Big Brains: Check Out the Talented Finalists for Our First-Ever Awards for Emerging Creatives

Big Brains: Check Out the Talented Finalists for Our First-Ever Awards for Emerging Creatives

Cy Keener and Jay Atherton
Atherton Keener
Some people know Cy Keener and Jay Atherton as artists; others know them as architects, business partners whose Atherton Keener firm has designed a Phoenix home that's received a lot of recent national attention.

Whether they're working on an art installation or designing a sustainable-living structure, Keener, 35, and Atherton, 34, are innovators.

Jay Atherton and Cy Keener
Jamie Peachey
Jay Atherton and Cy Keener
Atherton Keener's Meadowbrook Residence
Bill Timmerman
Atherton Keener's Meadowbrook Residence

"We're interested in working with things that are complex enough that they require a lot of planning and thought in their design," Keener says, "but that are also not totally in our control, so that there's an aspect of the unexpected in there somewhere."

Atherton grew up here; Keener is from Seattle. They met while studying architecture at ASU. They love the desert and say they're inspired by the desert sunlight.

"What we do is more a way of exploring something that can be applied to different things," Atherton says. "If we're working with light, we're definitely applying it to a local context, but we're also interested in exploring the universal aspects of light and not just its place in the desert."

Sunlight played a big part in the design of the duo's Meadowbrook Residence, which takes the popular architectural theory of sustainable relationship and turns it on its head with new perspectives on urban planning and energy use. Sited on an urban infill lot in Central Phoenix and set back from the street, the home is surrounded by a polypropylene shade cloth that wraps around three sides of the structure to control climate with created shade.

"Meadowbrook is a response to the desert in an urban environment," Atherton says. "It's about what it means to really live in the desert and what we can extract from the suburban asphalt and the city hard-scape that surrounds us."

The idea for the screen, Atherton says, came from driving around the city, looking at other homes — all of which, Atherton says, either had their blinds drawn or had tacked-on structures shielding their windows from the heat. "We saw how people had adapted their environment to compensate where architecture had failed, and we took that idea and moved on from there."

The pair's newest project is called 90 Days Over 100, the first installment in the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary's just-launched Art + Architecture series. The installation will pair ice and channeled sunlight in a museum space throughout 90 days of summer, each of them 100 degrees or hotter. It's a celebration of Arizona climate that will, according to its designers, "explore temporal and physical qualities inherent in material phase change from solid to liquid," and will reveal the relationship between water and electricity in our highly constructed desert environment.

"No matter what we're working on," Atherton says, "we're really just exploring the ways in which our methods can be applied to different things — art, architecture, the environment. Phoenix provides us with the perfect canvas for all these things." — Robrt L. Pela

Mark Dudlik
In March 2009, a young designer named Mark Dudlik wrote an open letter to the Phoenix design community and posted it on his Web site. One tweet and 24 hours later, his letter had been viewed more than 4,000 times.

The third paragraph drew particular attention.

"The Phoenix design scene is dying," Dudlik wrote.

That's a bold statement, coming from a guy who moved to Phoenix nearly five years ago to attend design school at Arizona State University. But the 26-year-old makes no apologies.

Instead, he makes progress.

Back to that letter. Some disliked his bravado, but others joined forces with Dudlik to launch Phoenix Design Week — a series of exhibitions, workshops, and discussions for communication, graphic, and industrial designers — just six months later. The design community, including architects and graphic and industrial designers, all know of each other, says Dudlik, but the interactive piece was missing. At Design Week, these professionals have the opportunity to showcase their work, collaborate on timed visual projects, and discuss future visions of the design scene in Phoenix.

The first Design Week gained the national attention of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), which is now using the Phoenix experience as an example for opportunities in other cities. It also sparked the interest of the national Design Week committee, which chose Phoenix as the site for its 2011 national event.

In the designated design corner of his Phoenix apartment, Dudlik tries to keep his aesthetic neutral. Partly because he doesn't have much free time. The self-described workaholic doesn't remember his last day off. He'll even admit that it's been years since he updated his Web site. At work, he's a graphic designer with Sarkissian Mason, a New York-based media agency with such Phoenix clients as Mazda and Boeing. There, Dudlik creates sleek, modern visual graphics and logos used for marketing campaigns as well as interactive media.

Whether it's a week of activities dedicated to design or brainstorming yet another community project, Dudlik's committed to the notion that collaboration is key. Hence, his latest brainchild:, which he's created with design consultant Dave Bjorn.

Though Dojo is looking for a permanent space, Dudlik and Bjorn have created a virtual place for community and support among communication design students and established Valley designers.

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Ewww, the last comment did not like my punctuation. I am sorry if it is difficult to read. But I hope it still makes the point and can be taken in a constructive manner. Thank you!


I found the article about "Robert Kilman and Safwat Saleem" to be incredibly insulting. As an active member of the local film community, I had never heard of these two before the Big Brain nominations. I came to NewTimes expecting to learn something more about them, and their up-and-coming talents.

Instead, I read nothing but insults towards our city. I have traveled across the country, but in Phoenix found a WONDERFULLY talented and visionary community. So I have to ask, “Kilman, are you kidding me?” Have you been to a recent A3F screening? (If not, many of the films can be found online now.) Have you ever watched the Media Guys? SyntheticHuman Pictures? N'Raged? Junk Draw? They all make incredibly good films, not to mention the films by your fellow nominee from Squishy Studios. And if comedy isn’t your style? You'll find no lack of drama, horror, action or suspense here. "Leashed" is the name of one short I really enjoyed, but I don't recall who made it.

If you want to “improve the standard of creativity in… local filmmaking”, let me give you some sincere advice:

First, find out what that standard already is. Sure, there's dozens of amateur films for each one that is note-worthy. But every filmmaker has to start somewhere, and I believe in encouraging the students & beginners. I don’t use them to set the standard when organizing a competition, however.

Second, leave your over-inflated ego in LA, and start networking here. We are a young, but rapidly growing city. It has been said that Phoenix will be the "Next Hollywood" and for good reason. Let’s work together and make that happen (without the pollution and corporate crap please. Indie ftw!)

All filming aside, we have a vast and wide-spread variety of artistic attractions. Have you visited The Lost Leaf? Been to many First Friday events? I can't list everything going on in this city. It's literally an everyday, ongoing, kaleidoscope of creativity.

Congrats on your nomination! But as you continue improving your art and gaining recognition, please remember - before YOU question "whether or not Phoenix is attractive to creative types." You should realize we are already here.

Nicholas DiBiase
Nicholas DiBiase

With all due respect to Atherton and Keener, Dudlik takes this one by a mile. That little whippersnapper has reanimated th' mummy of Phoenix functional and aesthetic design culture. What one year ago seemed like a battlefield populated by a scattering of wounded ronin now feels like an unstoppable polycerebral juggernaut of radness. Kind of like "Oogy Boogy" from "Nightmare Before Christmas."

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