It's a sticky Saturday morning in mid-August, and Tara Logsdon is fried.
The sun beats down on Logsdon, 31, as she arranges her bizarre-looking paintings next to some artful teddy bears and handmade clothing on the outdoor stage at Holga's, during the downtown Phoenix apartment complex's monthly flea market. The funky 12-unit tenement houses assorted "artists-in-residence" like Logsdon who contribute work to monthly group shows or events like this.
Logsdon's current customer, a toothless homeless man, browses her work, but isn't interested in the canvases covered in brightly colored, pop-style depictions of wildlife or kitchen appliances. Instead, he's more interested in the personal stun gun or maybe the shower curtain she's also selling.
Other hawkers at the garage sale -- including fashion designer Emily Blanche and painter Indigo Verton -- are faring just a bit better. Things are usually much more crowded during First Friday art walks, as the driveway and nearby sidewalks are packed with peeps who come for Holga's rowdy gatherings featuring live music and other spectacles.
But outside of those Friday evenings, things are pretty dead both at the complex and throughout the Evans-Churchill Neighborhood -- the district south of Interstate 10 between Central Avenue and Seventh Street, starring the various galleries of Roosevelt Row. Logsdon and company are eager to change this with events like the Saturday morning flea market, providing Valley urbanites with an alternative to sipping coffee at Starbucks with their morning papers.
Logsdon's pocketing the soiled singles she got for the stun gun and getting back to relaxing in the shade when she hears a shout.
Robby Love, a digital imagery artist who regularly hangs at Holga's, has spied some trouble and announces, "Fuckin' heads up!"
A pumper truck from the Phoenix Fire Department has pulled up in front of the complex and parked on Garfield Street, and two firefighters in navy blue tee shirts are heading purposefully for the tables piled with art and assorted junk.
"Oh, shit, I wonder why they're here," Love says. "Do you think they're gonna shut this down?"
"Chill out, let's just wait and see what happens here," replies Ian Wender, a photographer who works days as a land surveyor for Salt River Project. At 41, Wender is older than most of the Holga's crowd, and his tends to be the voice of reason. This morning he's serving pancakes to his fellow residents.
Normally, Logsdon and the rest of the Holga's posse wouldn't have batted an eye when a truck full of beefy smokebusters rolled by their residence. But after the last First Friday art walk on August 5, they're a little more suspicious of such a visit.
For years, the Friday night parties have gone largely unnoticed by the cops and other government types. But last month City Hall was all over Roosevelt Row, with Phoenix police officers on horseback looking for underage drinking and other violations, as well as inspectors from various local governmental agencies who came along for the ride and detailed various code and ordinance violations at Holga's and along Roosevelt Street. Fearful their rowdy monthly fete is in danger of getting squashed, Holga's residents and others on Roosevelt and over on Grand Avenue are terrified that any future non-First Friday activities could be shuttered as well.
They're terrified, in short, that the party's over.
But on this day, the four-alarm fears of those at the flea market are for naught. The firefighters are just cruising yard sales, killing time between calls, looking for a bargain.
"You can't blame us for being paranoid, especially with all that's gone on," says Logsdon. "Everybody's on edge these days . . . everything's changed around here."
Historically, First Fridays have been pretty lawless. For a few hours every few weeks, a chunk of downtown Phoenix turns into a free-for-all carnival, complete with fried chicken for sale on the sidewalk, open keg parties at nearby houses and -- on occasion -- a fire-breather jumping into the middle of the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Roosevelt Street to perform. The monthly event started in 1993, but didn't pick up steam 'til recently; in the past couple of years, gallery owners have stood by between 6 and 10 p.m. and counted up to 10,000 people through the doors on a given Friday night.
John Logan and the other members of the roving band The MadCaPs, which performs in the back of a pickup truck, have been hassled by the cops, and there have been noise complaints and some parking tickets.
But until August, city leaders seemed oblivious to the fact that a hipper, less organized version of the Arizona State Fair (or a gigantic frat party -- take your pick) was going on under their noses, on a monthly basis. Which is odd, considering that on any given First Friday, you can see a parade of city types, walking around like anthropologists or sociologists, pointing at the spectacle of people actually coming to downtown Phoenix to look at art (and at each other).
