Last Saturday, Artlink’s Silver Gala brought together Detour supporters past and present in honor of Art Detour 25, March 2 and 3, Inspired Connections’ Chief Connector Rhonda Bannard remarks on the evolution of the arts in downtown Phoenix reminds us of this community’s strength and encourages further connection with business leaders to propel us to the next level of success.
In 1993, I jumped into the position of downtown [Phoenix Partnership's] marketing manager. My first assignment was to help the Suns and the city prepare for the NBA playoffs and a parade of what turned out to be 350,000 people downtown on a 115 degree day. It was quickly apparent that supporting the arts & cultural community was critically important to the revitalization efforts that were beginning to take shape.
My boss at the time – Margaret Mullen – was at the forefront of negotiating deals for artists in the Jackson Street studios. It may not be a happy memory for many artists, as the studios needed to be relocated for the Arena to be built. She shared with me that it was Mayor Terry Goddard who said we needed to figure out how the business community could keep the artists downtown and not have them scatter across the Valley. Consider how that set us up for where you are today.
Margaret said that it is often the artists who had the guts to go in early and see the revitalization opportunities waiting to happen.
I remember meeting artists Sevak Khalsa, Greg West, and Otto Rigan in the early years and how Jackson Street was one of the top places to visit on Art Detour. I remember hearing Beatrice Moore’s name often.
And I remember being told to help out Art Detour however the Downtown Phoenix Partnership could.
From arts to theater to the tiny Arizona Science Center with the Swensen’s Ice Cream shop next to it – those early days for arts and culture were not easy.
Tonight we celebrate the early pioneers who paved the way for the possibilities of today.
The first gallery owners, the early downtown artists, and those passionate volunteers with Artlink – many still active in the community today – all made it possible for tonight’s celebration.
I don’t have to tell you that it’s been a challenging road. And sometimes you can still hear the same challenges and complaints leveled in the effort to sell the value of the arts to a vibrant city center.
Yet I would submit you’ve proven the potential – whether it’s seen in the “must do” First Fridays, or the burgeoning Third Fridays and more intimate arts meet ups.
The business community and city are starting to speak your language. They just come at it from a different lens. They realize that they are competing for workforce talent – and the one common denominator of talent is to look to the creative.
So looking at 25 years and beyond for Artlink and the downtown arts community – what’s next?
1,500 chief executives noted “creativity” as the most important leadership skills needed for successful ventures in the future – according to an IBM’s survey through its Institute for Business Value. The findings noted that they understand the power of an innovative individual and the creative thinking and collaborative mentality they bring with them.
They’re even beginning to advocate for it in schools.
Well, as we know, Arizona is usually behind such trends, so here are some ideas that could help us move forward:
- Showcase the competitive edge businesses can realize with their workforce and within the community to attract talent by supporting the arts. This will not be easy given the realization that many business are still hanging on until the economy turns more upright.
- Refine your messaging.
- Remember to speak their language when you’re telling your story.
- Stop speaking to the choir and let your voice be heard outside of your community.
- See yourself as a bridge to connect the community. Help the business community see you as the creative tool in their toolbox.
The intrinsic benefits of arts are many – they sooth, provoke, connect us, connect cultures. It’s essential to the health and vitality of our community – it makes new business possible, tourism probable, attracts skilled and educated workers – especially if we begin to consider and harness the growing power of the younger generations. Let them know they can tap your talents when pitching for business.
- Go to them until they starting coming to you.
- Support business leaders who “get it” and help them become your ambassadors.
Business scholars are already recognizing that creativity is at the leading edge of innovation.
In Massachusetts a “creative economy director” is part of their statewide economic development strategy.
In D.C. a mayor’s summit is held on the creative economy to connect arts to community and help local businesses.
In one MBA program ranked first in entrepreneurship, students are required to take art classes. Same with those in another college’s engineering program. They believe that creativity allows for quantum leaps in knowledge.
Americans for the Arts said, “When we reduce support for the arts, we are not cutting frills. Rather we’re undercutting an industry that is a cornerstone of tourism, economic development and the revitalization of many downtowns. When we INCREASE support for the arts, we are generating tax revenues, jobs and a creativity-based economy.”
Great points, great message. One that now requires us to translate it to those who need to hear it.
There are some advantages to your bike being your only source of transportation around Phoenix. One of them is no longer being subjected to the inevitable conversation on the bus or train where someone says that Phoenix isn’t a real city and has no character.
I get it. You came from somewhere else and it was so awesome you had to leave. Then you came to Phoenix expecting it to answer all of your problems and it turns out it’s just as messed up as everywhere else and, on top of that, it has spiky plants, absurdly hot weather and none of the flowers you could grow back in Michigan will grow here.
