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100 Creatives You Should Know in Metro Phoenix

Every other year, New Times takes a closer look at the Valley’s creative set — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. In no particular order, here’s a quick introduction to each and every one of them. Meet the 100 Creatives of 2016.

Nicole Olson
Dancer and Choreographer
Scorpius Dance Theatre

Even as a child growing up in a small town outside Milwaukee, Nicole Olson knew what she was destined to do: dance. Now based in Phoenix, the dancer and choreographer serves as both the head of the dance department at Metropolitan Arts Institute and as the associate director and choreographer of Scorpius Dance Theatre, whose A Vampire Tale features her as queen of the bloodsuckers. All of which keeps the dancer in near-constant motion.

Andrew Pielage
Photographer
Say the name Andrew Pielage, and a few images might spring to mind: a massive haboob, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, and breathtaking landscapes. It was after capturing a sprawling dust storm roll through the Valley that Pielage’s work gained a national audience. “It wasn’t really until July 2012 with my photograph of a haboob that really put me on the map and kickstarted my career in photography,” he says. “Still one of my favorite all-time images.”

Jessica Rowe
Visual Artist
Jessica Rowe has been drawing for as long as she could remember, but couldn’t quite see how to make a career out of it. After becoming an interior designer, she started offering prints of her breathy but bold works, which often feature close-ups of parted red lips. “It wasn’t until people started asking to buy my paintings and the demand continued to grow that I realized my dream job — being an artist — was actually possible.”

Danny Neumann
Senior Designer
Esser Design

Danny Neumann’s ardor for figurines goes way beyond collecting. Nicknamed Cantina Dan, he’s taken on the childhood dream job of “action figure anthropologist.” It’s a role he assumes once the “work bell rings” at Esser Design. Then it’s time for passion projects, like his recently completed “At Home with the Super Neumanns,” an Instagrammed glimpse at the everyday life of a super family he made from vintage G.I. Joe parts.

Beth Cato
YA Author
Buckeye-based author Beth Cato’s path to publishing steampunk YA novels The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown was marked by hard work. She got her start writing short stories “that paid little or nothing.” But, Cato says, “as my skills increased, I submitted to more ambitious periodicals.” That determination paid off, and her third book, Breath of Earth, came out in August.

Jessie Balli
Storyteller
Rarer than Jessie Balli’s native Arizonan status is her ability to share deeply personal anecdotes with people she’s never met. Her openness onstage struck storytellers Rachel Egboro and Dan Hull, and now the three co-host Yarnball, a weekly storytelling open mic night at Lawn Gnome Publishing that’s part of Hull and Egboro’s project, The Storyline. “They had never seen someone so new to storytelling share such raw emotion,” she says, “and I’ve never looked back.”

Ron May
Actor, Director
Stray Cat Theatre

As the founding artistic director of Tempe’s Stray Cat Theatre, an actor, and a director, Ron May is a fixture and innovator in the Valley’s alternative stage scene, presenting oddball works that larger companies don’t take on (last season featured Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird and Heathers: The Musical) and crafting collaborations with such major players as Scorpius Dance Theatre and Arizona Theatre Company, where he also works as patron relationship manager.

Leonor Aispuro
Fashion Designer
Known for her airy creations that hug the body while giving the silhouette breathing room, Leonor Aispuro learned to sew as a kid, studied sustainable fashion in New York, and then returned to Phoenix, where she grew up. “Getting to work on what I love and what I’m passionate about has always been a dream of mine,” Aispuro says, “and I am lucky to be able to combine my ideas with that and make them come to life.”

Sarah Waite
Nail Artist
Chalkboard Nails

Sarah Waite’s one of the Valley’s most popular painters. But her canvas is a little unconventional.
Waite is the mastermind behind the blog Chalkboard Nails, where she posts her jaw-dropping artwork that just so happens to appear on fingernails. Which makes for quite the challenge. “The nail artist’s biggest job is to figure out how to translate these ideas into a tiny, yet legible design,” she says.

