A scene outside the Bragg's Pie Factory building during the 2015 Grand Avenue Festival.EXPAND
A scene outside the Bragg's Pie Factory building during the 2015 Grand Avenue Festival.
Benjamin Leatherman

Dear Phoenix Art Scene, Robrt Pela Has Curmudgeonly High Hopes for 2016

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?

Inside the Roosevelt Row shipping container galleries.EXPAND
Inside the Roosevelt Row shipping container galleries.

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.

More murals like this, please.
More murals like this, please.

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.EXPAND
Attendees of the Phoenix Annual Parade of the Arts after-party.
Benjamin Leatherman

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.
Inside Beatrice Moore's art studio on Grand Avenue.
Andrew Pielage

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.
A scene from Chaos Theory at Legend City Studios.
Jeffrey Lowman

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.

Southwest Shakespeare Company's Hysteria imagined the meeting of Freud and Dali.
Southwest Shakespeare Company's Hysteria imagined the meeting of Freud and Dali.

More risk-taking by local theater companies
Phoenix Theatre company has recently launched a second-stage series in its new Hormel Theatre space. Rather than taking any artistic risks, though, this by-the-book company has filled its 2015-16 Hormel season with reruns (Avenue Q, which the company has produced twice before) and selections from the Stuff We’ve Seen a Dozen Times Before bin (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, anyone?). Why not something more daring? Because we don’t do that in Phoenix. So how’s about we start?

A scene from November 2015's First Friday in downtown Phoenix.EXPAND
A scene from November 2015's First Friday in downtown Phoenix.

The death of the First Friday legend
We’ve all heard about how “First Fridays are for partiers, and Third Fridays are for collectors” It’s neither true nor helpful to prescribe a schedule that claims that art sales are made at one time and not at another. I ran art galleries, my own and those belonging to others, for nearly a decade. I found that in fact most sales were made during private showings, but also at the public receptions I routinely hosted on both First and Third Fridays. Telling collectors that one night is “for” them is a surefire way of keeping them from attending a gallery event —or booking a private showing — on some other night. Which means potentially losing an art sale.

A scene from Phoenix Art Museum's Dolce Vita party.EXPAND
A scene from Phoenix Art Museum's Dolce Vita party.

Phoenix Art Museum and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art have newly upgraded staffs. How about more programming featuring local artists, folks?

We said goodbye to Harkins Camelview 5 in 2015.EXPAND
We said goodbye to Harkins Camelview 5 in 2015.
Courtesy of Harkins

Get off Dan Harkins’ back, already.
Okay, so he got booted from the building where he ran Camelview 5, the Scottsdale movie house that ran foreign, indie, and art house films. But if everyone will stop whining long enough to give Harkins’ new and expanded Scottsdale Fashion Square cinema a try, I think they’ll be pleased. There may not be any mushroom sculptures out front, but there are big, cushy recliners in place of the usual theater seats, and state-of-the-art audio and video equipment to screen the same independent films one saw at Camelview.

Patrons at the 2015 Grand Avenue Festival.EXPAND
Patrons at the 2015 Grand Avenue Festival.
Benjamin Leatherman

Fewer places with art in them calling themselves “galleries"
If you own a hair salon that also sells paintings made by your manicurist, you’re not an art gallery. And just because your realty management office throws open its doors on First Friday doesn’t mean you’re an art gallery, either. Stop this nonsense, please. You’re a tattoo parlor, and you’re confusing people about what an art gallery actually is by claiming to be one. Which isn’t helping us grow into a cultural Mecca, I promise you.

A scene from the 2015 Mesa Arts Center.EXPAND
A scene from the 2015 Mesa Arts Center.

A wider appreciation of the arts in general
Okay, so I might as well hope for seven trillion dollars earmarked for arts funding and one more season of Downton Abbey while I’m at it. I know. But wouldn’t it be lovely if locals prized a good painting in the way they love a nice Diamondbacks sweatshirt?

Editor's note: This post has been updated from its original version.

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