When I try to pinpoint what Phoenix’s character is, I often end up thinking about how our isolation and the possibility that the heat will kill you define our actions here. I also try to see this place like someone who hasn’t lived here for over 15 years and accepts it with open eyes.
I look at Grand Avenue.
Due to a little-known zoning restriction, the sweat of a lot of people, a slower process of development and a unique positioning in the geography of Phoenix, Lower Grand Avenue has managed to retain enough remnants of the early developments of this city to give us the sense that Phoenix does not have to mean generic strip malls and chain restaurants. It is one of the few places where we can look at what is still there and imagine the generations that were there before us. Phoenix is in fact not a blank slate to wipe clean and re-imagine how to rebuild for whichever developer’s benefit. It has a history—one that goes back much farther than even these poured concrete and masonry buildings.
Beatrice Moore has pretty much seen it all, partly because earlier developments for the now US Airways Center and Chase Field forced her and her partner to be moved to whichever location was just on the fringe of the developer’s zone. They looked to Grand Avenue with its unique, older buildings, lower prices and distance from possible development to be able to work and be creative in peace.
It seems that Grand has managed to remain this type of place. It integrates families, artists, new and old businesses, and social welfare programs. It seems quieter and slower there. There’s more time for cactus to grow and for people to think, thoughtfully, about what might be best for the community. Unlike other areas of the city that have seen immediate high rise development, speculation and the battle of large chains moving in to take advantage of high trafficked areas (monstrosity at 7th Ave and McDowell, I’m looking at you), Grand Avenue has been churning on, planning for ways to make it a lively area without simply focusing on it as a one-hit destination. This is an area where people can afford to live and breathe.
Stephanie Carrico, co-owner of the Trunk Space, sees Phoenix as a small town in a big city and maybe this is its unique key to potential success. In a community where people are aware of who has lived there for generations and what businesses helped build the area, it seems more likely that people will look out for each other’s interests. They’re less likely to allow developments that turn the location into a concept of the location without any remaining soul.
Grand Avenue, partly because of the care people have put into adapting and reusing buildings there, is a place that makes people stop and think. Not as many people want to contend with it as they might with more hip locations because, in order to do so, you are confronted by a place that is rooted in time and actually manages to say that this is Phoenix. Now are you going to tear it down and pretend it’s somewhere else, or are you going to figure out how to work with it?
In several past articles I have discussed the potential of Phoenix’s art community, growing, adapting, taking risks, trying something weird and questioning the content of their work. Upon review, they seem to have laid the foundation for some so-called New Year’s Resolutions.
There is something about New Year’s Resolutions that doesn’t sit well with me. However, I get that it helps to have a single day in the year to pinpoint a moment of change and renewal. And for the arts community, it’s a time when we can collectively support each other in the concept of trying something new.
One thing that can tend to often linger in an artist’s mind is “What is next?” What’s the next project? What’s the next idea? Where is the next source of inspiration? (What is the next paid job?) Sometimes, we can find ourselves at a standstill and will lean back on familiar territory that has given reliable results but may, in the long run, not be entirely satisfying.
Instead of relying on these usual tactics, we can find artists from around the world creating incredible works that we never knew existed. A random internet search for something like “installation artist plants electronics” can locate a project on a plant city or real-time 3-D plant sculptures. When in a rut, finding works like these could inspire a new direction or, in the very least, open up our eyes to a vast world of creative people with complex ideas that are being put into action. I personally like to find new resources like Empty Kingdom, Hyperallergic or even something like Phoenix New Times’ (Claire Lawton’s) 100 Creatives to do some of the legwork for me and package it all in a nice, clean format.
Although a lot of people resolve to learn something new (a new language, how to fix their car, how to fingerprint someone) maybe, for the artist, the idea is to resolve to do something new.
Instead of just painting or photographing a different subject, the artist might resolve to create work using different materials and applying completely different rules. Or, completely break any rules about what is being created (this is our art and we can do whatever we want, right?) and don’t be concerned about whether or not it gains approval.
One resolution I’d like to see take place in the art community (and, well, anywhere) is to stop being concerned about whether what we’re doing fits in anywhere or makes sense to anyone. Even if a major component of creating artwork is communication, a person can’t communicate properly if she is always trying to figure out what the other person wants her to say.
This is the time and 2013 is the year – and all we have is now. There’s no better time than the new year to be clearer about what you’re doing and begin confusing the hell out of everyone else.