On Friday, August 5, everything changed -- at least, that's what the artists fear. That steamy, rainy night, the crowds were a little smaller than they've been on other First Fridays, but the Phoenix cops and city and county inspectors who showed up on Roosevelt Row had plenty to see and do -- and take notes on. They skipped Grand Avenue, another FF hub that's a little edgier, and less popular with the masses, but Roosevelt got nearly a dozen officious visitors.
Phoenix police on horseback had a relatively mellow time outside; inside the galleries, owners unhappily answered questions about veggie trays (technically, it's forbidden to serve food, although cheese and crackers are common at just about any gallery opening) and sales-tax collections (probably less common). The gallery owners particularly didn't like the fact that the inspectors were escorted by armed police.
Almost immediately, e-mails began flying, referring to Black Friday and Bloody Friday -- even though the blackest thing about the night was rain clouds, and there was reportedly no bloodshed. Not even close.
The artists had been informed of the "education" process to take place several days in advance, as internal city documents make clear. But in any case, the artists freaked, calling the police presence intimidating and showing annoyance at the fact that inspectors had dared to bug them on the busiest night of the month. (Of course, for many, it's the only night of the month, leading to the question, if not on First Friday, when?)
With the next First Friday coming down tomorrow night, tempers have calmed on both sides. City leaders have apologized for poor communication (in some cases, it's pretty obvious they lied when asked who knew what, when), blaming most of the problems on the fact that key players were on vacation. Instead of the cops, Phil Jones, executive director of the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, has been named point person for further First Friday action. Some members of the arts community laugh at that, calling Jones a city bureaucrat out of touch with the local scene, but the message seems to be: Calm down, everyone.
But it's hard to stay calm with the frenzy of activity near and along Roosevelt Street. Phoenix may be the last major American city to get a cultural scene downtown, but the imprint finally seems to be taking hold -- and it's showing up on Roosevelt, with independent art spaces like Modified Arts, Holga's and eye lounge, rather than farther south, with sports complexes and large concert venues and the Hard Rock Cafe.
On a First Friday, if you squint, Roosevelt Street looks hip and happening, even though hard-chargers complain that for the most part, the party's over by 10 p.m., barely before it's begun. (See "Let's Get the Party Started.") In daylight, it's hard to believe that property values in this wasteland are sky high, high even in this booming market. But savvy developers have noticed the potential for a full-time fiesta downtown, and based on the success of First Friday, they've started building. Artisan Village, a high-end condominium complex at Seventh Street and Roosevelt, is sold out. Within the next few weeks, shops will open in the bottom of live/work spaces of the complex along Roosevelt Street, including Tammie Coe Cakes (the first Coe is at La Grande Orange near Arcadia) and Retail Laboratories, a boutique to be run by two L.A. transplants, a couple of hipsters last seen roaming First Friday parties in matching lab coats. At the other end of Roosevelt, around the corner on Central Avenue, Thought Crime, a longtime artists' studio, was booted by its landlord, who says he has made a deal to sell the building to a company that specializes in real estate flipping. The company has already purchased a number of parcels on Roosevelt. Up and down Central Avenue, luxury developments are slated to open soon.
Across the street from Artisan Village, on the southwest corner of Sixth Street and Roosevelt, Greg Esser and Cindy Dach (who co-own eye lounge, one of the first galleries to open on Roosevelt, along with MADE Art Boutique, a retail venue next door and other property near Fifth Street and Portland; they also created 515, which leases gallery space on Roosevelt, and they lease the building that houses Writers' Bloc around the corner) have put another of their properties, Sixth Street Studios, on the market. The 1918 structure (including a main house and two small studio spaces) was a total disaster when the couple bought it for $130,000 in 2002; much of the current equity came in the form of Greg's sweat. The asking price: $875,000.
Matt Little, owner of Palmcroft Realty, says that's not a fluke.