Christina “Xappa” Franco
Jewelry Designer
Xappaland

The darkly magical pop culture of Christina “Xappa” Franco’s childhood hasn’t left the Mesa-based artist, who, under the banner Xappaland, crafts dangling geometric earrings with quartz centerpieces, wiry naturalist crowns, and playful necklaces with charms depicting eerie enameled skulls or vampire dentures in brass. “Being creative is what I’m best at,” Franco says. “I figured if other people are able to do it, why wouldn’t I?”

Christian Adame
Assistant Education Director
Phoenix Art Museum

Christian Adame sums up his mission at Phoenix Art Museum with one question: “How do we make artistic content relevant and inclusive to a broad spectrum of people?” He works with curators to look at exhibitions the way a visitor might. “I edit a lot of text, and help build programs and events around ideas central to these exhibitions,” he says. Ultimately, his work comes down to bringing people together — and to art.

Tara Sharpe
Director
Artelshow

Tara Sharpe’s creative life is all about balance. The founder and director of Artelshow currently splits her time between making her own art and building opportunities for other artists. Her mission with Artel is to bring the arts to unexpected places. But her recent artworks have focused on perceptions of beauty and myth. “I’m a color lover,” she says, “and consider black a necessity for clothing but death to my own artwork.”

Patricia Sannit
Sculptor
For sculptor Patricia Sannit, days begin with a hike in the mountain preserve near her Phoenix home and end with keeping tabs on the business side of art. In between, she works with reclaimed clay to create works influenced by archaeology and human history. Once her family departs for work and school, she says, “I change into work clothes, open the door to my studio, and begin. I start with clay.”

Brian Klein
Photographer
Born and raised in Phoenix, Brian Klein knew when he first took up photography that it would be a lifelong creative pursuit. He primarily works in black-and-white photography, capturing with a mix of digital and traditional processes abstract designs in architecture and landscapes. He loves the “nostalgic, timeless” qualities of black and white. “When I shoot, I see in black and white; it’s a different understanding of light and subject.”

Dennita Sewell
Curator of Fashion Design
Phoenix Art Museum

“I pursued a creative career because I didn’t want to be a farmer or work at Walmart,” says Dennita Sewell, who grew up about 100 miles from Kansas City, Missouri. She studied costume design at Yale and then worked at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2000, she joined Phoenix Art Museum. Since then, she has brought gorgeous touring exhibitions to the Valley and has curated memorable shows, spotlighting the career of Gianfranco Ferré and made-in-America clothing.

Garth Johnson
Curator
ASU Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center

Garth Johnson’s path to becoming curator of the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center wasn’t a perfectly paved straight line. He studied art-making, was an assistant professor in California, and worked as a curator in Pennsylvania. Regardless, he’s arrived, and now curates exhibitions, coordinates the archives, and manages what he describes as “the best collection of postwar contemporary ceramics in the country.”

Charissa Lucille
Literary Artist
Fem Static

It was Charissa Lucille’s search for a creative community while in college that brought her to the handmade world of zines. She says creating her first DIY publication “helped me realize the power in created places where my work could be published and sold along with hundreds of other artists.” She continues crafting her own zine, a fourth-wave feminist pamphlet called Fem Static, while running Wasted Ink Zine Distro and organizing PHX Zine Fest.

Ryan Downey
Musician
Phoenix Chorale

For Ryan Downey, devoting himself to music was something that happened naturally. “I started singing at an early age in the Phoenix Boys Choir, and I knew that I wanted music to be what I pursued,” he says. Now, he works at the Grammy-winning Phoenix Chorale and teaches voice and diction courses at Phoenix College. “In the evenings,” he says, “you can usually find me at a rehearsal with either the Phoenix Chorale, Trinity Cathedral Choir, Arizona Opera, or Tucson’s True Concord Voices and Orchestra.”

Samantha Thompson
Co-Founder
Standard Wax

Samantha Thompson’s greatest accomplishment thus far? “Quitting my day job and dedicating myself to Standard Wax,” the candle company co-founder says. Now, she spends her days managing production of the company’s coveted candles, which fill ceramic vessels crafted by her business partner, Andrew King, and come in such scents as sage-pomegranate and forest floor. “It’s my dream job.”

