Heart of Downtown

Searching for signs of life at the latest addition to Phoenix nightlife

The long-vacant, two-story building at 750 Grand Avenue is a former car showroom, and there are rumors it was once owned by Bing Crosby. Now it's open for business again, but not for auto sales. Instead, the site is home to the new Paper Heart, a multipurpose art and music space that outgrew its old digs.

"It's got a lot of glass and a lot of angles," says Scott Sanders, who co-owns the location with his wife, Jennifer. "Some say it looks like a bank, some say it looks like a church." Perhaps that means it could become a downtown institution -- with a beer and wine bar.

The Paper Heart's rotating menu of cultural events is so diverse that this story could have easily been part of New Times' art or theater sections. The same stage might boast chamber music one night, and a local punk band or a reading of a play another. The same night might also feature a new crop of paintings or sculpture in the gallery area. While the Paper Heart is as much about visual art and performance as music, it's now large enough -- around 3,500 square feet, roughly double the size of the original location -- to get people excited about its potential for live music. Time will tell if the new location can draw the patronage it needs to survive.

A recent night provided the kind of talent that should bring people to the space: a nice cross section of local music, with neo-country stylists Rum Tenor opening for nylon string experimentalists Fatigo and Tucsonan Nick Luca. But while this lineup should have drawn well, the place was largely empty. Perhaps this can be attributed to the newness of the location.

If the Paper Heart can snare a few touring acts and attract topnotch local talent, it has the potential to become a solid addition to the downtown music scene.

The spacious new digs are quite a bit different from how the Paper Heart began. In 2000, Sanders started an online gallery from his garage as an alternative way to sell visual art. Using Web cams, the virtual gallery also featured works in progress. "I used to paint online," says Sanders. "You used to be able to watch a white canvas go to whatever I was creating at that time. I started in the garage and invited other artists to submit work to our online gallery, and it grew from there."

Once Sanders realized he needed a brick-and-mortar location, he opened the original Paper Heart at 222 North Fifth Avenue in late 2001. The space provided a comfortable place for young performers, visual artists, musicians and patrons to gather, drink coffee, and maybe sell a piece or make a few bucks at the door.

By early 2003, Sanders realized he wanted a larger space to expand on the Paper Heart concept, which he describes as "an arts venue, catering to all the arts -- not just visual and music, but theater, spoken word, performance art, film, video, dance -- anything and everything that has to do with the arts."

But Sanders needed more room for his vision to crystallize. One of his first goals was to clearly delineate the gallery space from the performance area. At the place on Grand Avenue, this is achieved with several rooms to the side of the entrance, separated by a door so people can enjoy the art in relative quiet. Another of Sanders' goals -- renting out studio space to working artists -- is now a reality on the building's second floor.

Since it opened in February, the Paper Heart stands to benefit from good timing and location. Grand Avenue has changed a great deal in the last year; although it's still far from becoming Scottsdale's posh Marshall Way (not that that was ever the goal), business owners on the strip have made an effort to clean up Grand's act without removing the character of the area, and it's quickly evolved into a funky haven for music and the arts.

There are several art and music spaces within a mile or so of the new performance space, including Modified Arts, the Emerald Lounge, the recently opened AUX (which now occupies the Paper Heart's old location), the Bikini Lounge and Fat Cat's.

"I think in some areas it seems like a supportive community, and in others, it's very competitive," he says of the arts community. "It's kind of ugly in that manner. Most of what I have dealt with has been very friendly in a community sense. Several spaces along here [Grand Avenue and downtown in general] have been very helpful in the aspect of the music scene downtown."

Demonstrating the venue's distinctive brand of diversity is an upcoming event called Sound + Vision 2, a two-night multimedia barrage on April 30 and May 1. The Paper Heart Web site says the event "brings thought-provoking imagery and noise of all kinds together . . . a veritable smorgasbord of unusual, artistic, accidental entertainment."

 
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