"Over just a couple of years, this area has gone from very little to where it's at now," he says. "We've seen the market prices up 50 percent from where they were earlier this year."
Hard to imagine artists buying Sixth Street Studios.
Esser and Dach haven't lost faith in First Fridays or the art scene; they say they're simply overextended financially (see the rundown of their commitments above, and it's easy to believe) and had to sell something. But the difference in the buying and selling price of Sixth Street Studios is a powerful symbol of what's happening along Roosevelt Row -- and that what's happening is more than just a few kids getting together to party once a month.
Can the artists survive gentrification, not to mention Arizona State University's impending arrival downtown? Will Roosevelt Row be (ugh) the next Mill Avenue?
Michael 23, whose Thought Crime got the boot earlier this summer, is aware his artistic efforts helped feed the growth of a monthly party that ultimately caused his posse's dismissal.
"We artists were the first wave of gentrification the day we first stepped foot onto Roosevelt," he says. "Now it's only going to get worse. Another 10 years from now, this place is going to be some ugly office building."
It's a good thing Thought Crime didn't have a cleaning deposit.
It's less than a week before the events of the first Friday in August, and more than 400 revelers have gathered inside, outside and atop the artist collective's soon-to-be-vacated building in downtown Phoenix on a balmy July evening. Many at the super-size shindig are busy covering the barren walls of the venue's high-ceilinged rooms with the graffiti of hastily scrawled farewell messages, nude figure studies, comical invectives, and zany caricatures.
Though Thought Crime as a group will continue to exist, the quirky cooperative of counterculture types making up its membership was bidding farewell to the cavernous venue that's served as a command center, commune, coffee bar, gallery, and staging ground for its brand of anarchistic artwork and eccentric activities.
Right now it's Ground Zero for a boffo bash. Energetic Seattle punkers Tractor Sex Fatality have walked in off the street and begun playing in one room without permission, while half-naked hippies splash around in a large inflatable pool filled with water in another. Michael 23 (né Michael Hudson -- "23," which his wife Joanna also took as her surname when the two married, is his chosen last name, he's said, because it's "strange and mystical") chats up acquaintances on everything from the future of the local arts scene to how teleportation devices will finally reduce society's dependence on automobiles.
Michael 23 has played an interesting role in the downtown arts scene. As vice president of ArtLink, the artist group that sponsors shuttle buses between galleries on First Fridays and coordinates the official activities that surround Art Detour, a weekend gallery tour held each March, he's part of the arts establishment (if there is one), and yet very much on the outside, at the same time.
For years now, he's complained publicly that the overwhelming success of First Fridays would be the event's death, that too few people come downtown for the art, but instead are looking for the party.
Ironically, that's the tone of Thought Crime's last hurrah. Although there are plenty of friendly faces present, many in attendance don't seem to be familiar with the group or its artistic contribution to the local scene over the past decade and are here just for the celebration.
"I'm confused, what kind of stuff do you guys do here?" one Afro-haired kid asks Mattoid, a painter and resident.
"We're artists, but our landlord gave us the boot and now we have to get out. I've been trying to finish a mural in my room," says Mattoid, who's been decorating his loft with an array of burning eyeballs.
"It's not your room anymore," replies a friend.
Paul Moncrief is sweating. It's Friday, August 5, and he's standing on the tiny porch of Route 123, the gallery he operates out of his small 1920s-era home on Fifth Street, near Roosevelt. The photographer and indie filmmaker is taking a breather from his show, which he's sharing with artists including Tamara Kent and Diane Alber, a local photographer and oil painter, respectively.
A monsoon thunderstorm earlier in the evening unleashed an hourlong deluge, sending early birds scrambling for shelter. But the rain is gone and the crowds are back -- smaller than usual, but it's harder this month to find a parking spot with the lot north of Holga's, a couple blocks west, closed off by police.
Moncrief was hoping for a bigger turnout, especially since he's spent the past few weeks constructing a purposely haphazard miniature-golf course in his front yard from a slapdash collection of car accessories, aircraft parts and other assorted junk. Not many art patrons stop to look, but the yard does attract the attention of a small band of representatives from the City of Phoenix's Finance Department and Neighborhood Services Division.
