As an independent chronicler of all things downtown, DPJ takes a comprehensive approach to covering the urban living movement in Phoenix and, with this Conversation series, spotlighting the people who make it move.
“I picture myself with my hands on the butt of an elephant.”
Kimber Lanning wears several hats. She is owner of Stinkweeds, an independently owned and operated music store and website, physically located at Central Ave. and Camelback. She is also the executive director and driving force behind Local First Arizona, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and celebrating locally owned businesses throughout Arizona. A former board member of Roosevelt Row, she most recently was named to the board of Downtown Phoenix, Inc. by Mayor Greg Stanton.
The first challenge to interviewing Kimber is finding a sliver of time when she’s not busy doing at least three things at once. We managed to pin her down for an hour at Stinkweeds, and she gave us a peek inside her thoughtful and highly practical perspective on how to stimulate and sustain a vibrant downtown. We sat with her on the floor while she sorted a huge collection of used records she’d just received from a single collector. As she sorted and priced the vinyl, we listened.
Kimber’s dad was transferred from Okinawa, Japan, where she was born to Luke AFB when she was just nine months old. She and her brothers grew up on Min Takaguchi’s farm at 59th Avenue and Northern. Her earliest memories of downtown Phoenix are of going to concerts at Veterans Memorial Museum and to Suns games; a field trip to Shamrock Farms, where she got to eat ice cream in a little cup with a wooden spoon; and her “best of memory of all,” a 2nd grade trip to the Phoenix Art Museum to see the Alexander Calder exhibit. For years after she made mobiles (with the help of her dad) for everyone she knew.
“Suddenly then-mayor Skip Rimza threw open the door and pointed at me. ‘You!’ he said, ‘I’m giving you 10 minutes to get this organized.”
Her earliest involvement with downtown came as a musician, playing drums at Metropophobia and Peter Petrisko’s Gallery X. In 1999, she opened Modified Arts in the old Metropophobia space on Roosevelt and it was at this point, she says, “my whole life changed.” Soon after, she heard rumblings about the potential of a new arena being built in that area and she decided to go to a City Council meeting to listen and learn.
“I showed up to the City Council meeting, not really knowing what to expect.” When she got there, the arts community was outside artfully protesting. “Suddenly then-mayor Skip Rimza threw open the door and pointed at me. ‘You!’ he said, ‘I’m giving you 10 minutes to get this organized.’”
That was the beginning of her downtown activism.
She believes that the most significant changes in the last decade have been adaptive reuse policy changes. Mayor Gordon put her on the Development Advisory Board, and it was at that table that she began to learn the details of building codes and to understand what policies were making it difficult for small businesses to succeed. It was there she began to formulate strategies for how to make the changes that needed to be made.
“It was hard to see from the outside, but one of the biggest problems was that the Development Services Department back then was all cost recovery, which meant they had to balance their budget with fees and whatnot. That created an entire culture at the city. Because of the need to balance their budget, they loved big huge developments – it’s easier at the counter because it’s new construction and brings in more fees.” (Since that time, Development Services has been blended into the Planning Department. There are still some cost recovery elements.)
But that need to balance their budget made it nearly impossible for the small business owner to succeed.
We need to create more touch points for visitors and get more creative about connecting people to everything going on downtown.”
“In comes the guy with the wine bar in an old house,” she went on. “What are the staff thinking? ‘He’s not bringing in fees, he’s taking all our time, and we can’t balance our budget. If we can’t balance our budget it will mean layoffs.’ So, wine bar guy means layoffs. You can’t see it from the outside, but once you understand it, you can apply pressure to make changes, draw attention to the flaws in the system, and develop strategies.”
It takes time to get under the surface and understand how a policy might have unintended consequences that can squelch growth. It takes patience to find the root, and to make the necessary changes. As Kimber puts it, “I picture myself with my hands on the butt of an elephant.” She has persevered indeed, and last fall, in recognition of what she’s accomplished, she was awarded the Distinguished Citizen Planner award from the Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association.
For Kimber, Downtown Phoenix, Inc., is significant because it represents the first time that large and small institutions are being incorporated together to plan the future of the city. She sees her role on the DPI board as an opportunity to “underscore the not-so-obvious connections between the fine-grain, place-making stuff, and economic development.”
“To continue to grow the vibrancy of downtown,” she said, “it is critical to find ways to connect downtown to the people who work there but do not live there. We need to create more touch points for visitors and get more creative about connecting people to everything going on downtown.”
When asked what she thinks people do not know about downtown Phoenix that they should, she answered, “Twenty years from now people will look back on this as the era of the entrepreneur. Right now, we’re in it.”
