Phoenix New Times' Best of Phoenix 2017 is out now. Here's our list of the best art, galleries, and artists the Valley has to offer.
Best Art Gallery: Lisa Sette Gallery
The closest you'll get to having a Lisa Sette-caliber eye is probably walking around the Valley art tastemaker's gallery. If you're lucky, perhaps you have pockets deep enough to purchase a piece from her stellar stable of artists. Assuming you're not ready to drop all the dollar bills on politically charged sculptures, paintings, and mixed media, you'll just have to settle for soaking up work by Carrie Marill, Angela Ellsworth, and Rachel Bess in a beautifully revamped subterranean Al Beadle building.
Best Up-and-Coming Art Gallery: The Sagrado Galleria
The Sagrado Galleria first opened in 2012 in the Grand Avenue Arts District. But it closed for a time, and reopened in November 2016 at its new south Phoenix location. During its first year in the new space, the gallery presented works by dozens of local artists. But it's more than just an arts venue. The Sagrado Galleria is a place where visitors from diverse backgrounds enjoy visual art, music, workshops on topics such as ancestral birthing practices and colonization, film screenings, and performances.
Best Student Gallery: Step Gallery
The easiest way to check in on Arizona State University's mega-talented art students? Visit Grant Street Studios in the warehouse district south of downtown Phoenix. The former textile factory is home to master's candidates' studio spaces, and the Herberger Institute facility also has two galleries where grad students, alumni, and faculty regularly display art. Your best bet for variety is Step Gallery. The student-run space hosts MFA thesis exhibitions, work from alumni, and the occasional group show.
Best Arts Enclave: The Hive
Julia Fournier thrifts Pucci dresses like nobody's business, but that's not the only reason to stop by this funky enclave, fronted by Fournier's vintage shop, The Bee's Knees. Fournier also shows local art, and The Hive houses Wasted Ink Zine Distro, billed as the hub for local DIY zinesters. Round things out with drinks from Silent Flight coffee and make a day of it.
Best Permanent Public Art: Her Secret is Patience by Janet Echelman
Janet Echelman, an internationally renowned sculptor, took the title for her monumental 145-foot aerial sculpture from poet Ralph Waldo Emerson's reference to the patience evident in nature. Installed in downtown Phoenix in 2009, the sculpture draws one's gaze up toward the sky, creating shadows that mirror the complexities of urban life.
Best Temporary Public Art: Desert Playa by Danielle Wood
Once upon a time, Arizona was under water. These days, artist Danielle Wood uses ceramic sculptures to remind us of that fact. Calling to mind the interchangeability of cactus and underwater flora, she has created Desert Playa as part of the recent IN FLUX cycle of temporary, site-specific art installations across the Valley. Presented at The Arts at Marshall Square, Wood's work assembles a fired and glazed coral colony in a muted palette of off-white and gray.
Best Mural: Dressing Room 3.0 by JB Snyder
JB Snyder's artwork, which graces the official map for Roosevelt Row, has become the new face of an ever-evolving arts district. It's a beautiful mix of order with chaos, infused with bright colors like lime green and canary yellow that convey a sense of vibrancy and forward movement. One of several Snyder murals in downtown Phoenix is called Dressing Room 3.0 because he's painted three different designs on the same east-facing wall, starting in 2010.
Best Poetry at a Rock Concert: Alberto Ríos
Alberto Ríos describes the moment when he learned that the band U2 was sharing one of his poems during their current tour as "thrilling and out of the blue." So out of the blue, in fact, that Arizona's first poet laureate learned of this from his son, whose friend had gone to see the band. The friend recognized Ríos' words on a giant screen — from "The Border: A Double Sonnet":
The border is a line that birds cannot see.
The border is a beautiful piece of paper folded carelessly in half.
The border is where flint first met steel, starting a century of fires.
Best Dancer: Liliana Gomez
A round of applause for Liliana Gomez. The dancer and choreographer is one of the Valley's most omnipresent performers, one who always seems to be organizing festivals, teaching kids, and championing her fellow creatives. Over the summer, she brought the first-ever BlakTina Dance Festival to Phoenix, putting the spotlight on work by black and Latinx choreographers.
Best Equity Production: La Esquinita, USA
Written and performed by Rubén C. González, Arizona Theatre Company's production of La Esquinita, USA peeked at a once-booming American border town, the kind in which the poor and undereducated find themselves trapped between prosperity and failure. Fast-paced and often funny, this one-act offered a series of intertwined monologues, each brought vividly to life with a minimum of costuming or contrivance.
Best Non-Equity Production: Rasheeda Speaking
Chicago playwright Joel Drake Johnson's tidy one-act isn't perfect, but it offers interesting perspective and burnishes its rough edges with some real literary style. And in the case of Black Theatre Troupe's production of Rasheeda Speaking, the cast and their director offset the script's soft spots with sturdy acting and an obvious affection for the material.
Best Performance in an Equity Production: Matthew Dean in Billy Elliot: The Musical
Billy Elliot: The Musical is, of course, the one about the 11-year-old boy who wants to study dance in a small village in northeastern England where guys are expected to learn boxing. Its Phoenix Theatre production had plenty going for it, but it was Matthew Dean's magnificent Billy that one remembers. His en pointe was polished, his singing superb, and "Angry Dance," in which he exploded into a ball of fury (because no one in County Durham is as angry as a kid who wants to demi-plie but can't), was worth, as the saying goes, the price of admission.
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Best Performance in a Non-Equity Production: Greg Lutz in Hughie
Set in New York circa 1928, Eugene O'Neill's Hughie takes us to a dim, gloomy corner of a dank lobby in a crummy hotel, where a sad old guy won't stop talking to a night clerk who's only half-listening. iTheatre Collaborative's excellent production was especially notable for Greg Lutz's performance as Erie, a shady grifter down on his luck since the death of the lamented night clerk in this fleabag hotel.
Best Curtain Speech: Damon Dering
Damon Dering is a talented director and the founder of and driving force behind one of our town's best alt theaters. He chooses mostly provocative and underproduced gems, and has helmed some of the better productions in Phoenix theater history. But it's Dering's heartfelt and amusing curtain speeches that continue to stay with us. He's shameless about asking for support, fearless when admitting how tough it can be to work as an artist these days, and effusive in his praise of casts and crews and those who bother to come out to see what they've created.