The city workers aren't hard to spot, as they move up the sidewalks of Evans-Churchill in small groups of two or three, accompanied by an armed Phoenix police officer in street clothes. The inspectors walk into the small, crowded galleries one at a time, but in their bureaucrat-casual wear they stick out among the Hot Topic-clad twentysomethings.
Moncrief says he spoke with a middle-aged gentleman from the Finance Department who "presented himself in a very open demeanor" and "pleasantly and cordially" advised him on sales tax and retail licensing, providing pamphlets on the issues.
"They weren't trying to bust my balls or anything," he says, "and I was pleased to have their assistance for monitoring crowd control, just to make sure everybody was picking up their bottles."
He didn't get so much as a warning regarding the, um, art in the front yard.
According to artists and gallery owners contacted by New Times, interactions such as Moncrief's were repeated in more than 30 galleries and art-friendly businesses open in Evans-Churchill that evening. Inspectors from the Maricopa County Environmental Services Department advised anyone doling out free food -- like the owners of White Chrysanthemum who were handing out mini-cheeseburgers. Kimber Lanning, owner of Modified Arts, says she voluntarily dumped a veggie tray brought by an exhibiting artist after inspectors mentioned it shouldn't be on the premises. Lanning says she was also told she can't sell bags of chips or the other sealed snacks she's offered at concerts and gallery openings for years, without a food-handling license. (Lanning disputes the county's position; the county's Web site, she says, indicates that she doesn't need a permit. But county health officials tell New Times that a permit to sell prepackaged foods is required, at $120 per year.)
Lanning's upset, and not just because it's apparently verboten for her to sell Pop Tarts and candy bars to clubgoers.
"It's unusual to have four city officials visit me on a Friday at 9:30 p.m. with an armed police officer in tow," she says, echoing a concern shared by many artists and gallery owners. "That's what was shocking."
It wasn't hard to peep the police, that's for sure. Officers were stationed on the busier street corners along Roosevelt Row, and were also patrolling around and inside many galleries. Over at Holga's, a half-dozen cops oversaw a crowd of around 50 who'd gathered to witness resident Samus play a weather-beaten wooden piano. Officers also inspected several apartments, either entering those already open to the public or knocking on doors that were slightly open, like the pad of resident Chris Parrish. When the furniture artist opened the door, a pair of cops saw two of Parrish's friends drinking and carded the pair, leaving after they determined they were of age.
Because of advance warning of the crackdown on alcohol, there was little booze to be had on Roosevelt. A representative of the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control was out and about, but few galleries served wine. Those who were caught were made to dump out their beverages.
Hundreds of vehicles were tagged with warning fliers by cops for illegally parking. Two firefighters rolled through the neighborhood videotaping the streets and sidewalks, for use in planning for emergencies.
Despite the cries of Bloody Friday and Black Friday, things were pretty mellow. No galleries were closed, no performers were silenced, and -- although one vendor got a stern dressing-down for driving the wrong way down Fourth Street to get to a vacant lot to set up shop -- none of the art tables was shut down in the free-for-all swap meet that springs up each First Friday at the intersection of Fourth Street and Roosevelt. (Martha Draper of the city's Neighborhood Services department took notes, and an unidentified gentleman accompanying her photographed each one, however.)
"We wrote no tickets, towed no cars, made no arrests," says Commander Jeff Hynes of the Phoenix Police Department's Central City precinct. "And from what I'm hearing, it's like I was killing firstborn children!" The precinct commander estimates officers "could have written 200-plus parking tickets and issued some 50 arrests for juveniles drinking."
One more statistic: At least one art purchase was made by a cop. Phoenix Police Officer A.C. Myers bought a $40 photograph of himself in riot gear that Holga's Ian Wender snapped at an anti-war protest in downtown Phoenix in 2003.
"He saw it over my shoulder when he was standing outside my apartment and I opened the door," says Wender. "Maybe all these cops aren't such a bad thing after all."
