.
Stanton will present the awards Saturday, Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. on the main stage at the Phoenix Festival of the Arts at Margaret T. Hance Park, 1202 N. 3rd St. in Phoenix.
“Arts and culture are vital to the social and economic well being of our city,” Stanton said. “They improve our quality of life, uplift our spirits and help attract and keep talented employees and innovative businesses in Phoenix. The Phoenix Festival of the Arts is an important opportunity for all of us to celebrate the breadth and depth of the arts and culture community in Phoenix.”
The winners of each category include:
Dance Organization Award
Scorpius Dance Theatre
Formed in 1999 by choreographer, Lisa Starry, Scorpius Dance Theatre is observing its 11th season in operation. The contemporary dance company has been a constant presence in the metropolitan Phoenix arts community since its inception, combining the motifs of humor, drama and both organic and technical movement to form a very distinct brand of dance theater.
Music Organization Award
Downtown Chamber Series
The Downtown Chamber Series brings chamber music to distinctive art spaces in downtown Phoenix, showcasing professional musicians and the works of local artists.
Public Art Award
Born in La Paz, Bolivia, Medina immigrated to New York as a child, where his interest in art was fostered by his architect father. While completing his undergraduate work in New York, Medina volunteered to teach classes at a summer program at the Kumayya Indian reservation in San Diego, Calif. His experience at the reservation is what led him to become an art teacher. Hugo’s desire to give back to the community and his love of children led him to a teaching career. Medina’s great appreciation and admiration of the southwest brought him to Phoenix, where he has been the mastermind behind some of the city’s best murals.
Rising Youth Theatre
Rising Youth Theatre is Phoenix theater company founded by ASU grads Xanthia Walker and Sarah Sullivan to create youth driven theatre that is riveting and relevant, challenging audiences to hear new stories, start conversations and participate in their communities. Recently, the diverse company of students has created plays based on immigrant youth.
Visual Artist Award
Grigsby, 94, came to Phoenix following World War II to teach art at Carver High School. He joined the faculty at Arizona State University in 1966 and served as a Trustee of Phoenix Art Museum. His public collections are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Printmaking Workshop in New York City, the Library of Congress, the Cape Coast Museum in West Africa and Philadelphia’s Brandywine Workshop, as well as art centers and galleries in leading universities and public venues across the nation.
This weekend’s Phoenix Festival of the Arts runs from Dec. 7 to 9 at Hance Park and is the city’s first signature arts festival. The free event features three days of live entertainment, arts vendors, a hands-on community mural, food trucks, Kidz Korner and more. Celebrate artists and arts organizations from across Phoenix’s cultural landscape. Hosted by Phoenix Center for the Arts and sponsored by Lou and Evelyn Grubb, this free festival will become an annual tradition.
Image of Eugene Grigsby by Dee Dee Woods
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Stanton, community leaders launch PHX Renews — the largest transformation of vacant land into public space
Mayor Greg Stanton along with Keep Phoenix Beautiful, Barron Collier Companies and community leaders opened PHX Renews — a major project that’s transforming a 15-acre vacant lot in central Phoenix into a sustainable public space.
PHX Renews is the largest transformation of vacant land happening in the country and sits in the heart of Phoenix on the northeast corner of Indian School Road and Central Ave, at the historic Steele Indian School Park. The initiative is partnership between Keep Phoenix Beautiful, a nonprofit, and Barron Collier Companies, owners of the property.
“When I became mayor, I recognized the negative impact vacant lots have on our community and businesses. So, we got to work to bring businesses, community members and non-profits together to transform these lots into new opportunities,” Stanton said. “This is the first step to creating a vibrant urban core for Phoenix. I want this project to serve as a prototype of a living, learning laboratory of how other vacant properties can be transformed into great public spaces.”
As a creative partnership, this project brings no additional cost to the city since the land is on loan from Barron Collier Companies and all design and building services are provided by Smith Group/JJR Design Firm. The project will be managed by Keep Phoenix Beautiful.
“Barron Collier Companies is pleased to provide this opportunity to the citizens of Phoenix, and we have enjoyed working with the mayor and city officials to make this a reality,” said Gary DuBrock of Barron Collier Companies.
Today is just the start and over the next 18 months, PHX Renews will evolve as a community driven effort showing how citizens, nonprofits and organizations can work together to shape the future of their community. Mayor Stanton also wants to make it easier to get city approval for more projects like this in Downtown Phoenix and in light rail areas.
“Keep Phoenix Beautiful is proud to partner with the City of Phoenix, Barron Collier Companies and Smith Group/JJR to transform the corner of Central Ave. and Indian School Road. While this project is very important to us as an organization, it is a stepping stone to transforming vacant lots across the city,” said Tom Waldeck, Executive Director of Keep Phoenix Beautiful.
These are the projects happening right now at PHX Renews:
- Urban community farming supporting local non-profits, communities and Valley refugees
- Sustainable technology to improve energy, water and food cultivation
- Outdoor education space for local schools focusing on environmental science programs with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Office
- Educational opportunities for nearby schools and community members teaching everything from small urban gardening, recycling, wise energy and water use to alternative transportation
- Large community art displays and cultural projects
- Creative use of play and social spaces
All of these sustainable projects and outdoor displays will be temporary since the end goal is to attract redevelopment in the years ahead. However, the partnerships between community and business leaders will continue to grow and bring real solutions for this vacant lot problem.
The partners of PHX Renews are:
- Mayor Greg Stanton, City of Phoenix
- City of Phoenix managerial executives and leadership
- Keep Phoenix Beautiful
- Barron Collier Companies
- Smith Group/ JJR Design & Build Firm
- Cornerstone community partners
Renderings provided by the City of Phoenix.
For all-natural skin care products provided by one of America’s fastest growing private companies, look no further than your own local retailers.
DeVita Natural Skin Care, a Phoenix-based cosmeceutical line, placed among prominent independent companies like Yelp, Chobani Yogurt and KIND Healthy Snacks on the 2012 list by Inc. Magazine, the Inc. 500/5000.
The skin care line ranked at number 2077 on this list of independent entrepreneurs after experiencing a three-year sales growth of 127 percent.
Available at Healthy Habit Health Foods and other retailers throughout the Valley, the certified woman-owned business offers high-quality products that are PETA certified, vegan and 100 percent paraben-free.
Cherylanne DeVita, Ph.D., DeVita’s president and CEO, said she started the business after repeatedly finding herself disappointed by the ingredients used in other skin care products.
“The products I was purchasing were expensive, and I felt as though the American woman was being taken advantage of by the skin care system,” she said. “So I decided to come up with a natural line without any toxic preservatives in it.”
DeVita’s products use organic aloe vera bases rather than the typical water bases, she explained, and all of the aloe vera comes from Arizona desert plants.
Using this type of base allows the products to absorb into the skin faster and deeper.
The natural ingredients in this skin care line allow customers to experience rapid moisturizing effects, the diminishing of fine lines and wrinkles, and the reduction of blemishes, DeVita added.
She said the success of her company came from careful timing, and also by developing a product she knew women wanted and demanded.
“There’s really a need out there for women to find effective, safe beauty products,” DeVita said. “Also, we like our beauty products beautiful and elegant, so it was the perfect time for a line to come along that uses natural ingredients, that is safe, and that is beautiful.”
DeVita said that when she found out her company made the list, she was stunned.
“When you start a company, you’re so busy working that you don’t take time to stop and look back at what you’ve accomplished,” she said. “We are very honored to be among a group of great start-up companies that have become household names in America.”
Featured photo: DeVita products at Healthy Habit Health Foods.