Cherie Buck-Hutchison
Artist
Cherie Buck-Hutchison grew up in a religious household, where a college education, holidays, and association with anyone outside her family’s church were forbidden. Such rigid boundaries, however, only made her want to stretch them. It’s something that blurs into her art practice, which resists categorization. “My work is very interdisciplinary,” she says, noting that she works in ceramics, installation, video, poetry, performance, and “photos taken by my parents that I manipulate.”

Freddie Paull
Filmmaker and Photographer
Electric Legend Pictures

At this very moment, chances are good that Freddie Paull is doing one of three things: filming, planning to film, or hunting for something to film. The founder of video art collective Electric Legend Pictures mainly deals in music videos and photography, using his free evenings to catch concerts in Phoenix. “Seeing random shows is what led to me learning about and eventually working with two of my favorite bands, Bogan Via and Harrison Fjord,” Paull says.

Jennifer Campbell
Art Gallery Coordinator
Mesa Community College

Jennifer Campbell spends her weekdays organizing and daydreaming about the future of the Mesa Community College art gallery. “Supporting yourself solely on art can be a difficult feat in the art world, and jobs in the creative fields often have a sea of applicants,” the U.K.-born artist says. “Being a younger person, I feel like a wonderful opportunity has landed in my lap, and I look forward to putting my whole being into it.”

Dwayne Hartford
Artistic Director
Childsplay

When Dwayne Hartford came to Phoenix back in 1989, he had no plans to stay. But an ad in the newspaper for a paying acting job caught his eye. “I auditioned and got the job,” he says. “The theater company was Childsplay.” Needless to say, his plans changed dramatically, because he’s been with the Tempe theater group ever since. This year, Hartford took on the role of artistic director at the company, succeeding its retiring founder, David Saar.

Shaliyah Ben
Education Program and Outreach Manager
Heard Museum

It’s not that Shaliyah Ben ended up working at the Heard Museum — she always has. She was a toddler cover girl for a Heard brochure, then became a student guide, and during college worked in the curatorial department. Ben is still hard at work there, running the museum’s grade-school learning experience. “If you have a fourth grader or any other student in K through 12th grade, there is a chance I’ve taught them!”

Kym Ventola
Photographer
Say Kym Ventola’s name to a bride-to-be, and the response likely will include swooning. The Phoenix-based international photographer’s reputation for taking beautiful wedding pictures precedes her, and has taken her all around the globe. Her style has been described as “beautifully dark.” But she sees it differently. “A pretty, posed portrait is not as important to my couples; they want art, they want moments captured.”

Matthew Watkins
Artistic Director
Orange Theatre

For about six years, Matthew Watkins has run Orange Theatre, an experimental performing arts company. But the Valley native’s artistic career stretches back to directing a kindergarten play, performing with the Phoenix Boys Choir, and then drumming in a hardcore band. “The scene taught me how to find passion and intensity in my work, and how to appreciate roughness in art,” he says. “If I hadn’t been around that scene, I don’t think I would be running a company right now.”

Tom Budzak
Sculptor
Though Tom Budzak feeds on podcasts and audiobooks while creating his functional ceramic pieces, it was a book he picked up as an undergrad at Arizona State University that helped propel him into the career of a professional artist. He still counts William V. Dunning’s Advice to Young Artists in a Postmodern Era as his favorite. “It really made me feel like I could be an artist,” he says, “and it gave me confidence in myself as an artist.”

Rachel Egboro
Storyteller
The Storyline

As half the team behind Phoenix’s Storyline Collective, Rachel Egboro tells personal tales and encourages others to do the same. But she didn’t come to the stage by choice. Her plans to attend a storytelling slam were thwarted when an acquaintance put her name on the list of performers without her permission. Although it was stressful, she says, “At the end of the show, Dan Hull and I were the only storytellers left standing. I was hooked!”

Rosemary Close
Managing Director
iTheatre Collaborative

Ask Rosemary Close what her greatest accomplishment is, and the answer comes easy. She started iTheatre Collaborative, a nonprofit theater company, in 2002, and with co-founder Christopher Haines has built it into a troupe known for presenting high-quality shows and garnering acclaim for taking risks. And 14 years later, they took up residency at Herberger Theater Center. Still, she says, this is only the beginning.

