in downtown Phoenix has long been a hotbed for rabble-rousing radicals, anti-establishment artists, and countercultural subversives. It's hosted anarchist gatherings, stridently seditious discussions, and other revolutionary events for more than a decade.
Starting tonight, the gallery will host "Share Fire," a pro-firefighter art exhibition, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this weekend. The month-long show, which runs through October 7, will display photographs, paintings, jewelry, and sculptures created by Arizona firefighters.
While such a show seems like a natural fit (given its name), the show's a rare instance of civic boosterism for the anarchistic Firehouse. Proprietor Michael 23 says the exhibition is meant to "break people's expectations" about the space.
"Doing anything that's related to a city agency or government kinda seems a little bit unusual at The Firehouse, right?" he says. "Yeah, I know it seems odd that we'd do something like this, but we wanted to show that the creative spirit can inhabit anyone, including firefighters."
Michael 23 says "Share Fire" is the first of a series of exhibitions he's helping organize that will "illustrate how artists inhabit all walks of life." (A miner-oriented show is also in the works in the coming months.) It's sort of synchronous, he adds, that the series is kicking off days before during 9/11's 10-year anniversary.
"With the firefighter show, it also became more accessible for us to do something about 9/11. We've done a few 9/11-related events in the past but it seemed like we could do something for the 10th anniversary that's wouldn't be misread as controversial," he says. "After 9/11 there was this idolatry of first responders, and we wanted to look past their uniforms and show this creative spark inside them."
"Share Fire" features 40 different works by firefighters from throughout the state that Michael 23 and show curator Anna Schuer obtained by sending out an estimated 400 letters to Arizona fire departments. More than 100 entries were submitted, which the pair whittled down to a selection that runs the gamut from emotional to explosive.
Phoenix Fire Department captain Ernie Lizarraga submitted his charcoal sketch Heroes depicting a firefighter handing a stuffed animal to a child. Rural/Metro Fire Department's T.J. MacKay sent in a spark-filled photograph of firefighters cutting through steel with a saw.
Rural/Metro fire chief John Kraetz, who spends his off hours painting, says that, like The Firehouse, he's trying to buck perceptions by being included in the show.
"I decided to submit my work to show that there is a lot more to the image of a firefighter than is the common conception," Kraetz says.
The firefighter artists included in the show will be on hand for its opening reception tonight, which also offers live music from local bands that feature first-responders as musicians. Firefighters will also be on hand for a 9/11 community gathering and discussion at the gallery on Sunday, September 11.
Anyone is invited to attend and share stories, give respects, or speak their mind, regardless of their political leanings or opinions about the tragedy. That includes any 9/11 Truthers (who believe the tragedy was part of government conspiracy), which Michael 23 says could lead to some interesting interactions with local firefighters.
"It could get pretty emotional. It might be like lighting a firecracker and seeing what happens," Michael 23 says. "I'm expecting it to be interesting at the least."
Michael 23 and Firehouse artist Tascheena Kimberly Umanah had a similar purpose when constructing the 9/11 memorial and "community altar" outside of the gallery.
The memorial includes two eight-foot-tall vertical wooden boxes and a table strewn with candles and handwritten notes about how the tragedy affected the artists.
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"It's meant to be something of a catalyst for people to share their own experiences," Michael 23 says. "For me, it's interesting to look at who we were 10 years ago before it all happened. What seems important is discussing what it was like back then and how our impressions and reactions to the attack were all different."
The opening reception for "Share Fire" takes place from 6 to 11 p.m. tonight at The Firehouse, 1015 North First Street. The 9/11 Downtown Phoenix Community Memorial Gathering will take place at 7 p.m. on Sunday. Admission for both events is free.