Modified Arts' Transition Leaves Future Uncertain for Roosevelt Row

It's a hot, muggy July night — and still they come. A crowd of hundreds of mostly young adults, flashing acres of tattoos and ironic hairdos, cram the sidewalks of a section just north of downtown known as Roosevelt Row, where — even on this holiday weekend, when the rest of the city has all but emptied out, and even though some of the galleries and boutiques and cafes they're wedging into and out of aren't air-conditioned — they come, to this monthly downtown arts party.

Mostly, though, they're not there for the art. In this bustling crowd, there are few who've turned up to look at the new Ryan Peter Miller exhibition or to check out what eye lounge has on its walls this month. First Friday on Roosevelt Row is a happening, favored by young hipsters who like a crowd, a little live music, maybe a late-night cappuccino.

There are about to be even fewer who come to this hub of downtown's self-proclaimed arts district looking for art, because one of its better-known galleries is closing, and the fate of the jewel in its crown is up in the air. Again.

News of the closing of Pravus Gallery, sister to the popular artist co-op Perihelion, was met with sadness from folks who thought that this promising new gallery, which shut down last month, meant that more art-focused galleries were coming to the Row. But word that curator and manager Kim Larkin was stepping away from Modified Arts meant a lot more.

"Modified is the big success story, as far as the downtown gallery scene goes," says Ted Decker, a local curator and art collector. Decker, who's often referred to as the "godfather" of the local art scene, thinks that the problem isn't that Modified is losing its gallerist, but that its success hasn't turned any tides. "The hope has always been that Modified's approach to exhibiting better art would inspire other galleries to follow suit, to match the caliber of the exhibitions that Modified has done, especially since Kim Larkin stepped in. There are some better galleries, like Perihelion, that continue to do what they do well. But no one has matched Modified in more than 10 years."

Lanning opened Modified in 1999, in the former home of Metropophobobia, a gallery and hangout for arty types that thrived in the early '90s. "I wanted it to be inclusive of the arts," she says, "so we did theater, film, dance, and live music, as well as visual art." Lanning's multimedia format was a success, but she left Modified's day-to-day operation in 2006 to focus on Local First, a nonprofit that supports local businesses. Lanning has remained involved in Modified — she completely overhauled the space last year, a renovation that the Arizona Republic credited to Larkin — and has leased it to gallerists and guest curators for exhibition during the past five years.

"No one has done as much with it as Kim Larkin did," Decker says. "And now that she's moving on, there's this great concern about what will become of the downtown art scene now. But, really, does it matter? Is anyone coming there on First Friday to look at art? Is anyone down there selling art?"

That's the question that has haunted Roosevelt Row throughout its estimable success these past several years and may be the reason its most successful gallery is losing yet another gallerist. Is anyone buying art? And if not, how is any gallery expected to survive?

"It's one of the biggest challenges," according to Amy Young, co-owner of Pravus Gallery and Perihelion. "Yes, some of us are selling art. But if a show doesn't sell, you have to be able to dip into your own reserves and pay the gallery's bills, which not every gallery is able to do."

Young says she's closing Pravus "to focus on doing different things, maybe two or three national shows each year," and not because of lousy sales. And she insists that shuttering Pravus and closing Perihelion for the summer (the gallery will reopen in October) isn't part of a trend. "I haven't heard of any other gallery down here that's either closing or closing down for the summer. It's just us."

Decker isn't so sure. "You can't survive as a gallery if people come only two nights a month," he says. "Some of the spaces are selling, but none are selling enough to stay open, and vital, and thriving. This era of the downtown art story may have run its course. Speaking as someone who has curated shows there, Kim and Modified has come as close to making ends meet as any gallery ever has — and maybe ever will — downtown."

But will Modified go on? "I'm not really ready to talk about that," Lanning demurs. "I can say that over the next few months, I'll have some guest curators doing some shows, a small acoustic performance, and a modern dance performance coming up."

Lanning isn't being coy; it's likely she truly doesn't know the fate of Modified Arts. She doesn't seem worried that Modified will curl up and blow away, and she's not angry about the way that gallerists seem to come and go. "Modified was always meant to be a springboard," she insists, "where people can come and learn to present art, and then move on to a bigger realm. Right now it's waiting for that next person who wants to take it on."

 
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9 comments
Rusted Halo
Rusted Halo

I actually think this article is spot on, yet nothing most of us didn't already know. Roosevelt Row and the people that run it as a First Friday event are idiots and think they can charge vendors $75(or whatever the fee is now) to set up outside at some random spot while the hipsters "hang out" and don't give a shit about the artwork on display or the artists for that matter. It's not even an organized event anymore. I attended last Friday to see a friends work at Modified and other then the artists set up over at Galeria de los Muertos I saw nothing new or interesting down there. As mentioned none of the galleries have A/C and the flies are rampant. The only "cool" place I went in to was CADE.

In Mesa however, there's tons of great shops and galleries(with A/C) and their 2nd Friday events are actually organized and promoted well. Main street is lined with artists and vendors(not people selling their used clothes). Oh yeah, and it's FREE for them to set up. Within the past 3 months Mesa has seen new spots open such as Gotham City Comics & Coffee, The Rusted Nail Gallery, Heatsync Labs, The Royale Theater, and opening soon Monsterland. Add to that the recently reopened Nile Theater and Evermore Nevermore along with all the other great shops and galleries and Main Street in Mesa is where it's at. So hopefully the bits of real art left on Roosevelt will realize this and head east to Mesa. The cost of rent in Mesa is less then half of that of a run down "house" along Roosevelt.

