The Best Things We Saw in Phoenix in 2017

Beatrice Moore commissioned Los Angeles-based Karen Fiorito to create this billboard mural after Trump's election.
Beatrice Moore commissioned Los Angeles-based Karen Fiorito to create this billboard mural after Trump's election. Karen Fiorito/Photo by Lynn Trimble
Here’s looking at you Phoenix. This year’s been a doozy, but we found a lot to love about 2017 — especially when it came to the arts. From theater and dance to festivals and exhibitions, the Valley delivered a visual feast. These are the best things we saw in 2017.

Karen Fiorito’s Trump Billboard
By his own accounts, President Donald Trump is H-U-G-E. That’s certainly the case on Grand Avenue, where artist and historic preservationist Beatrice Moore commissioned a 40-foot-wide billboard bearing the image of Trump as a warmonger and moneygrubber. Located between 10th and 11th avenues, it’s the work of California artist Karen Fiorito, who reminds passersby of the power of diversity and resistance with the mural’s flip side, which features five hands with different skin tones using sign language to spell U-N-I-T-Y. Since going up in March, the billboard has been a powerful reminder that creativity is one hell of a coping mechanism. Lynn Trimble

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Detail of Killing Time by Kambui Olujimi (2017, mixed media, 60 x 15 inches 27 / 30).
Lisa Sette Gallery
“Tell Me Why, Tell Me Why, Tell Me Why (Why Can’t We Live Together?)”
Incensed and dejected by the political climate leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Lisa Sette did what she does best: She curated an art exhibition. The gallerist presented a full-to-the-brim show that reflected her heartache and horror at the news cycle. “Why Can’t We Live Together?” addressed Black Lives Matter, systemic racism, and police violence with Charlotte Potter’s two-in-one portrait of Michael Brown and the police officer who shot him to death, Sonya Clark’s shocking and shredded Confederate flag, and bejeweled handcuffs by Kambui Olujimi. The gallery’s inner sanctum invited literal self-reflection with Binh Danh’s Buddha daguerreotype and quieting thoughts at Carrie Marill’s altar. Becky Bartkowski

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Scene from Echoes, choreographed by Elisa Marie Cavallero, performed during the BlakTina Festival in Phoenix.
Eduardo Robles Mendivil
BlakTina Festival
Through thoughtful movement choices executed with deep passion, artists drew audience members into their inner and outer struggles during Phoenix’s first BlakTina Festival. Phoenix dancer and choreographer Liliana Gomez worked with Licia Perea, who founded the BlakTina Festival in the Los Angeles area in 2013, to present the showcase, which took place on July 22 at Black Theatre Troupe’s performance space. The festival featured 10 works by mostly Arizona-based choreographers exploring the universal human experience and the complexities of life, punctuating the rich contributions that creatives of color make to the Phoenix arts landscape. Lynn Trimble

Mega Ran on WWE SmackDown
Among his many geeky pursuits, nerdcore star and Valley resident Mega Ran is a major wrestling fan. And when WWE brought its weekly SmackDown show to Talking Stick Resort Arena on July 4, he experienced the show from a unique vantage point: inside the ring. Mega Ran backed up three-man tag team The New Day as they faced off against The Usos in a rap battle. Ran’s appearance came via his friendship with The New Day’s Xavier Woods, who invited him beforehand. Despite being in the background, Mega Ran made the most of his screen time, including clowning around and helping make the battle a highlight of the show. He even got name-checked. Benjamin Leatherman

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One of many habitat views along The Walk route for the Museum of Walking's March 18 event.
Lynn Trimble
The Walk
Artist Angela Ellsworth introduced Phoenicians to the wonders of contemplative walking in March, with an event called The Walk. It was the first large-scale contemplative walk presented by the Museum of Walking, which Ellsworth co-founded. The Walk brought people together, without cellphones, for a 90-minute exploration of the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area. It’s a former landfill, located along South Central Avenue, that’s been transformed into a riparian habitat complete with wildlife and lush vegetation. For jaded city types, it was a chance to embrace nature while honing the listening and observations skills that make city life more civil. Lynn Trimble

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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski
Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.
Ashley Naftule
Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble