Downtown Buzz

Quibbles and bits: I enjoyed your review titled "Finding Nemo" (Stephen Lemons, September 9), and not for the reasons you might suspect. I'm a total foodie and an avid believer in downtown Phoenix and its forthcoming renaissance. Believe it or not, it's coming.

As an aside, I do agree that the majority of art exhibited during First Fridays is amateur, but it's a start. As the city matures, so will its artists, and, as a benefit, we might start to see acceptable artwork.

I live, work and play in the heart of downtown Phoenix and want to see some growth in the dining biz. My husband and I love Pizzeria Bianco, Fate, Portland's, Ruby Beet Gourmet, Los Dos Molinos and even Lux. We resent that the culinary culture is so far from downtown.

My husband and I are part of a rapidly growing demographic of professional 30-somethings who live downtown and are eagerly waiting for more hip and independently owned restaurants, bars, and other lures, such as bookstores and coffee houses. Your review struck a chord with me. My disappointment in the lack of interesting eateries was magnified while I read your article.

Regrettably, we don't try more restaurants because the thought of driving 30 to 40 minutes is unbearable. And even more unbearable is driving 30 to 40 minutes home on a wine buzz. I am hoping that more risk-taking chefs (like Chris Bianco) give the downtown area a chance. There is a demand.
Montse Anderson, Phoenix

Democracy in Action

A variety of opinions: I have read two articles in New Times by Joe Watson about the "Democracy in America" exhibition at the ASU Art Museum ("Heil to the Chief," July 1, and "Bush League," August 19). The show, which stated its intention to place "contemporary political satirical art in historic context" and "to encourage debate about issues regarding democracy," has achieved its mission. The works included express the varied opinions and positions of those artists who were brought into the show by a curatorial staff from whom I have come to expect provocative exhibitions.

"Democracy," like the earlier exhibitions on El Salvador, contemporary art from Cuba, and the Joel-Peter Witkin show, is an example of the gutsy approach that has distinguished this museum as one of the premier venues for contemporary art in our nation.

I was, therefore, surprised and appalled at one of the recent articles by Joe Watson that suggests and, quite frankly, insists that censorship has played a role in the curating of this exhibition, as I could not find examples in the exhibition that would imply censorship.

The anti-Bush pieces selected for this show are good works, such as Lynn Randolph's Coronation of Saint George, Alfred Quiroz's Bushwhacked, and Robbie Conal's Apocalips. It can be noted that works that are anti-Bush proliferate in today's art world and are easy to find. However, works that are anti-Kerry are more difficult to locate perhaps because he has only recently come into the public eye as a presidential candidate, and satirists and artists are just now catching up with him.

There are, however, a number of works of high quality that are anti-Kerry, and they serve to dispel this fabricated notion of censorship with regard to the exhibition. These include Linda Eddy's political pieces that ridicule Kerry, the video animations of Greg and Evan Spiridellis, and Jim Budde's Heinz ketchup bottle ceramic teapot.

Beyond the Kerry/Bush division, there are a lot of excellent works about American policy. One of my favorites is a beautiful drawing by artist Sue Coe called The Shooting Gallery that depicts the First Amendment being shot in the back (threatened as it is under the current administration). Another work by Jon Haddock is a nonpartisan piece showing Democrats and Republicans equally in support of the Patriot Act.

There are also humorous portraits of George Washington, including the unlikely medium of embroidery, which may or may not intend to serve as a caricature. Einar Jamex de la Torre's work is one that takes on American border politics: war, trade agreements and racism. It seems to me that this exhibition is much more than a show about "red and blue." It is a show that offers a wide range of ideas about our American democracy.

Okay, now let's talk about Ryan McNamara's piece that was also published in New Times with the article. Can anyone possibly believe that a curatorial staff that exhibited the works of Joel-Peter Witkin would really be afraid to show Angry Americans? Could it be that some other standard was applied when making the decision not to show his work? As an artist, I was trained to take strong criticism about my work. And frankly, sometimes the work just does not cut it. I am just guessing, but perhaps this was the case with McNamara's Angry Americans.

Let's not gloss it over: This is not a perfect world. Was the art museum under pressure as the New Times article suggests? Yes, you bet it was -- especially when articles such as these are published long before the completion of the curatorial process. Was this censorship? Absolutely not! As an artist, I would not want someone coming into my studio when the work is half done demanding that I change it to suit their preconceptions. Watson wants a different exhibition. Sorry, Mr. Watson . . . this is not your show!
Patricia Clark, Assistant Professor of Digital Media, ASU West

Elementary, Watson: Who the hell is the ASU Art Museum trying to fool? Its curators have made such a big, stinking deal over Joe Watson's stories in New Times, actually blaming Watson for ruining its exhibition. What a crock!

Those idiots should be happy anybody even drives across town to see the damn piddling thing! There's literally nothing to it, except the big floor sculptures of the senators giving the Hitler salute. After all the hoopla, I was shocked at how tiny the exhibition was. I wandered into the other room thinking there must be more to it and was bombarded by images of old people dying in nursing homes. Turned out it was a separate exhibition across the hall.

Somebody should send whoever put together this show to a nursing home, because they obviously haven't a clue as to how to put together an interesting show.

My only criticism of New Times is that, because of all the coverage, I thought I was going to be seeing a really important exhibition, not this bore-fest. Officials from both parties will be laughing at this pathetic display, if they even bother to tune in to it.
Adam Samuelson, via the Internet

Dropping In

A sense of community: In response to a recent Speakeasy ("Art for Whose Sake?", Robrt L. Pela, September 9), I'd like to voice strong support for Las Artes de Maricopa County. I think that there is one great and unmentioned benefit inherent in a program where high school dropouts are engaged in works of public art: ownership.

Folks who feel compelled to drop out are often undervalued as individuals and as part of a collective. Giving people the opportunity to lay claim to public space in a positive way, by contributing to the environment of the streets they share with their fellow citizens, helps build a sense of community for them that may have been partially destroyed by disparaging attitudes toward those who have dropped out.

Prior to attending Cornell, I obtained a GED after having left high school because of institutional homophobia. While taking the GED exams, I met many people who were beneficiaries of programs similar to this public arts endeavor. I heard stories of how the opportunity to gain practical training, to trade work and to be rewarded for hard work and for academic achievement gave them the encouragement they were so often denied while enrolled in traditional educational institutions.

Any city would be lucky to have young people -- who have been failed by their schools -- become involved in public art projects. It's good for the dropouts and good for the community as a whole!
Addy Free, Phoenix

Get a grip: Your Speakeasy column is so funny from week to week. Robrt L. Pela is a comic genius, and I couldn't agree more with what he said about Las Artes de Maricopa County. Can somebody at the county please get a grip on what it takes to constitute art? Pela's comments were so on target that he had my sides splitting.
Brenda Teal, Glendale

A hatcht job: Regarding the recent Speakeasy by Robrt L. Pela on Las Artes de Maricopa County: It was a blatant hatchet job by a flunky reporter who can't even find the "e" for his own name.

Mary Rose Wilcox and Jessica Martin should be commended for offering the opportunity to disadvantaged young people. These two ladies, along with artist-in-residence Jim Covarrubias and Bernice Lever (who holds down the fort), are inviting, encouraging and teaching these young people to better themselves. They are instilling not only through education but a sense of community.

The aim is that the young people will be able to see outside their own world and rise to overcome their plights. What better way to spend the almighty tax dollar than to offer encouragement and participation in our society? Money is such a trivial nit to pick considering the potential results. These young people don't have to be in that program -- they choose to be in it.

It's interesting that Pela admits to having had four years of art and he still sucked. He should get a grip on something besides his mouse and re-focus his energy. He sucks as a reporter, too.
Les Ryan, Phoenix

Tin Ear

Go South by Southwest, young man: Loved your column about the Arizona Rock Coalition's South by Southwest Music Festival Project ("Messing With Texas," Brendan Joel Kelley, September 16) -- particularly from a technical point of view. It reinforces my belief that a band's bio needs to be professionally written to be effective. If a band's media kit starts off with a startling, interesting and original sentence, it will be read!

Your facts were accurate, and I agree with many of your conclusions -- one of which was that it would have been better if the organizer of this movement were from the music industry and had a lot of pull to get bands into the festival. It would have been ideal if we at A.R.C. had spent three or four months learning more about South by Southwest before we started talking about it. But I felt we could help, and the South by Southwest deadlines pushed us to start immediately. And I'm probably as skeptical about so-called "industry pull" as you are.

Would bands do just as well applying to SXSW without the Arizona Rock Coalition? Who knows? But these bands have more information because of A.R.C.: interviews with bands that have made it to SXSW, information (at A.R.C. meetings) from others who've tried and missed, and technical advice about their demos and media kits. These add something to the mix.
Greg Michael, Arizona Rock Coalition founder


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