You may have noticed that increasingly downtown Phoenix galleries are opening their new exhibitions on Third Fridays. This Third Friday (tonight) brings a much-anticipated show at Modified Arts, featuring new work from 3CarPileUp, a downtown Phoenix artist collective since the 90′s, featuring originating members Randy Slack, David Dauncey, and James Angel. For 14 years, 3CarPileUp has presented the Annual Chaos Theory exhibition featuring over fifty local creatives.
As a part of the 3CarPileUp exhibition, local film and video artist Perry Allen (a periodic contributor to DPJ) will premiere his new animated work, “Town of Product.” In 2012, Allen was awarded an Artist Project Grant Distinguished Merit Award (that’s a serious mouthful!) from the Arizona Commission on the Arts to create this piece, which premieres tonight.
“Town of Product” is an animated installation using still image advertising from the 80s to create 24 hours of life in a suburban town, complete with people that move down streets, peek in windows, and shop; breezes that ruffle trees, in world that interacts. Perry Allen digitally animated the project to reflect this 24-hour cycle then sped it up to screen in 24 minutes.
“There was kind of an interesting documentary element to the project,” said Allen. “I put out a call to my network of friends and contacts looking for examples of print advertising and people started sending me all these magazines from the 80s. I didn’t start with a focus on that time period, that’s just what happened.” The ads that Allen used came from the leading mainstream, pop culture magazines of the time – such as Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Vogue and Cosmopolitan, to name a few.
Every element of the town comes from the ads Allen discovered in the magazines: houses, trees, people, cars, and buildings. “There’s no storyline,” says Allen. “It’s more of a meditation on time and place, on our consumer culture and suburban lifestyle as it looked thirty years ago.”
To make it even more interesting, Allen was inspired by a conversation with Kimber Lanning to project the video onto the windows of Modified instead of an interior wall. In this way, the installation will be visible from both inside the gallery and to the people passing by on Roosevelt Street. Should be pretty cool!
The exhibition runs through June 7.
If You Go
Where: Modified Arts, 407 E. Roosevelt
When: Friday, May 16 through Friday, June 7
For more info: 602-462-5516 or Facebook
I have buried my sketchbook under books on polar exploration, a plant-based diet and the concept of space in the age of the internet. When I enter my studio space, I take a moment to stare frighteningly at the scattered, messy desktop buried under unopened mail and a few dirty coffee cups. I am haunted by Facebook posts of artist friend accomplishments and the reflection it has on my inactivity.
This is the frozen desert of being at an artistic standstill.
Like pressing on through a frigid, barren landscape with no clear end to the steady, repetitive horizon: the days of inactivity and unmeasurable creativity continue. For many artists, this is when we start to look at whether it might have been better to study as a Latent Print Examiner or follow a more practical career as an accountant. Maybe some have even fantasized about the seemingly simple life as a heavy machine operator or bus driver. Imagine the satisfaction of completing an honest day of work and settling in to relax in the evening.
This possibility is as remote as a constantly shifting magnetic pole and as unappealing as an unseasoned bowl of polenta. Any artist who has attempted this shift in career due to a temporary lack of inspiration soon finds out that they are floating in a virtual world of non-ideas. It is not the world they are cut out for.
Unfortunately, the artist is beset with the drive to produce and put something in to the world. Although one might be able to sit back and be distracted, distraught and disengaged, the pull to act keeps nagging like hunger. I can’t ignore forever that there are thoughts in my head and I am compelled, like an explorer was to the open sea, to find out more about it.
It is time to get out. When in the darkest moments of intellectual despair, sometimes it’s better to turn outward. Luckily, Phoenix has answered with a repertoire of activities to foster ideas, import information and maybe most importantly: generate human contact. Tuesday night Lawn Gnome hosts Books and Beakers, a weekly “bringing science to the people” event on the subject of Time Dilation Theory and more remotely local interdisciplinary artist Chris Danowski opens his show Dogface at the ASU West, Artspace West Gallery. Friday I can visit the multi-media installation by Ann Morton at Modified, Jackalope Ranch’s Manifesto exhibit at Drive-Thru Gallery and the Valley of the Sunflowers Paper Project at Combine Studios.
With so many options to turn outward, I have no reason to fall further into the crevasse of my own artistic inactivity. Instead, I can revel in the collective ability for others in the community to lift me up through their own action and energy and realize that I will get mine back in time. The desert, even in its cold state, need not be bleak.
