Phoenix Art Venues Hope to Survive Summer ... Without Air Conditioning

Melting Fan art installation on display at a subway station in Atlanta.
Melting Fan art installation on display at a subway station in Atlanta.
Laughing Squid

Summertime's dicey for galleries in downtown Phoenix. Artists are still making art. And it's not that folks are leaving town in droves. They are here -- but they're staying home. Truth is, arts venues slow down this time of year because no one (except, perhaps Beatrice Moore -- more on her later) wants to be in a building in Phoenix in the summer without air conditioning.

Dozens of downtown galleries and studios are without a/c units; they utilize swamp coolers and indoor fans to keep patrons (semi) comfortable. And they get through summer with conditions that would easily shut down any local restaurant or neighborhood business expecting to keep people around -- especially after the hot air settles when the front door shuts.

Some arts spaces are actually fund raising to pay to install or fix air conditioning units. (No word yet as to whether that will be successful, given the steep costs.) The more common result: give up.

local art staples including Modified Arts (without a/c) Pravus (without working a/c) and InfinitasPhoenicia, and Squeeze galleries (all with a/c) announced they'd be shutting their doors for good; Perihelion (also with a/c) will close for the summer. Most art studios and downtown shops have limited their hours to only weekends or during later, cooler times.

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We get it, and gallery owners understand, it's hot.

And while artists, collectives, and gallery owners may not be able to afford air conditioning (a central air installation starts around $5,000 for the smallest spaces and monthly bills are often in the hundreds), a few have raised money or started a/c fundraising campaigns, because what they really can't afford to do is to turn visitors away.

So the solution for galleries that choose to stay open this summer (and those who choose to visit) is simple: Suck it up.

Beatrice Moore owns half a dozen spaces along Grand Avenue, including her funky arts supply store, Kooky Krafts, and huge gallery/studio space Bragg's Pie Factory.

She also hates air conditioning.

Her spaces -- unless they've been revamped with a/c units by tenants -- have swamp coolers, which can be mounted onto a building roof or stand within the building and cool air with the help of cold water. The coolers typically work in desert climates with low humidity levels.

The upsides, she says, are the natural air and cheaper electricity bills. Moore says humidity levels have been decreasing over the past decade, so the swamp coolers make a big difference in her shop, gallery, and home.

The downside comes in the humid months of August and September, when average humidity levels rise. During these months, swamp coolers struggle to cool the already-moist air. With temperatures this week expected to hit 107 degrees with 14 percent humidity, more than a few spaces will be warmer than expected.

Moore recommends putting foam and heat-resistant tinting in the windows, anticipating less business, and facing the fact that we live in a desert climate. She says it's hard to book shows for June, July, and August at Bragg's, and tells her tenants in the studios that if they want a/c units, they're on their own. Ultimately, Moore banks on customers sharing her "hunker down in the summertime" attitude, but a few artists and venues can't make the same gamble.

MADCAP, the theater on Mill Avenue in Tempe is hoping to raise $40,000 for a/c repairs and to cover their summertime bills (they're currently at $360 with 88 days to go). Elizabeth Carless of MADCAP says the theater isn't in an emergency situation -- they have an older unit that's working, but will eventually need repairs. That said, people already rush through the theater's warm lobby to grab snacks, and even Carless admits it would be crazy to expect anyone to sit through a two-hour film at anything more than 80 degrees.

​Downtown's GROWop boutique and grow house on Fifth Street hosted a fundraiser in February for a/c installation, running, and maintenance costs. A unit was donated, but GROWop owners are still waiting for the community volunteer to install it.

This Friday, Larkin will host her last directed contemporary art show at Modified Arts with work by Melinda Bergman, and down the street, Crystal Phelps and Tiffe Fermaint open their show at eyelounge

Modified's director Kim Larkin says the space is usually only open by appointment during the summer months to avoid overheating and to protect the artwork in storage and on the walls. The summer heat on artwork is a predicament Phelps and Fermaint will face with their show -- even in one of the only spaces on Roosevelt with two a/c units -- as their work contains temperature-sensitive, organic materials.

"If the community wants galleries and unique local boutiques to visit and take their friends to see, then they have to make an effort to spend their dollars in those places," writes Cindy Dach, who's a board member of Roosevelt Row CDC and co-owns eyelounge's neighbor, MADE art boutique. "It's a choice about shaping our urban landscape. One or two purchases can have an impact. And, if someone doesn't want to actually purchase a physical piece of art, they can make a donation to a utility fund or a gardening fund. It won't be tax deductible, but it will have an impact." 

Even with high temperatures, costs, and complaints, Beatrice Moore, says it's all about attitude. "People pay money to go sweat," she says. "Here, I do it for free."

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