Culture News

Midtown Phoenix's Newly Named Central Arts Plaza Aims to Connect Creatives, Businesses

Back in May of 2014, 11 Phoenix arts and culture organizations announced they had formed the Central Arts District as a way to up their visibility in the region and increase their mutual collaboration while promoting local art and cultural offerings.

The 11 organizations involved were Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix Theatre, Phoenix Center for the Arts, Heard Museum, Arizona Opera, Phoenix Community Alliance, Arizona School for the Arts, Hance Park Conservatory, Metro Arts High School, Playhouse on the Park, and Viad Corporate Center.

Although it doesn't look like any significant partnerships have been driven by the alliance (at least, not yet), a more recent change in midtown signals that the neighborhood could be looking to bolster further its arts and culture reputation.

Earlier this year, one of Phoenix’s midtown office buildings was changed to reflect a new moniker. The original Dial Corporation building that became Viad Corporate Center many years ago, located on Central Avenue in Phoenix across the street from the Phoenix Art Museum, is now called Central Arts Plaza. The official renaming ceremony, attended by Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton, took place on March 4. 

Much like the self-designated arts district's name change, it's unclear how much impact the Central Arts Plaza will have on the arts community. For the most part, it appears to represent a mostly cosmetic change rather than a significant foray into enhancing the midtown arts and culture scene.

The rebranding was undertaken by the real estate and development company McCarthy Cook & Co. and investment management firm JLL. Edward Cook, Co-President of McCarthy Cook, says the name change reflects their role as "a hub connecting the numerous prestigious firms located in the building to the Central Art's District's vibrant scene."

Current tenants include mostly national and local firms practicing law, accounting, and advertising and public relations — as well as the Viad Corporation. The rebranding was completely funded by the owner, 1850 North Central LLC.

Folks passing by the building while walking along Central Avenue will see the new sign, and there’s evidence of the change inside the building as well. Welcome mats inside doorways sport the golden yellow Central Arts Plaza imprint, as do rental bikes lined up inside the building’s spacious lobby. 

Playhouse on the Park, a performance space used by Black Theatre Troupe before its relocation to a dedicated building along the Washington Street Light Rail line that also passes the relatively new building for Ballet Arizona, has been located in the office tower since it was constructed. Before going out of business, Actors Theatre of Phoenix used the space to present its final season.

The 200-seat performance space is managed by Phoenix Theatre, which takes care of renting it out to arts groups who need a venue. Marylou Stephens with Phoenix Theatre notes that groups currently using the space include All Puppet Players, which presents puppet shows for mature audiences. Currently few performances are taking place there, although Phoenix Theatre hopes more groups will rent the space for their productions.

Central Arts Plaza has long been home to a collection of outdoor sculptures, including one depicting a window washer named Bob, and another a middle aged man snoozing in a chair with a book atop his belly. But now there’s artwork inside the building, too. Phoenix Center for the Arts is coordinating exhibitions in the vast Central Arts Plaza lobby, and plans to rotate them every two months. Unfortunately, they're swamped by the vast size of the lobby, and there aren't any plans to enhance the way these works are being shown — which looks rather makeshift and temporary.

The first exhibition, consisting of more than 50 1-foot-by-1-foot canvases hung on accordion-style office dividers, opened during First Friday in June. It features works by artists and art students at Phoenix Center for the Arts, which offers a robust line-up of visual arts classes for youth and adults. Edna Dapo, a local artist who heads the painting and drawing department at Phoenix Center for the Arts, says more than 200 people attended the opening reception. Dapo curated the inaugural show, titled “Summer Reflections.”

She’ll be curating future shows as well. The next show will be up during August and September, she says. The opening reception is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday, August 7. It features works by a group of five artists including Shain LaBarge, Trish LaBarge, Henry Bellavia, Michael Allen, and Diane Bond who call themselves “Super Natural.” Dapo suggests artists interested in showing their wok at Central Arts Plaza watch the Phoenix Center for the Arts website for news of future exhibition opportunities.

The artwork is on view Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

To learn more, visit the Central Arts Plaza website

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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble