25 Best Arts and Culture Events in Metro Phoenix in 2016

Masses of nude bodies photographed floating in the Dead Sea, fine art paintings by graffiti artist El Mac, and plays performed on Valley Metro Light Rail trains — they'll all be part of the 2016 arts and culture scene here in metro Phoenix, where works of visual and performance art by local as well as international artists should make for some intriguing art encounters and conversations. We've scoped out upcoming exhibitions and events to find some of the year's most anticipated visual art, theater, film, and dance offerings. 

“Photography Re-Imagined V”
January 7 to 30
Tilt Gallery

Tilt Gallery presents an exhibition featuring 33 mixed-media photographic images selected from 385 entries for an international competition juried by Holly Roberts, which is titled “Photography Reimagined V: The Artist’s Hand.” Find more information on the Tilt Gallery website.

Rachel Bess and Charlotte Potter
January 9 to February 27
Lisa Sette Gallery

Lisa Sette presents recent works by two artists, Rachel Bess and Charlotte Potter, exploring personal identity and digital personae. Arizona-based Bess creates modern-day vanitas and still-lifes in oil on panel. Virginia-based Potter creates sculpture and installation work using traditional forms of glassworking. We’re also looking forward to Sette’s April 23 to June 25 exhibition of works by Carrie Marill and Kim Cridler. Find more information on the Lisa Sette Gallery website.

January 14 to May 28
ASU Art Museum

ASU Art Museum presents “Participant: Photographs by Spencer Tunick from the Stéphane Janssen Collection,” which includes more than 20 works blending photography with installation and performance. For more than two decades, Tunick has traveled the world creating staged images of nude figures in urban and rural settings. Local art collector Janssen has participated in several of these photography sessions. Find more information on the ASU Art Museum website.

Breaking Ground
January 29 and 30
Tempe Center for the Arts

CONDER/dance presents two different programs of dance performance and film, featuring works choreographers in and beyond Arizona. Before each performance, various dancers will perform "tiny dances" on 4-foot by 4-foot stages set up outside the festival theater space. During the festival, CONDER/dance will perform a new work titled Map of Broken Glass created in collaboration with local filmmaker Perry Allen during an artist residency with [nueBOX]. An extended version of this piece premières on January 16 at Phoenix Center for the Arts. Find more information on the CONDER/dance website.

“Betye Saar: Still Tickin’”
January 30 to May 1
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art presents the first solo show by California artist Betye Saar in five years – a retrospective of her six-decade career featuring reconceived installations as well as multimedia collages, assemblages, sculpture, and works on paper. The exhibition is divided into three sections exploring different themes: nostalgia and memory, mysticism and ritual, and the political and racial. Find more information on the SMoCA website.

January 22 to February 29
Locations vary

Several metro Phoenix venues — including Art Intersection, Northlight Gallery, Modified Arts, and Tilt Gallery — present exhibitions and events focused on photography and various types of photographic processes. The Center for Creative Photography in Tucson is also taking part. Find more information on the PhotoTapas website.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
February 5 and 6
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

Hubbard Street Dance — an 18-member company that performs contemporary dance infused with ballet, modern, and jazz dance – presents works from its eclectic repertoire under the direction of artistic director Glenn Edgerton. We’re also looking forward to performances by the dance company Pilobolus on March 4 and 5. Find more information on the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts website.

February 6 to April 17
Heard Museum

“Confluence: Inter-generational Collaborations” features work co-created by seven pairs of American Indian artists, each including one established artist and one young emerging artist. Participating artists are working at the museum and the artists’ studios over the course of three months to create works of textile/fiber art, film, metal, painting, and fashion design. The exhibition will also include individual works created by each artist. Find more information on the Heard Museum website.

Light Rail Plays 3.0
February 19 to 21
Valley Metro Light Rail

Rising Youth Theatre, whose co-artistic director Xanthia Walker received the New Times 2014 Big Brain Award for visual arts, will deliver its third iteration of site-specific new works created for audiences who travel the Valley Metro light rail. They’ll perform eight short theater works — complete with storytelling, live music, movement, puppets, and masks — on the trains and stations between Roosevelt/Central Avenue and Central Avenue/Camelback. We’re also looking forward to their new Living Room play, which is being created with residents of the Garfield neighborhood in Phoenix, and will be performed in March 20 to 22 at Verde Park. Find more information on the Rising Youth Theatre website.

Black ART Matters
February 24 to 28
Locations vary

ASU’s Performance in the Borderlands presents a celebration and investigation of the role art and performance play in the Black Lives Matter movement, which takes the form of public engagement around Black, queer, feminist creative art practices and aesthetics which reimagine a more just world. Find more information on the ASU Performance in the Borderlands website.

Canal Convergence
February 25 to 28
Scottsdale Waterfront

Scottsdale Public Art presents large-scale and interactive artworks created by local and international artists during a four-day festival that also includes live music, performance, and storytelling. The event held along the Arizona Canal in downtown Scottsdale features ten art installations, including Blooms by British artist Bruce Munro, a river’s passing, I by Perry Allen, and Your Secret is Safe with Me by Christopher Jagmin. Find more information on the Scottsdale Public Art website.