If the police presence in Evans-Churchill that hot August night had a palpable air of Prohibition, then Grand Avenue had an almost Dionysian flair, with pedestrians openly flaunting 40-ounce bottles of Miller Lite and Milwaukee's Best as they moved between art spaces.
"Dude, hold up, I gotta gets me some Sparks," calls one gangly, mop-topped kid in a black "I Surfed the Tsunami 2004" tee shirt before ducking into Hermano's Liquor & Market on Grand, near 13th Avenue. As his buds wait on the sidewalk outside the double drive-through liquor store located near the Cone Gallery, they puff on Bronco Ultra Lights and discuss where they're heading after peeping the punk-rock showcase of local pink-haired songstress Niki Kwik, who's playing at Four White Walls a couple blocks away.
After a few minutes, their amigo returns and pops open a 16-ounce can of the malt liquor energy drink wrapped in a brown paper bag, taking a huge sip. "Fuck yeah, now I'm ready to drop it like it's hot."
Down at The Red Door, a fanciful gallery run by Indigo Verton, a comely bartender named Melissa (who declines to give her last name) is serving up glasses of red and white Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's to art connoisseurs. There's also homemade toasted almond ice cream in Dixie cups and the urban surrealism of graffiti artists Mac Cape, Fyse, and Joerael Elliott. Melissa's no dummy; she's checking IDs to keep the vino away from the underage crowd. And Verton bought real wine glasses for the night.
"It's a nice and pleasant thing to offer guests," she says. "Offering wine usually gets people staying the five or seven minutes it takes to finish their wine, and they get to appreciate the art and maybe stop and talk to us instead of making a horseshoe through the gallery. It's better than having a keg at the door, that's for sure."
Verton keeps an eye out all evening, expecting a troop of badged bureaucrats to darken her doorstep, as word of what is going down along Roosevelt Row spreads to the west end of the downtown arts scene as numerous partygoers fled Evans-Churchill. But the police never come.
After First Friday officially wraps, the night is far from over. Hepcats convene inside their usual post-art-walk hangout at the Bikini Lounge at 15th Avenue and Grand, hashing the details of what just occurred. One dreadlocked and tattooed customer compares the situation to the Beastie Boys' legendary video for "Sabotage," with cops screaming around in cars busting into buildings as a part of some preplanned operation.
And thus begins the spin.
Within hours of galleries closing for the night, word of the crackdown began to spread across the Internet. The next morning, the Arizona Republic had no word of anything but peace, but before most partygoers had rolled out of bed and sipped the first latte of the day, Greg Esser had sent out an e-mail headed "August First Friday: Was it the storm or the stormtroopers?"
Esser says he was referring to Star Wars, not Nazis. Either way, he -- along with Alwun House co-owner Kim Moody, artist/Grand Avenue property owner Beatrice Moore and artist/musician Bruce Gabriel -- woke up city officials. Mailing lists and message boards around the Valley were mobbed with creative ideas for protests, like decorating galleries to look like crack houses. Some artists threatened to go on "strike."
On the afternoon of August 6, a group of gallery owners and art activists held an impromptu confab in the cramped side room of MADE Art Boutique. It seemed more like a council of war, as a gathering containing pacifists like JRC (his legal name) and Stephanie Carrico of the Trunk Space and Michael 23 of Thought Crime were employing militaristic phrases like "organized front" and "going to war."
The smarter artists figured out how to make the night's events work for them.
On Sunday, August 7, Esser fired off an e-mail to Mayor Phil Gordon and City Manager Frank Fairbanks, which he copied to four city bureaucrats. While clearly upset about the city presence two nights before, Esser had another, more personal motivation: problems with the city's Development Services department.
"Phil, Frank, You just declared my business, an art gallery, illegal and sent in a half dozen regulatory and violations officials with armed police officers. What is going on?
Esser and Dach had applied months before for a $20,000 city grant to spruce up eye lounge. But when city staffers checked their records, they determined that eye lounge didn't have a "certificate of occupancy," which was necessary not only to get the grant but to operate as an art gallery. A staffer fired off an e-mail August 4 -- just one day before Black Friday -- telling Esser he ought to hire a "design professional" and figure out "the best route to take in order to use this structure legally."