Currently, on any given First or Third Friday, you can venture into downtown Phoenix and find yourself a nice enough art exhibit, with a crowd of visitors. This wasn’t always the case. I remember rough times as a founding member of Eye Lounge when we were happy to see at least 25 people come through the door.
Now it’s over 10 years later and Phoenix has developed a steady stream of of people eager to see what’s happening. This is surely a sign of Phoenix’s cultural growth, but what is next? How does the downtown art scene evolve into something more significant? As an artist, I’ve always believed that we owe the our audience a challenge. We must create work that takes risks and makes our audience ask “what is this about?”
I moved to Phoenix in 1996 after having grown up around institutions like the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art and even the rich, cultural density of the small city of Reading, PA. I expected art and substance to be here, just waiting for me to access it. I quickly found that, like so many things in this city, you really have to dig into its layers and sometimes you have to work to create it.
The Phoenix art scene is at a pivotal point. At first, it was sufficient to put up a show—any show—and hope that people would come see it. Now there’s a sense that something more needs to happen to shift into the next gear. Do we continue to evolve and take our place among other culturally significant cities or risk idling into oblivion and diminishing all the hard work that’s gone into getting us to this point? The question is not is there an art exhibit anymore, the question must be what is it about?
In some ways, this transition has begun to happen. Independent curators such as Lara Taubman (now Wisniewski), Gina Cavallo Collins, Ted Decker and Modified directors Kim Larkin and Jeff Chabot have, in the past and present, designed shows centered around complex themes—presenting work that wasn’t guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser but which takes advantage of the captive audience and open venues to dive into headier subjects, such as immigration, the vacancy of space in Phoenix, the video game as art piece or the language and images of war taking many forms. In the area of performance art, The Phoenix Fringe Festival has taken on this challenge—giving a platform for odd, ephemeral and performance-based work. The success of the festival is based on our local art and performance community’s willingness to try something different and gamble on the results.
Although taking risks and exploring new forms of presentation, materials and venues doesn’t automatically generate substance, the process of thinking in this direction has the potential to create works that have more social and personal relevance. Failures are possible, but within them are the possibility to discover something new. Putting a thoughtfully selected group of artists together to address a common concept gives the audience a theme and common ground for engaging with the work; much like reading a collection of essays on sea exploration or watching Shark Week on TV— they get to see different angles of a singular idea.
All of the ingredients are here. We have a vibrant, proactive group of creative individuals that believe in community and support each other thoroughly. These individuals are intelligent, thoughtful, enterprising people who have managed to galvanize an area and develop an audience. Microcosms of artist groups have developed within this larger whole that express different perspectives and commonalities. These commonalities could be explored to generate exhibitions, performances, events, happenings, or interventions that would highlight the most compelling aspects of the artists at work in this city.
Phoenix should continue to expand on the groundwork that has been laid. Imagine Phoenix as a city known not just for the mobs of people clogging Roosevelt, offering free hugs and flyers, but for something deeper, more complex, strange, ridiculous, edgy or thoughtful. Let’s see and become artists who are pushing boundaries, creating work that compels audiences to ask themselves questions about what they’re seeing. Let us allow our audiences to be immersed in work that will make them think. Curiosity, confusion, wonder, anger, happiness, sadness. Taking Phoenix to the next cultural level is possible if we stop to think what this is all about.
Phoenix is known for many things, but poetry is not one of them. Which is odd, because Phoenix is a city that’s birthed its fair share of talented poets and quality poetry events over the years, including Jason Lalli, organizer and host of Infuse – Open Mic. I talked to Jason about his experience as a performance poet in Phoenix, as well as his current work as programming committee chair for the first annual Phoenix Festival of the Arts in December.
I have been writing and performing poetry seriously for about 6 years now. I dabbled on and off in the writing of poetry since I was 19. I am 29 now.
What ignited your passion for the kind of work that you do?
My passion was ignited when I realized after reading poems to friends and family that my words were making a difference. It was confirmed in a moment of what I call divine intervention when I was in a low point in my life on Christmas 2005. I was unwilling to share my negative energy with anyone. I was soaking in the bathtub at home when I heard a voice that was never verbally spoken and I felt a force lifting my head towards the ceiling. I’ll never forget those words, ‘You’ve been given a gift, now go and change the world.’ I became active within the performance community shortly after.
You describe yourself as an ‘awareness/performance poet.’ How do you define that?
I write about the truth I see in issues I feel are often over-looked or ignored because they come with a harsh reality. Like self-awareness, Self-love, substance abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, domestic abuse, and bullying. So I suppose an awareness poet would be one that uses the creativity of their poems to bring awareness to its audience through the poems content. The scope of my poetry is not limited to awareness but many are also personal stories or simply a source of expression and therapy as poetry has helped in establishing a stronger development of myself.