February 25 to 27
Phoenix Theatre's Hardes Theatre

Scorpius Dance Theatre reprises its original Catwalk, which blends contemporary dance performance, choreographed by Scorpius artistic director Lisa Starry, with pop/rock music and local fashions. We’re also looking forward to the première of L.O.V.E. featuring new choreography by Starry, which is being performed April 28 to 30. Find more information on the Scorpius Dance Theatre website.

Stupid Fucking Bird
March 12 to 26
Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center

Stray Cat Theatre performs playwright Aaron Posner’s remix of The Seagull, which translates the subtext of Anton Chekhov’s late 19th century piece filled with characters unhappy about their lot in life into scenes and songs that resonate with contemporary audiences. We’re also looking forward to Stray Cat’s take on Green Day’s American Idiot, which features choreography by Lisa Starry, artistic director for Scorpius Dance Theatre, which opens in June. Find more information on the Stray Cat Theatre website.

March Third Friday
March 18
Locations vary

Several cool art exhibitions are opening on Third Friday in March. Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art opens what Phoenix artist Carolyn Lavender calls “a mini-retrospective” of her work as part of its “Onloaded 3” exhibition series in the shipping container galleries located in Roosevelt Row, and Eye Lounge opens an exhibition of works created through 11 artist and writer partnerships as part of a collaboration with Four Chambers Press. The Fortoul Brothers of 40 Owls also return to Phoenix with new works in March, most likely on Third Friday. Find more information on the websites for phICA, Eye Lounge, Four Chambers Press, and 40 Owls.

Phoenix Film Festival
April 7 to 14
Harkins Scottsdale/101 Theatre

The Phoenix Film Festival was founded in 2000 and returns with more than 150 film screenings (in seven theaters), plus filmmaking seminars and parties. Find more information on the Phoenix Film  Festival website.

Dance: Inventions and Conventions
April 15 and 16
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse

ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts presents performances by ASU faculty, visiting artists, students, and alumni – including favorites from their most recent season. Find more information on the ASU Events website.

Black Girl: Linguistic Play
April 16
ASU Gammage

Camille A. Brown & Dancers perform Black Girl: Linguistic Play, a piece choreographed by New York-based Brown, whose work has been commissioned by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Urban Bush Women, Hubbard Street II, and others. Here Brown uses African-American social dancing, rhythmic play, and musical compositions to illustrate a full spectrum of Black female experience. Audience members are seated on the stage. Find more information on the ASU Gammage website.

Blue Galaxy
April 29 to May 22
Space 55

Phoenix playwright Kim Porter returns to Space 55 with a new musical for which she’s written the book and Roger P. Clark has written the songs. Set against the backdrop of a retro-music club scene, the musical imagines life for a seriously overweight woman who wants to be loved in spite of her weight even as she’s being chased by an earnest suitor with a thing for chubby chicks. Find more information on the Space 55 website.

The Gospel...Discord
May 5 to 29
Herberger Theater Center

Arizona Theatre Company performs The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, which imagines what might transpire were these three historical figures locked in a room and forced to “hash out their views of scripture and the true meaning of existence.” We’re also keen on seeing their productions of August Wilson’s Fences and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, which are also being performed this season at the Herberger Theater Center. Find more information on the ATC website.

Festival of New Plays and Musicals
May 6 to 22
Phoenix Theatre

Phoenix Theatre presents staged readings of works in various stages of development, written by playwrights in and beyond Arizona. During the Caleb Reese Festival of New Plays and Musicals, audience members get to interact with playwrights, directors, and actors – and offer their feedback about plays and musicals that are still works in progress. Previous works have addressed a wide range of topics such as returning home from war, the lives of famous artists, navigating motherhood and depression, border violence, and beauty pageants. Find more information on the Phoenix Theatre website.

“El Mac: Aerosol Exalted”
May 13 to August 7
Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum

This exhibition features work by Miles MacGregor, a muralist with Phoenix roots known around the world for street art created using the moniker El Mac. The artist, whose work graces several spaces in metro Phoenix, creates primarily human figures and faces using repeated contour lines that mark his signature style. Find more information on the Mesa Arts Center website.

An Evening at Desert Botanical Garden
May 17 to June 4
Desert Botanical Garden

Ballet Arizona premières a new site-specific work choreographed by artistic director Ib Andersen, whose prior site-specific work Topia was performed at the garden during two previous seasons. Find more information on the Ballet Arizona website.

July 1 to September 16
Phoenix Art Museum

Phoenix Art Museum presents works by Canadian artist Edward Burtynsky, who explores humanity’s complex relationship with a vital natural resource. Burtynsky traveled the globe from 2007 to 2012 to create images showing the fragmented lifecycle of water and its implications for modern life. Find more information on the Phoenix Art Museum website.

“TCA Biennial: Clay”
October 1, 2016 to January 14, 2017
The Gallery at TCA

The Gallery at Tempe Center for the Arts presents a juried exhibition of works in clay created by artists in and beyond Arizona, whose pieces reflect diverse techniques and themes. Find more information on the TCA website.

Scottsdale International Film Festival
October 6 to 10
Harkins Shea 14 Theatre

The annual film festival founded in 2001 returns with screenings primarily at Harkins Shea 14 Theatre, but also Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts – where the 2015 Scottsdale International Film Festival presented a live performance by the Recycled Orchestra, a group featured in the winning film for last year’s festival. Find more information on the Scottsdale International Film Festival website.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble