Dear Phoenix Art Scene, Robrt Pela Has Curmudgeonly High Hopes for 2016
A scene outside the Bragg's Pie Factory building during the 2015 Grand Avenue Festival.
As the year winds down, I find myself wanting a lot as both a critic and a curator in Phoenix — especially from the local creatives, and their audiences, in our fair city.
A higher level of sophistication about the local arts scene
Pretty much everyone who lives in Arizona knows that the Cardinals are not a baseball team, so why is it so hard to remember that the Herberger Theater Center is a venue, and not a theater company? Why is it so challenging to know the difference between an art gallery and an art museum? And what will it take to finally convince people that an art gallery is not a studio, for Christ’s sake?
Galleries with actual programming
Imagine calling the Black Theater Troupe to find out what their show for March would be, and having the artistic director say to you, “Oh, gosh, we won’t know that until at least the first week in February.” Theater companies work a year or two out; why can’t local galleries? Why not book Suzanne Falk in August of 2016 for a show in April of the following year? You’ll have eight whole months to promote her exhibit, and she won’t be madly dashing around looking for unsold work to show. Instead, she’ll have more than half a year to create new paintings for your gallery — and for us to buy.
Fewer crappy murals
As often happens in our lately up-and-coming city, someone decided that murals would make downtown more vibrant and relevant. Now we have a lot of them. Too many. And lots of lousy ones. Is it too much to hope for that someone will launch an official mural project, one that will select better mural artists and pair them with the right building, to create a less tacky local landscape?
Better presentation at local galleries
Why are your text cards hand-written? Why are those paintings crooked? Why am I drinking warm white wine out of plastic? It’s just as easy to do things well as it is to do them sloppily. Putting a little extra effort in conveys a real commitment to art and artists, besides.
Attendees of the Phoenix Annual Parade of the Arts after-party.
More support for the arts in public schools
Charter schools and arts-specific schools like Arizona School for the Arts are stepping up with theater and visual art curriculums, but funding for such programs at the public school level continues to dwindle. Despite Governor Doug Ducey’s recent proposal to hand over $1.8 billion in state land trust money to public school arts programs over the next five years, school district representatives aren’t hopeful. Maybe because they’re still waiting for the $1.6 billion promised to them last year, or because they know that this crayons and paint money, will be redirected into paying off the state’s half-a-billion-dollar budget shortfall from 2015. Would that children’s arts programs were prioritized alongside road repair and recycling program improvements.
Inside Beatrice Moore's art studio on Grand Avenue.
Let’s let artists just make art.
While it’s not too much to ask that an artist help promote her show at any local gallery, it’s pretty much all curators and gallerists should be asking artists to do. Artists should make art, and not be asked to select the work they’ll be showing, hang and light and label their show, or create promotional materials. A confident gallerist will select his artist’s work and create its presentation—because it’s his job.
A scene from Chaos Theory at Legend City Studios.
Before we lose them to some other city, how about a little appreciation for the work of internationally-beloved local artists Annie Lopez, Michael Marlowe, and Bob Adams? These folks are all deserving of one-person solo exhibitions. I’m talking to you, Phoenix Art Museum.
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