100 Creatives

Michelle Dock of Tempe Center for the Arts on How She Landed Her Dream Job

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 45. Michelle Dock.

Little moments in time — those are what inspire Michelle Dock.

"Whether it’s my husband singing a song to my kids before bed, or seeing a visitor’s eyes light up when seeing a cool piece of art," Dock says, "I love that little moment that sometimes happens when you see something special and you say to yourself, I gotta remember this."

It's a mentality rooted in Dock's childhood spent drawing all the time in Las Cruces, New Mexico. That love of drawing took her to study it as her major in New Mexico State University. But Dock took a work-study job at a museum and loved it. "I really liked how diverse every work day was … painting walls one day, organizing collection data and/or giving a tour to a group of kids on another day," she says. "A museum job is never ordinary."

That led her to Arizona State University's art education master's program — and "a variety of jobs in arts education and curatorial work until just the right fit came along."

Now, Dock is based in Chandler. At 44, she's a curator and art educator who manages and curates City of Tempe spaces including the Gallery at Tempe Center for the Arts, Tempe Public Library, and the Post Office on Mill Avenue. 

"I’ve been with the City of Tempe for 10 years now, and it’s still my dream job," she says. "One day I might be doing a studio visit with an artist, and another day I might be writing, making signs, or training docents. It all keeps me on my toes."

Case in point: The pop-culture lover is working on several upcoming exhibitions, including Tempe Center for the Arts' juried biennial "Clay" show, a biomimicry collaboration with ASU, and a showcase of Western POP. For the latter, Dock says she's excited to be working with Ralph Remington, Tempe’s new deputy director of arts and culture and artistic director for Tempe Center for the Arts. "He is also a pop-culture and movie buff, and is bringing some really great cross-discipline ideas to the table for Western POP about the gritty realities overlooked by Hollywood," she says.

Bringing pop culture into the galleries is great, but Dock is happiest when her work life and home life come together. It's magic.

"When I see that they like what I do — wow, it’s the best feeling," she says. "My sons can also be my best critics. They’ve been going to art openings since they were in diapers. They’re actually pretty savvy museum-goers."

I came to Phoenix from New Mexico more than 20 years ago to get a master’s degree in art education from ASU.

My art is curating exhibitions. I really thrive when our team is working on a new exhibition and the themes and connections among artists, ideas, and artworks start clicking together in interesting and seemingly effortless ways. I’m really an art educator at heart — so I love thinking about how different viewers will think about the exhibition experience as a whole.

I'm most productive when I’m collaborating. Brainstorming sessions and dreaming big with other creatives inside and outside of the Gallery is when I feel the most creative and energized.

My inspiration wall is full of pop-culture references. I can geek out pretty easily on anything from sci-fi to history. I have anything from Marvin the Martian to Star Wars references at my desk — partially because of prior exhibition projects — and partially cause I just like them. I also have tons of pictures of my kids and my husband; those bring a smile to my face even when I’m having a hard day.

I've learned most from three mentors in my life — one was my high school theater teacher, Mr. Robert Gaines, a retired Marine Corps sergeant who helped me break out of my shell as a teenager. The second is Dr. Mary Erickson from ASU, who taught me (and continues to inspire me) to really think about how people learn and understand art. The third is my former boss Don Fassinger at the TCA, who taught me to always keep a smile on my face at work — his favorite line is “everything has entertainment value.” It’s a great motto to live by.

Good work should always lift you to another place. I’m especially inspired by work that tells a story about the human condition. In the end, it’s what all art is really about.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more balance between creating and promoting art that is for the insider and the outsider. I like edgy art that challenges my beliefs and senses. But, as an art educator, I also know the bigger audience out there doesn’t have the art background to recognize all same contextual references like an insider. So, as a curator, I see my job as helping audiences make those connections without making them feel like the outsider.

I also like encouraging both emerging and established artists to embrace different opportunities for sharing their work with the public. Sure, the sophisticated museums and gallery spaces are fantastic places to show, but if your goal is to really reach out to a broad audience, you just can’t beat some of the alternative art spaces in our community. Some of my favorite spaces include Sky Harbor Airport and local libraries such as Tempe and Scottsdale. In these spaces, you’re talking about reaching thousands of people with your work.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
54. Robert Hoekman Jr.
53. Joan Waters
52. Gabriela Muñoz
51. ColorOrgy
50. Liz Magura
49. Anita and Sam Means
48. Liz Ann Hewett
47. Tiffany Fairall
46. Vanessa Davidson
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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