Ally Haynes-Hamblen
Director
Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

You could say that Late Nite Catechism changed Ally Haynes-Hamblen’s life. She toured with the production, and that led her to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, where the show’s a perennial favorite. Eventually, the Center recruited her, and now she heads up the venue. The not-so surprising part? The venue’s 2016-17 schedule includes three iterations of the nun show.

Alex Ozers
Jeweler
From the Reliquary

It was while studying painting at Arizona State University that Alex Ozers took a metal sculpture class that changed the course of his career. “With painting, it felt like I had a responsibility to really say something, like philosophical or whatever,” Ozers says. “Jewelry is really more concentrated on aesthetics than narrative, and I enjoy that.” He’s now the creative force behind jewelry company From the Reliquary, making wearable art from copper and amethyst that melds minimal and statement-making styles.

Fawn DeViney
Photographer
Fawn DeViney knew that whatever she ended up doing in life, her work had to be fulfilling. “I wasn’t going to settle on a job that I hated,” the 29-year-old says. She hasn’t. Inspired by Flemish and Dutch Baroque paintings dating back to the 1600s, she captures moments with her camera — white and gray waves gurgling over rock formations or a low sun backlighting a woman, the clear sky as her backdrop — in a style she describes as “simple and neutral.”

Laura Dragon
Gallerist
{9} The Gallery

“I opened {9} on a wing and a prayer,” Laura Dragon says of her Grand Avenue gallery. “It has been the greatest experience of my life, next to raising my son.” And there’s always work to be done, whether it’s curating, accounting, or keeping the space tidy. But the gallerist is at a point where she can be picky about her pursuits. That includes opening her newer co-op studio, Grand Arthaus. “I kind of picture it as my Factory,” she says.

Stephanie Neiheisel
Makeup Artist
Think you could pull off navy blue lipstick? Spend a few minutes scrolling through Stephanie Neiheisel’s Instagram, and the makeup artist just might have you convinced. Another thing she can pull off? Multitasking. She works with natural makeup emporium Citrine Natural Beauty Bar as a content creator and social media manager, and has launched both a wedding market called the Marry Mart and the Phoenix Makeup Collective.

Michael Lanier
Plant Shop Owner
The Bosque

Michael Lanier has built his own little world, one where he can arrive a little late, bring along his dog, and spend hours in conversation with his customers. It’s his downtown Phoenix plant shop, the Bosque. “I love helping people use plants to find some peace and sincerity and help them realize that everything in life is just a little imperfect,” he says, “but those faults and imperfections are what makes life so incredible.”

Jessica Rajko
Dancer and Choreographer
Jessica Rajko has questions. And through her art, she ventures to answer them. Rajko’s natural state of curiosity results in a sort of work that shakes off distinct definitions. “My work explores the liminal space between movement, bodies, technology, and human-computer interaction design,” she says. “Some of my work looks like dance, and some of it looks like interactive installations. All of my art is visceral, tangible, and multisensory.”

Velma Kee Craig
Navajo Weaver and Poet
Weaving stories is in Velma Kee Craig’s blood. She grew up with two grandmothers who wove, but Craig didn’t start weaving until her multimedia storytelling career brought her back to the traditional artform. This melding of tradition and contemporary ideas gives Craig’s work a distinct feel. And she’s garnered attention for it. In fact, the first weaving she ever sold was bought by the Heard Museum.

Oliver Hibert
Painter
Don’t let the Day-Glo fool you. Oliver Hibert’s swirling neon surrealism is born of nocturnal habits. “I don’t day, I only night,” he says of his creative process. “Cereal, cigarettes, e-mails, art, my wife, my cats, and howling at the moon.” His super-saturated paintings have found acclaim at both galleries and museums. “I don’t like to give my art an end-all, be-all label, but my work can be mostly psychedelic, surreal, strange, and sexy,” he says.

Joya Scott
Associate Artistic Director
Orange Theatre

Joya Scott is one of those people who wears a lot of hats. She divides her days between teaching at Arizona State University and Scottsdale Community College, as well as serving as the resident dramaturg and associate artistic director for the Phoenix-based experimental indie company Orange Theatre. “There was nothing else I could find to do that was as fulfilling,” Scott says of her slash-ridden career in the arts. “It was less of a choice and more of a compulsion!”

