A couple of days before First Friday in December 2016, Phoenix artist Pete Petrisko posted large stickers around Roosevelt Row, a part of downtown Phoenix lauded in recent years as one of the country’s best art districts and neighborhoods.
The stickers look like advertisements for Roosevelt Row, complete with this tagline: Luxury Living & Good Eats District. But they’re “subvertisements,” a type of messaging that uses ad-like imagery to satirize its subject matter.
For Petrisko, the stickers are a way to share concerns about the changing nature of Roosevelt Row, an area comprising several blocks north and south of Roosevelt Street between Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street.
During the past two years, several developers have launched projects in the area. And many of those projects have displaced local art venues.
After Colorado-based Baron Properties announced plans for two large-scale apartment complexes at the intersection of Roosevelt and Third streets in December 2014, Petrisko was one of three locals to launch an online petition opposing the developments, which garnered more than 1,000 signatures.
Both developments moved ahead despite protests, starting with demolition of two properties, including an art gallery called GreenHaus that once housed the first drag gay bar in Phoenix. And more developments have followed, displacing additional galleries and small businesses including Lotus Contemporary Art, Five15 Arts, and Roosevelt Growhouse.
But Petrisko, a longtime member of the downtown arts scene since opening his first gallery in 1989, isn’t done registering his protest.
He’s created a campaign he calls NoMoRoRo, which is an abbreviated version of “No More Roosevelt Row.” He’s not calling for the end of Roosevelt Row itself, but he’s adamant that people stop calling it an arts district for a couple of reasons.
First, he says, the number of galleries and art studios in the area has dwindled during the past several years. Petrisko points to a 2011 directory for Roosevelt Row, which lists 19 galleries and studios. That's the same number listed on the 2015 directory currently posted on the Roosevelt Row website, but seven galleries on the 2015 directory have since closed or changed hands.
Second, Petrisko says artists can no longer afford to live in the area. For example, at the Baron Properties apartment complex development called iLuminate (which was at the heart of the December 2014 petition Petrisko helped create), monthly rent ranges from $1,152 to $2,425 for units from 660 to 1093 square feet, according to the developer's website.
“As an artist, I find it a little offensive that people still call it an arts district,” Petrisko says. “An arts district is where a mass of artists live and work, and there’s a sustainable arts infrastructure focused on arts production.”
Roosevelt Row is currently home to only a handful of dedicated art spaces, including monOrchid, Modified Arts, and Eye Lounge. But art is shown in several other venues, including MADE Art Boutique, Palabra, Warehouse 1005, and a trio of shipping containers converted into galleries.
In addition to plastering stickers around Roosevelt Row, Petrisko created a list of local performance spaces, galleries, and artist studios. He calls it the NoMoRoRo 2017 Field Guide.
It’s not the first time Petrisko has used ephemeral art to address the shifting urban landscape.
In 2014, he created a conceptual art project called Shiny Happy People Happening, comprising placement of 93 silver and gold 1-inch figures around downtown Phoenix, which signaled his concerns about artists moving out of the downtown core and “culture becoming an ornament for gentrification.”
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Last April, he responded to Empire Groups' partial demolition of a 1946 building on Central Avenue that formerly housed a Studebaker car dealership, then a Circles record store, by posting large stickers with imagery and text inspired by Darth Vader and the Star Wars film series.
Petrisko isn’t expecting his work to turn back time. Instead, he hopes NoMoRoRo will prompt serious conversations about the nature and future of Roosevelt Row.
“It’s a wake-up call,” he says, “not to walk all over artists.”