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Cyphers: The Center for Urban Arts Moves Into Phoenix Center for the Arts

DJs LES735 (far left) and Akshen (far right) spin at Cyphers' grand reopening at Phoenix Center for the Arts during First Friday in May.
DJs LES735 (far left) and Akshen (far right) spin at Cyphers' grand reopening at Phoenix Center for the Arts during First Friday in May.
Benjamin Leatherman

The folks at Phoenix Center for the Arts has a new tenant, and it's one that should give the institution an extra bit of street cred. Cyphers: The Center for Urban Arts, which offers classes and workshops on hip-hop culture and street-level art forms to both youth and adults, recently moved to the Central Phoenix arts haven.

According to Cyphers co-founder Danny "Scooby" Morales, the community organization and arts studio packed up its spray paint and turntables and relocated to PCA from its original North Phoenix home near Metrocenter Mall in April.

See also: Big Brain 2012 Finalist - Cyphers

Morales says Cyphers, which is now based out of the center at Third and Moreland streets, has relaunched its various classes and workshops covering everything from b-boy dancing and graf art to MCing and DJing earlier this month after spending most of April moving and getting settled in.

And while there are still a few kinks to work out, he's glad that Cyphers is up and running again. Its grand reopening on May 2 was well attended and featured a huge circle of b-boy dancing (which, in hip-hop parlance, is known as a "cypher") as well as graf art walls and local DJs.

"It was a hard transition, but we're getting things in order," he says.

To say the least. The past six months have been an emotional roller coaster for Morales and the rest of the Cyphers staff, he says, including being forced to vacate their last home, which opened in 2012 at Metro Marketplace shopping center near 29th Avenue and Dunlap Road.

Last fall, Morales says the plaza's owners informed the staff that their lease on the 2,100-square-foot building was up in March and wouldn't be renewed. Redevelopment plans were in the works for the entire shopping center, including razing the particular structure that Cyphers occupied.

Morales and fellow Cyphers founder Edson "House" Magana, a renowned Valley b-boy dancer, were devastated by the news. After all, the business partners and longtime friends had sunk countless time, effort, and sweat -- as well as tens of thousands of dollars -- into launching and sustaining the center.

Both had dreamed of owning and running something like Cyphers for decades, dating back to the '90s, when both were first involved in the local hip-hop culture scene, and being faced with the possibility that it could all turn to ashes was a major bummer.

The pair didn't have a backup plan or another spot where they could move Cyphers, which Morales says led to a lot of frustration with their situation. In all likelihood, he admits, the organization could have ended altogether.

"Yeah, it was a bad time," he says. "We had a lot of dreams sunk into that place, and when someone comes to you and says, 'We're gonna knock this building down, you've got to move out,' it just frustrates you."

The Cyphers staff put out the word, however, that they were in need of a new home. Luckily, Morales says, the PCA staff reached out in January and offered space to house the organization.  

A b-boy performs at Cyphers' grand reopening at Phoenix Center for the Arts earlier this month.
A b-boy performs at Cyphers' grand reopening at Phoenix Center for the Arts earlier this month.
Benjamin Leatherman

"With everybody's help, we were able revived it and bring it back to life," he says. "And now, here we are at Phoenix Center for the Arts."

Although he's grateful that Cyphers was able to survive, albeit in new digs, Morales admits they had to endure some losses and make several sacrifices in the move. It went from having its own dedicated building in close proximity to the mostly West Valley clientele to sharing a single office with several other arts and community organizations. Its classes and workshops are now held in PCA's various studios, theaters, and rooms.

Morales says he's being positive about the situation and trying to make the most of things.

"There's a bunch of organizations here that we're trying to network with -- like Roosevelt Row and Radio Phoenix and Rising Youth Theatre," he says. "We're hoping to collaborate with them and do things together. It's a beautiful thing to come here, and Phoenix Center for the Arts has welcomed us with open arms."

A local graf artist paints a plywood wall outside of Phoenix Arts Center during Cyphers grand reopening earlier this month.
A local graf artist paints a plywood wall outside of Phoenix Arts Center during Cyphers grand reopening earlier this month.
Benjamin Leatherman

Cyphers did suffer the loss one of its founders during the transition, as Magana parted ways with the organization earlier this year. When asked about his co-founder's departure, Morales quickly states that there wasn't much melodrama involved. Rather, he says, it was mainly due to Magana's other responsibilities, such as studying for his MFA in dance at Arizona State University.

(Jackalope Ranch was unable to reach Magana for comment on the situation.)

"It ain't drama. He's a brother of mine and nothing will ever change that, not even with whether he stepped away [from Cyphers]," Morales says. "I can't speak for him, all I can say is from conversations that we've had, he has a lot on his plate. He's going to grad school and he's doing some amazing things over at ASU. How do you take so much on without spreading yourself too thin? So he had business that needed attention and that was a choice that he made and we truly respect him for that."

With all that said, Morales believes that the loss of Cyphers' original home may have played a factor in Magana's departure.

"The transition, it hit us all hard. We both had to do some soul searching and we're both different people -- I'm a family man, I have kids, House does not; he lives a free life. So we come from two different backgrounds, two different lifestyles," Morales says. "As you can imagine, it probably hurt him in the heart to step away."

"So while I can't speak for him. I just know that he's a little distant right now, which I totally respect. How do you step away from something and then watch it continue and grow? That's got to hurt at some point. So how do you deal with that? Maybe just separate yourself for the moment, and maybe he'll come back to us."

In the meantime, Morales has plans for expanding Cyphers. On May 24, it will begin holding DJing, dancing, and graf art workshops at the Maryvale Family YMCA on in West Phoenix. It's the first in a series of offsite classes and events that Morales says will allow them to spread hip-hop culture throughout the Valley.

"We're also looking into talking to some principals of local school districts to kind of expand things there as well," he says. "So the Phoenix Center of the Arts is our headquarters and our main location while putting on things offsite at the YMCA and maybe with school programs."

In a sense, if people can't come to Cyphers' new home, then Cyphers will come to them.

"That's a beautiful thing," Morales says. "And the reason why is that not everyone can make it to the Phoenix Center for the Arts, so we got to go to the people instead."

Cyphers: The Center for Urban Arts is located at the Phoenix Center for the Arts. More info on its classes can be found on its Facebook page.

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