As it turned out, Esser's frustration over the certificate of occupancy issue was justified. As Esser showed city officials the following day, he had documents dating from 1949 showing the city had approved the space.
Officials didn't have a chance to respond to Esser and accept the explanation before First Friday.
And so Esser was still in limbo when the bureaucrats and cops showed up at eye lounge. He was angry before. He was even angrier after.
The nuance of all this was lost in the heat of the artists' response to August 5. Esser's "stormtrooper" e-mail was forwarded from bureaucrat to bureaucrat. As a recently departed city bureaucrat himself (he used to work for the Office of Arts and Culture), Esser was a particularly powerful political influence. City officials scrambled to explain what they'd known and when they'd known it.
Mostly, that meant letting the cops take the fall.
In a memo to the mayor and city council, City Manager Frank Fairbanks explained that the police had asked other city departments to show up. "This effort was not planned or directed by the Mayor's Office, the City Council office or the City Manager's office," he wrote.
Bill Scheel, senior assistant to the mayor, went further than that. He told New Times on August 11, "In terms of the mayor, the council, the city manager's office, we were all caught by surprise again by the multi-jurisdictional nature of the activity."
To be fair, Scheel was on vacation until August 5. But, as city documents make clear, his statement is not precisely true. Rumors about a "rogue cop" who simply marshaled the city's (and county's) forces and let loose on First Friday gave way to admissions that, yes, both the city manager and the Mayor's Office were aware all along of what was to take place.
More than a week before the event, in fact, the mayor's senior deputy chief of staff, Ed Zuercher, e-mailed Assistant City Manager Sheryl Sculley to ask if she knew what was up. She did, she e-mailed back, and added that her boss, City Manager Fairbanks, wanted to make sure there was no directive to the police department not to enforce.
Zuercher agreed. "The Mayor is fully supportive of Police enforcing the law and people having to abide by building codes, environmental codes, parking, public behavior and liquor laws," he wrote. "How we handle the communication is going to be the key, making sure that . . . everyone has fair warning that laws will be enforced and having the arts community be part of the solution for their patrons."
Another assistant city manager, Peter Van Haren, also e-mailed more than a week before the event to discuss a meeting with the police department "to make sure we are in agreement on what the plan is for the next first Friday on 8/5."
But though city officials had some inkling what the cops were planning, it's also clear that the idea and the execution all came from Jeff Hynes, precinct commander for central Phoenix.
Hynes had first grown concerned about the event much earlier in the summer.
While night shift beat cops from the Central City Precinct routinely patrolled First Fridays in small numbers, prior to August, Hynes says the department brass weren't aware of the full extent of activity. After receiving complaints from residents and repeated pleas for assistance in handling the event from officers over the past year, Hynes had dispatched Community Action Officer Scott Melander and Lieutenant Anthony Vasquez to attend First Friday on June 3 to scope out the situation.
"They said, 'Holy smoke, we've got 10,000 people out there, juveniles drinking, there's fire being thrown when there are kids right there, we've got nude body painting that's drawing quite a crowd,'" says Hynes. "'Marijuana being smelled in the air, no trash receptacles, people urinating, and even defecating in public. There was no structure to this event.'"
Actually, that does sound a lot like a typical First Friday.
But what to do? Obviously, a surprise attack was not appropriate, from the artists' perspective. But police and city leaders say the arts community was warned about the events of August 5 in advance, and documents back that up.
At least, it's known that a meeting was held.
On August 2, members of the arts community attended a meeting where police officials insist the entire scope of the operation was described.
Susan Copeland, an arts leader who was at the meeting, says that's simply not true. "What they told us, in fact, is there would only be police officers present in the neighborhood and possibly someone there from planning and zoning, but that was it," says Copeland. "Nothing was said about Neighborhood Services or any of the other departments or that they were going to go inside any of the galleries."