Poo
Poo

Pela, you are a hack trying to find a story. Stick to writing about delapidated buildings, jackass!All of the decent art writers left New Times, if it werent for Steven Lemmons and Dan Savage, it would be dead by now...

azviewer
azviewer

I guess that's what the 602 t-shirts are for. It's true, I see this a lot in the arts community. There are those that continue to be in the inner circles of the "art scene" but have they done anything to grow. The simple answer is no, they fall into the "art scene" party circle, and it's extremely irritating. Why their busy partying it up every day because their an "artist", their missing their oportunity to learn and grow as a artist. Then the other example I see is the constant back stabbing done to other artists that do work. They get put down and belittled because they work, because they try something new and different. It's rediculous! My wish for the art scene would be to drop the beer bottles, or Pabst cans, and remember what it is to create and function again. I applaud those that do continue to create surrounded by this inhibited madness. The artists should come back to the arts and stop circling the drain in the "scene."

Wayne Michael Reich
Wayne Michael Reich

I agree- and the lack of quality cultural reporting in this paper (Robrt Pela being the rare exception) doesn't help.

This "Pennysaver with Porn" doesn't give a rat's ass about PHX, and it shows in their consistently weak stories that reference the Arts.

What the Editor and some of her reporters who work for this rag know about culture I could juggle, and until we start treating our craft like a business and less like a street party, the Arts will continue to suffer.

Sadly, I don't forsee any organized action on the behalf of the Artists coming anytime soon- it's just so much easier to bitch and do nothing.

respectfully,Wayne Michael Reichhttp://www.WayneMichaelReich.c...

Howardroarkaz
Howardroarkaz

face it... Phoenix sucks. period. i grew up here. i've been all over the world and i have to say that Phoenix is a standing joke for a "major city". i've never witnessed another city, especially for it's size, with so many people riding the rails of mediocrity. What kills me is this need to make Phoenix "happen". There are a lot of cool people here that keep bashing themselves over the head with this idea. In the end they walk away broke, feeling the reality of this cesspool. Nobody here gives a sh!t. you've got mindless yobs walking around in circles buying incense and kettle korn. not art. Phoenix is not interested in art or artistry or artistic thinking. it's interests revolve around opulently named tract homes made of chicken wire, foam, and dirt colored stucco, fake breasts, golf, and guns. Phoenicians are settlers they're not seekers. they're looking for the simple life. they are not looking to be challenged or stimulated in a way that provokes responses other than comfort. a Lazy Boy, a Mexican beer, a massive tv, and a hot girlfriend or wife that looks as if she's been dipped in plasticine. they love to be viewed in the company of the right people but love to brag about all the bad people they know to give them street cred. again Phoenix is a joke. when talented people here decide to give this land back to the lemmings that call this place home. i think they'll be completely shocked and maybe a little saddened that no one noticed they're gone. First Friday Art Walk will be quickly replaced by any other lame ass spectacle that these dyed in the wool neophytes gravitate to. like gun shows, or the motorhome expo, or the "Culture Fair".. am i bitter you ask? absolutely not. i'm standing here watching the spectacle. i'm bemused by watching artists running around in circles trying to put their fingers and toes in the holes as their ship slowly sinks. in Phoenix good artists rise to the top and they will stay there forever in Phoenix. they don't even have to work at it. produce nothing and still be known in every networking circle there is. leave here and travel to a city with a real art scene and realize you've got a lot of work to do to catch up. usually you just come crawling back to Phoenix unwilling and unable to accept challenge or scrutiny. Phoenix you've made your bed now you can sleep in it. when you expect very little from the scene you build than you can expect to reap it's rewards and that is very little. i am scoffing at the ridiculous tag line "Phoenix love or leave it". the only asshole that would wear that is a simpleton who's never left the state and doesn't realize the world is a very big place. explore it and then come back and see how adamant you are about feeding the animals here...

ExpertShot
ExpertShot

You're not looking in the right places. Go to The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community to find your challenging environment. SRPMI is comprised of two Native American tribes: the Pima, or "Akimel Au-Authm," (River People), and the Maricopa, or "Xalychidom Piipaash," (People who live toward the water). It is from these people you should be learning about Phoenix - the invaders are worthless as you have observed.

http://www.srpmic-nsn.gov/hist...

john wendelken
john wendelken

it use to be call The Stuff full of a lot of cool old things.

ExpertShot
ExpertShot

This article is written like Alwun House doesn't exist - The Grand Dame of Downtown Phoenix Art Galleies and you don't even mention it - ONCE! What a writer.

helentroy4
helentroy4

I don't recall Metropophobobia being located at this spot. I do remember the first Metro when it was located near Rose Johnson's corner studio and then when Metro relocated closer to downtown. Was Metro ever in the Modified Arts space? If my memory is serving me well, Metro was open at its second location and at the same time Modified was on Roosevelt row.

I haven't been to Phoenix in a long time. I do remember when Metro closed. They were supposedly going to tear the building down. I was wonderfing if they ever actually did that.

 
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