Does that mean you use poetry as a form of political/community-oriented activism?
Yes, I believe both questions go hand in hand. The action of being out there and performing poems that promote awareness is advocating for its cause and speaks for itself. My primary goal through each performance is to hopefully resonate with at least one person in the audience, with hopes that my words invoke introspection of themselves, their thoughts, their actions, and the reactions they are causing with those around them.
So yes, you could say my cause is community-oriented. It is through the betterment of each individual that our community’s improve in quality, safety, and involvement. It’s most easily summed with a quote out of one of my poems on the back on my business card “It only takes one voice, one heart, and one passion create a positive existence in another’s life.” I go about advocating for a stronger more united community through these outlets: hosting Infuse – Open Mic, my poetic performances, the creation and planning of the Inaugural Phoenix Festival of the Arts, various donations of my time and art to fundraisers, as well as speaking at schools on substance abuse through an organization called, “notMYkid.”
How did Infuse – Open Mic come about?
Infuse was created in May of 2010. I used to host “Mill’s End Open Mic” and after Mills End Café went out of business we were looking for a new home. That home was found at the Phoenix Art Museum. We flourished with an average of 250 patrons and 30 artists throughout the 3 hour show. I started the event because I had begun hosting Mills End Open Mic which was previously Mills End Poetry Slam. I wanted to open it up to more than just slam poets. I wanted to create place where new-comers whether to the performing arts or to the city could come practice, develop, build friendships, network, and most of all feel welcomed.
How did Infuse end up at the center?
It was through my involvement with some other community-oriented activists that I was introduced to Joseph Benesh at the Phoenix Center for the Arts. Our relationship quickly became one of a close bond and similar visions, the Phoenix Festival of the Arts being one of those.
How did you get involved in the Phoenix Festival of the Arts?
There is a need for an arts festival in Phoenix, it’s 2012 and it’s never had one. I became entrenched with the festival as one of its creators. Joseph Benesh and I recognized this need. We teamed up together and were able to accept a generous sponsorship from dear friends of mine Lou and Evelyn Grubb. They had been to Infuse at the art museum and believe in what difference I am making and trying to make in our community. Unfortunately, Lou Grubb has since passed beyond this life and we are determined to make him proud for believing in us.
Also, there have been several others who I have had the honor to work beside for the last couple years in attempts to make this festival happen. It was through our relentless persistence and hard work of searching out new avenues that we are excited to see it finally become a reality. I consider myself beyond blessed to be surrounded with such positive uplifting people with a passion for humanity and making a difference.
You recently held open auditions for performers for the Festival. Did you see a lot of promising talent? What do you look for in a performer for an event of this scope?
The turn-out for the auditions was small but much was learned for years to come. But we’ve also received lots of applications and lots of great talent that applied. Every artist was graded on a scale of 1 to 5 based upon the following categories: Preparedness/Professionalism, Stage Presence, Creativity, Performance/Execution, and Originality.
It sounds like the performances are meant to be family-friendly. Are there any plans to do more adult, envelope-pushing performances in the evening or is it the festival’s intent to keep all its programming accessible to the widest possible audience?
This is best answered by our main goal of the festival; to unite our community by cross-pollinating markets through a variety of arts from vendors, organizations and performance artists. The festival is a family-friendly free event. Our night programming has some incredible caliber performances of bands/artists that have adult followings. There can be great entertainment without having to be controversial and profane. It is a professional artist’s job to gear their performance towards the audience, so we are asking for that discretion. However, there will be shows, for example a poetry slam in the center’s theater, where a disclaimer can be posted for those who enter that will allow for more “envelope-pushing” performances.
This is a festival of all the arts that will include diverse cultural showcasing from visual, performing and literary arts. Several artists throughout history have spoken on such controversial and heavily debated topics tastefully and we intend on having tasteful programming. We would never want to discourage creativity but there is a time and place for controversial pieces, I believe most would agree that a family-friendly arts festival is not that time or place.
Do you have any plans to bring Infuse into the festival, or to do some kind of open mic/open stage to get the audience involved?
We are still programming but yes Infuse will have a festival edition. There will also be a poetry slam where anyone can compete for a cash prize.
Are all the shows free, or will some have individual ticket prices?
Admission to the festival and its entertainment will be 100% free. We will have two stages running throughout the course of the three-day festival, with the main stage located in the Margaret T. Hance Park, and the second stage in the theater located inside the Phoenix Center for the Arts.