In his memo, City Manager Fairbanks says that Hynes believed that, during the meeting, he got the artists' support to deal with all enforcement issues on August 5. "It is now absolutely clear that this was a misunderstanding and the arts community did not understand that other City departments would be involved," Fairbanks wrote. "This is the core of the problem."
Another point of contention between the city and the artists is who requested the closure of the vacant lot north of Holga's, where so many people have parked on previous First Fridays. Hynes claims the property owner approached them "demanding police action" and requesting the lot be "taped off."
"Now, if you've got somebody in their front yard and you call me and ask for help, what am I supposed to do?" Hynes asks.
John Bozzo, president of NAI Horizon (a real estate firm that oversees the property), says the owner never contacted police. Bozzo says Phoenix Police Officer Scott Melander visited him in July and asked if he'd given permission for 1,000 people to use his site during First Fridays and was "kind of insinuating that could be a liability issue."
Melander confirms that he made the initial contact with Bozzo.
A week after Bloody Friday, tempers have cooled considerably. At a Saturday meeting of artists and city leaders, the most excitement comes when an attendee's white plastic chair crumples, depositing him on the floor and eliciting gasps from the crowd.
Bill Scheel from the Mayor's Office offers a public apology for the city's "communications snafus," and the arts folks raise the questions on the minds of many: What can they do to get their buildings on the straight and narrow? And, what will the city do to help?
Phoenix City Councilman Tom Simplot, who has a strong interest in the area and is eager to win reelection later this month, tells the artists this can be a boon for them, that city leaders will be eager to get compliant in order to "repair years of goodwill that was shattered" on August 5.
Sounds like a great campaign promise. It's one the artists intend to hold Simplot to. They immediately ask for more parking.
Even though Simplot's words have the patina of an easily forgotten campaign trail pledge, the councilman is clearly on to something. In the wake of August 5 and the artists' angry response, city officials were eager to show just how much they support the arts community.
Exhibit A is the decision to take chief responsibility for the event away from the cops and give it to Jones, director of the city's arts and culture office.
"Phil Jones is that soft, political artsy person that [the artists] like," Police Commander Hynes explains, without a hint of malice. "I have to admit that it's extremely political. But it's a political event. . . . There's a segment of that community that doesn't like the police, and that's okay."
Exhibit B might well be the Storefront Grant Pilot Program.
Esser quickly worked out his issues with city staffers worried he didn't have proper building certification. But he's still rejecting the money.
He says he was troubled to learn that the city would place a five-year lien on this property. Because it would take first position on his existing mortgage, allowing the city to foreclose if it so desired. Inspectors would also have to check out the building, inside and out.
Pat Grady, director of the Downtown Development Office, says such rules ensure owners continue occupying their structures and prevent real estate speculators from "fixing and flipping" properties. But some artists aren't so sure. The city's Development Services office had planned to disburse $500,000 in grants. But of the 11 business owners initially awarded the money, two now say they're turning it down, and a third says he has serious questions.
Randy Slack, owner of Legend City and 3CarPileUp, applied in April and was "provisionally approved" earlier this summer for a five-year forgivable loan of $30,000. He planned to use the funding to "blow out the front" of his warehouse art space at Sixth Avenue and Van Buren and restore the old-school red brick lying underneath the stucco and paint façade.
But under the rules of the program, Slack says he'd have to get estimates, complete the upgrades on his own dime and then submit the receipts without any guarantees he'd be reimbursed.
"You're going to be shelling out $45,000 and hoping that you're good to go," says Slack. "And guess what? If they come out and say everything isn't right, guess what? You gotta spend more. It's kinda a scary investment for artists, especially since we don't have that kind of money lying around."
Slack is "on the fence" as to whether he'll follow Esser's lead and pull out of the program.
"We're like everybody else -- we're a little leery and are holding off, especially with what happened during last First Friday," says Slack.
Phil Jones says the city is now forming three task forces to help the artists. One will address First Friday, and another will deal more generally with issues affecting artists in Phoenix, including zoning. And sprinklers. Most galleries don't have them; city inspectors suggest they should.
The third will focus solely on storefront grants.
