State of the Art

If you paint it, they will come. Then what?

As an unknown, inexperienced curator attempting to raise funds for the exhibition, "I felt like a schmo off the street," Taubman says. Luckily, she had the support of museum directors Susan Krane, of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and Marilyn Zeitlin, of the ASU Art Museum.

Ultimately, after working on the show for more than a year, Taubman pulled it off with a boost from in-kind donations and her own financial resources. Still on display through March, it features a range of media, including photography, painting, film, and digital art from local, national and international artists. "None of it's blue-chip, but a lot of it's going to be," Taubman predicts.

New York-based digital artist Robert Hickman came to Phoenix to install one of his pieces in Taubman's exhibition, and stayed in town for the February opening. He was amazed at the turnout. "So rarely have I seen such attendance for an art venue. It was such a nice homegrown spirit -- all the people selling stuff on the sidewalk, and all the different kinds of people flooding the sidewalks -- not just hipsters," he says. "The galleries and work lacked the luster of what I'm accustomed to in New York, but I liked this and saw it as a positive. It reminded me of back in the day in my neighborhood -- Williamsburg, Brooklyn -- yet your scene seems to have way more backing and support from the people. It's not strictly an art ghetto thing, so to say."

Between Earth and Sky, by Linda Ingraham, at Jackson Street Studios
Between Earth and Sky, by Linda Ingraham, at Jackson Street Studios
Magritte's Dining Room, by Iris Botticelli, at Red Dog Gallery
Magritte's Dining Room, by Iris Botticelli, at Red Dog Gallery

Downtown Phoenix's openness to new contributors is unusual, says Ted Decker, a longtime player in the local art scene whose current title is manager of Special Museum Initiatives at ASU. For last year's Art Detour, he curated the "Respite" exhibition at monOrchid.

"In New York, it's, 'Get in line with a million-dollar check,'" Decker says. "Here, you can see your footprints. I feel like I've been able to make a difference."

If Phoenix is an art incubator, there's a lot of talent waiting to hatch. Decker's keeping his eye on a fresh crop of painters, including David Dauncey and James Angel, whose work will be on display this month at Art One - Downtown and Modified Arts, respectively. And best of all, young artists downtown are actively involved in their community. "All these people feel like they have a stake in something," he says.

That's not surprising, if you consider how much awareness the arts community stirred up with the city this past year. Last July, the Downtown Phoenix Arts Coalition (D-PAC) -- made up of members of the arts community, local residents, and small business owners -- published Downtown Voices: Creating a Sustainable Downtown, based on a meeting held in May. A manifesto for downtown revitalization, the document calls for nurturing the grassroots arts community, encouraging small, locally owned businesses, preserving historic properties, and protecting existing neighborhoods, among other issues.

ASU's Nan Ellin says that the activism really started three years ago, when downtown was a potential site for the Arizona Cardinals stadium, which could have wiped out many of the art spaces. "The threat of the stadium going in downtown had a silver lining -- it galvanized the artist community and local neighborhoods, and people became organized, became vocal. The powers that be started to hear those voices, and it was a great learning experience for them," she says.

Downtown Voices strongly influenced the City of Phoenix's Downtown Development Office in its creation of the new Phoenix Artist Storefront Pilot Program, currently accepting its first round of applications. With explicit goals of increasing the number of artist-owned galleries in the downtown core, eliminating blight, and improving the area's aesthetics, the program will give grants of $5,000 to $70,000 toward properties where at least 30 percent of the building space will be devoted to the arts or an arts-related business.

Also, the city's Office of Arts and Culture, partnering with the Arizona Commission on the Arts, just started offering Individual Artist Career Development grants, providing up to $1,000 for recipients to attend seminars and conferences, meet with consultants, study with mentors, or pursue another activity that will help them advance professionally.

Art Detour committee member Greg Esser calls the two new programs "important because they show that the city is willing to put money behind their commitment to the arts." Esser, co-founder of eye lounge and 515 galleries (among other downtown arts endeavors), recently stepped down as director of the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture's Public Art Program, and is now the Public Art Network manager for the national nonprofit Americans for the Arts.

Esser cites yet another assurance from the city, the December release of Downtown Phoenix: A Strategic Vision and Blueprint for the Future. It describes how the success of downtown's "Three Big Bets" -- Arizona State University, genomics, and high-tech industry clusters -- depends on "Phoenix's ability to deliver the 'small wonders' that will round out a vibrant, unique urban environment -- small-scale restaurants, neighborhood retail, informal arts and entertainment opportunities, street-life, public gathering places, and the like."

Geographically, the strategy is bounded by Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue, Lincoln Street and Hance Park, covering a core of existing galleries. To foster a downtown arts and entertainment hub, the city spells out its priorities: increasing the presence of visual and performing arts, encouraging more artist housing and gallery and performance space, and finding ways to enhance the existing arts presence around Roosevelt Street and in the Warehouse District, where Bentley Projects, Studio LoDo, and several private artists' studios are only the pioneers of what will eventually become a new cultural magnet near America West Arena.

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