Suggested reading: The Race to the White Continent: Voyages to the Antarctic by Alan Gurney; Below the Convergence: Voyages Toward Antarctica, 1699-1839, Alan Gurney; City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn, William J. Mitchell; Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health, Brendan Brazier
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
On November 16, from 6-9 p.m., Artlink is launching a new series of Third Friday Collectors Tours. These exclusive guided trolley tours will take participants “behind the scenes” of the most exciting exhibitions and artist studios in downtown Phoenix. Knowledgeable Artlink guides will share their insights on the contemporary art scene in downtown Phoenix and provide background on the artist spaces and galleries the participants will visit on the tour.
The tour begins with a welcome reception at the Artlink table outside of the Phoenix Art Museum. Tour participants can park in the museum parking lot before boarding the trolley for their private hosted tour. This first tour will include viewing the work and meeting the artists at:
• Willo North Gallery, featuring “Fauna/Fauna” with work by Christy Puetz and Carolyn Lavender;
• Michael Marlowe Studio at Jackson Street Studios, and
• Modified Arts, featuring Sue Chenoweth’s “Real and Applied.”
The galleries/artist spaces will provide light refreshments, and tour participants will enjoy a private viewing of the work and the opportunity to meet the curators and artist(s) in an intimate setting to learn more about their processes and vision.
Tickets are $35 and seating is limited. To reserve your space for Artlink’s Third Friday Tour, please go to Eventbrite at http://artlinkphoenix.com/third-friday-collectors-tours-begin-november-16/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, number of seats, contact information and best time to reach you.
Holgas began life as a modest, two-story apartment building sometime back in the 60s and through the years suffered the usual slings and arrows of urban decay and neglect. Wayne Rainey, an urban pioneer looking to pump some life back into Downtown, bought the rundown complex in 1999 and, in an affordable housing deal with the city, brought it back to life as live/work/exhibit space for a steady stream of young artists throughout the last decade.
As Rainey recalls, “Holgas, (along with other early outposts like Rainey’s monOrchid Gallery, Kimber Lanning’s Modified Arts and Greg Esser/Cindy Dach’s eye lounge) was part of a conscious effort to build a critical mass of artists and art spaces to help bring people back to Downtown Phoenix.”
Over the years, Holgas has suffered some highs and lows, and recently Rainey decided to sell. Phoenix-based installation artist and fourth generation Phoenix farmer Matt Moore spotted the “for sale” sign and decided to stop and check it out. And here’s where serendipity comes in. As he was walking up to the building, Gordon Knox (Director of the ASU Art Museum) and Greg Esser (Director, ASU Art Museum’s Desert Initiative and owner of several downtown art spaces) were walking out. Turns out, Moore and Knox knew each other from Moore’s time at the Civitella Raneri Foundation, an international artist residency in Perugia, Italy where Moore had been invited to stay a few years earlier. Knox, the one responsible for the creation of that residency (and a few others), was now at ASU.
“My seven weeks in this artist residency program in Perugia, Italy was an amazing experience. It was so important to me as an artist, particularly the social interaction with other artists from all over the world, that it had become my dream to cultivate that kind of environment for others,” says Moore.
Running into Knox and Esser that day set the wheels in motion for Moore and his painter wife, Carrie Marill. They’d been looking for studio space for themselves and Knox was looking for space to start a residency program for international artists in Phoenix. “Holgas had what we needed: room for our studios, spaces for other artists to come together, and a great location with proximity to coffee houses, restaurants and the creative mind of the area,” said Moore. Over coffee the partnership was born.
Moore, Marill and Moore’s parents together purchased the building and are spending the next few weeks spiffing things up a bit before the first international artists (coming from Italy, France and Mexico) begin arriving for their residencies on January 15.
“When artists become successful in Phoenix, they hit the proverbial glass ceiling and often they leave. We see developing this residency as a way to keep vested in Phoenix, to move forward on creating an even more creative environment in Phoenix,” said Moore.
Rainey is happy with the prospect of an international artist residency program coming to Holgas. “My one wish for the future is that Holgas continues to have a positive effect on the life of the city.”
To celebrate the spirit of Holgas and some of the artists who made it their home over the years, Rainey is hosting “Holgas – 10 Years Gone, A Retrospective” at monOrchid Gallery on Friday night, December 16. Join the fun and celebrate the passing of the torch with an all-star show of Holga’s alumni.
If You Go
When: Friday, December 16, 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 midnight
Where: monOrchid Gallery, 214 East Roosevelt
Who: Artists showing include –
… Lee Hazel
Judith Ann Miller
Beth Royalty Tom