If ever there was an expert on the confusing nature of the bureaucracy of city government, it'd be John Logan. As the restaurateur and guitarist/vocalist for The MadCaPs takes a break from running the new eatery Carly's he opened recently on Roosevelt with his fiance, Carla Wade, he talks about the months of frustrations they've endured to get to the day they welcomed their first customer.
To keep other dreamers like him from having to fight the red tape, Logan is putting together a workshop to steer them through the sticky stuff. It's just one way, he says, people can "fill in the gaps" when the city cannot provide and artists want to survive.
"This is sort of where the people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and survive on your own," says Logan, watching his precocious 6-year-old daughter Grace play a handheld learning game next to him. "People need to empower themselves and create ownership of First Friday like that."
Some have already. Kathy Cone and Danny Montes, owners of the Cone Gallery, made several requests for more streetlights on Grand Avenue to keep prostitutes and drug dealers from lurking in the former darkness in front of their property. Fed up, they finally went out and purchased outdoor lighting on their own.
But even though their entrance is now well-lighted, don't expect to see it open this weekend, as Montes says they'll be keeping their door closed to the public until he can have an independent contractor come in to "see what's wrong and get us fully squared away." Their signature purple building, a former crack house, is in need of some upgrades, he says, including fixing wiring, a change of occupancy, and building restrooms compliant with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.
Although no timeline has been announced for Grand Avenue, Scott Sanders, owner of the Paper Heart, feels prepared for the particular day when "education and enforcement" efforts reach his venue. He's already invested "plenty of cash" into ensuring the former car dealership housing his multipurpose art space and performance venue is up to code, appropriately zoned, properly permitted and licensed. He says he pays all his taxes.
"Still, there's always going to be that one thing you're always missing, and they'll find it," says Sanders. "There's only so much red tape you can go through before you realize you can't get or afford everything required."
Like a number of city officials, Mayor Phil Gordon was out of town on August 5. He learned of the evening's events on his Blackberry.
He wishes someone had called a meeting immediately.
"In hindsight, if we had met even Saturday morning or Sunday or Monday, a lot of misinformation on both sides could've been avoided," he says.
"This is growing pains that we've never experienced before, and while I regret the problems that occurred, we're still growing and probably will make more mistakes as we develop and grow a vibrant downtown," Gordon adds, pledging that the city leaders' goal will be not to make mistakes again and to rectify them when they do.
Gordon says he and City Manager Frank Fairbanks will be out this First Friday, "buying a couple things, greeting a couple people."
But even as pols such as Gordon continue to praise the art scene, Pete Petrisko fears they'll deviate from their plan in favor of some huge civic project and start razing galleries.
Petrisko -- a painter, photographer and performance artist -- has been knocking around the downtown art scene since the late 1980s and recently left his solo studio inside Garfield Galleria on McDowell Road to help launch a joint effort called Disinfo near 13th Avenue and McKinley, slated to open next month.
"They say in the press that they love the arts and want it downtown, but I'll let you in on a little secret: Politicians have been known to lie," Petrisko says. "And in one night, the city of Phoenix had eradicated years of trust that's been built up between us and them."
The impact of marquee urban projects like T-Gen and Artisan Village will eventually be a death knell for the art scene's current state, he maintains.
"Roosevelt's a walking dead man, and I think now they probably realize it after First Friday. They're totally boxed in, there's no room for expansion, and it's going to be cut apart piecemeal," Petrisko says.
But if artists are ultimately priced out of Roosevelt, the party might very well move west. One reason Gina and Derrick Suarez chose to relocate the Paisley Violin to Grand Avenue earlier this year is because they hope Grand will retain its "flair" and an off-the-beaten-path feel in coming years, as Evans-Churchill becomes "more sterile."
Even if things get bangin' on Grand Avenue, Petrisko fully expects the same cycle occurring on Roosevelt Row to repeat and force artists to seek a new home.
Where to next, Pete?
"South Phoenix," he says. "The property's still cheap there, it's still run-down, and it's the last place close to downtown that's not totally shot for cheap living or cheap renting or anything."
Additional reporting by Sarah Fenske.
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