By New Times
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Katrina Montgomery
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Monica Alonzo
By Benjamin Leatherman
By Robrt L. Pela
By Katrina Montgomery
If you pick up this week's Best of Phoenix issue (trust us, you won't be disappointed), you'll notice something different this year as you read raptly through our awards for anything and everything notable in the Valley. This year, we asked artists and other creative types we know to come up with something that reflected their idea of Phoenix as their own personal Wonderland, this year's theme.
The very first piece to arrive was by a guy named Mark Anderson. None of us had heard of him. He came via Jeff Miller, a local attorney, musician, and closet painter who has taught art classes through a program for the homeless called the Rhythm of Life.
To say that I was blown away by Anderson's dark, brooding drawing, expertly executed in minute detail with colored pencils and markers, is an understatement. Though I was completely enthralled by the piece, it hadn't been created in response to our theme. My editor convinced Miller to get Anderson to commit to doing another drawing. I thought it was much too risky to ask for a second piece — this guy was homeless and might never finish his Wonderland-themed artwork before he disappeared into the ether. Needless to say, I was ecstatic — overwhelmed, actually — the day his final drawing hit my mailbox.
"Wonderland: Art from New Times Best of Phoenix 2009" will open Friday, October 2, with free public receptions on First and Third Friday, at [merz] project, 1437 N. 1st St., and by appointment (contact Steve Jansen).
On Third Friday, Jeff Miller's band, psych 101, will perform, as will The Coitus and Phoenix Chorale, two other contributors to the show. All work will be for sale. Half the proceeds will go to the artist, the other half to the Rhythm of Life program.
Jeff Miller personally had provided Anderson with requested art supplies, with which the artist produced the remarkable image you see on page 60 of our Best of Phoenix 2009 issue.
I guess old Winston Churchill was on the money when he said that kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.
Who would have thought to look to a homeless-services center for artists, and really good ones at that? I had to check the program out.
The Rhythm of Life is an unlikely arts program operating out of Lodestar Day Resource Center (LDRC), the county's homeless complex in downtown Phoenix. A joint public and private non-profit venture, the center provides critical, life-sustaining services for the homeless at its one-stop-serves-all-needs location. And art classes.
Essentially, the LDRC campus, as it's known, is equipped to provide a homeless person over 18 with a safe place to sleep and socialize, an official post office address to receive mail from family and prospective employers, food, books to read, mental health services, 12-step programs, free dental care (many employers can't get past potential employees who are missing teeth), and job training and placement.
The campus even runs a cheerfully decorated used-clothing boutique where clients can borrow suitable attire for job interviews. Men outnumber women here and women with children are taken in elsewhere — that's why you won't see any kids running around LDRC. At the Lodestar day room, the social heart of the campus, clients can also feed their souls and nurture their minds by participating in creative programs and workshops organized under the rubric of the Rhythm of Life.
The only way you usually end up even finding LDRC is if you get lost and fortuitously stumble upon it. Located on an 11-acre parcel in a relatively deserted area near 11th Avenue and Jackson Street, it's part of a completely gated complex of large, industrial-looking buildings that could easily be mistaken for a computer chip company. The only clue that it's not is the sizable crowd of people milling around the grassy yard. Some are talking, some are reading or sprawled on the ground, some are in wheelchairs, and others are playing volleyball. The yard sometimes acts as open-air sleeping quarters when CASS — Central Arizona Shelter Services — runs short of indoor floor mats and physical space for sleepers, who are required to clear the room of their personal belongings every morning, at least until they can be assigned more semi-private quarters at a later time.
It's a recent Saturday, and Laura DiTroia, program coordinator and day-room supervisor, leads Jeff Miller and me through LDRC's beehive-like day room, a cavernous open space that sports a library, cafe, art room, LDRC's post office, plenty of tables and chairs for socializing, reading, or working, and offices for other service providers. At one point, a noisy row breaks out when a middle-aged woman berates another woman, who bursts into tears and seeks out DiTroia for reassurance, telling her she wouldn't do anything to jeopardize her being able to stay on the campus.
On Saturdays, DiTroia, a receptionist, and a security guard are the only ones supervising the hundreds of people seeking relief from the heat. An old soul in a very young body, DiTroia, who's in her mid-20s, quietly settles everyone down.
We enter a closed room filled with long tables used for making art. People come and go at will, while others draw or paint or just watch the action. There's plenty of paper, paint, pencils, and canvas for those interested in trying their hand at creating art, but there's no pressure to do so.
At the front of the room, Juan Bert, a good-looking guy with numerous tattoos who appears to be in his early 30s, works on a new painting he's begun and politely answers my questions about his work with "Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am." Nearby, Bert's finished portrait of a dignified Native American elder in a hat is propped on an easel. It's no paint-by-numbers piece, ably demonstrating the artist's self-taught command of composition, spatial relations, and lighting.