Raji Ganesan
Performance Artist
Try putting Raji Ganesan in a box. It’s a dare you’re guaranteed to fail. The creative resists categorization at every turn. Her body is her instrument, whether the medium is contemporary dance, theater, poetry, or stand-up comedy. Storytelling is a key component to her performances, something she describes as a “radical method of writing our own histories, alongside an audience.” As such, she blends “the worlds of feminism, diaspora, humor, bordered identities, and improvisation” to create narrative works.

Ashlee Molina
Creative Entrepreneur
Phoenix Flea

Art meets organizing when Ashlee Molina’s involved. She’s the founder of Phoenix Flea, which assembles Valley creatives and collectors in spring and fall to vend their goods at Heritage Square. She thinks of them as community events, ways to connect local innovators making unique things. “I love the process of coming up with an idea and then figuring out a way to turn it into something tangible and relevant to other people,” she says.

Myrlin Hepworth
Poet and Performer
Phonetic Spit

Myrlin Hepworth knew he would do three things with his life: create, perform, and teach. For him, it’s “the art of teaching, the art of watching others live” that fuels his creative output and has been most influential on his life. That work includes writing, performing around the country, competing (he’s been on three National Poetry Slam teams), and teaching both literary and hip-hop arts to high schoolers through Phonetic Spit, which he co-founded with Tomas Stanton in 2011.

Amy Ettinger
Founder and Executive Director
Scottsdale International Film Festival

Amy Ettinger wants you to watch more movies. More specifically, the Scottsdale International Film Festival founder wants you to experience cinema with other people. “In a time when most people seem to consume images and information in a weird sort of group isolation, I provide the opportunity to have a collective encounter with the moving image on the big screen,” she says. “Art can be challenging, so I bring the community together to experience films which will rarely be seen in the Valley.”

Sheila Grinell
Novelist
Sheila Grinell has had not one, but two successful creative careers. She’s the founding CEO of Arizona Science Center. She has since retired, but that’s where the elusive second act comes in. At 70, Grinell published her first novel, Appetite. It comes after decades of loving literature sparked by a Willa Cather short story she read as a teenager. “Up until then, I didn’t know literature could set one’s core vibrating.”

Forrest Solis
Visual Artist
Creative Push

Forrest Solis looks deeply into her own experiences and those of others as a foundation for her work. Solis focuses on adult-child relationships and gender normativity. Which is why she founded Creative Push, a multimedia art and oral history project that gathers and presents birth experiences through both visual arts and storytelling. “We record women’s birth stories, connect those stories with artists who make original works of art in response,” she says.

Mary Meyer
Sculptor
Mary Meyer lives in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains, where she practices her art full-time and finds herself surrounded by serenity and inspiration. Through sight and touch, she absorbs and then works to reflect her environment through sculpting with materials including clay, wood, metal, and found objects, and using intuitive methods like carving and hand-building to assemble her works.

Robert Hoekman Jr.
Writer and Podcaster
Spillers

Robert Hoekman Jr. co-founded and co-hosts Spillers, a quarterly short-fiction storytelling event at Crescent Ballroom with a podcast counterpart called the Spillers After Show. He calls it a rock-star version of your typical literary gathering. “It’s a thousand details, a thousand decisions, but on the night … I get to watch a couple hundred people show up and get totally immersed, and we get to walk away knowing we did something with meaning.”

Joan Waters
Artist
Joan Waters was drawn to the artistic process of observation, production, and interaction. “It’s pulling things from the subconscious, making them tangible in the world, then inviting others to come take a look,” Waters says. She works in various media, but ultimately sees her work as drawing and painting. “I enjoy the physicality of what I do — the body and hands learn what to do, so I’m able to be loose with the industrial materials and processes.”

Gabriela Muñoz
Artist Programs Manager
Arizona Commission on the Arts

Forget life imitating art. Gabriela Muñoz’s life is art. As an artist and the artist programs manager at Arizona Commission on the Arts, her work is “in service of my fellow artists.” She’s arrived where she’s at thanks to a combination of elements. “I’m lucky to have been ready and prepared to take advantage of opportunities for development when they appeared in my life,” she says.

ColorOrgy
Painter
As noms de guerre go, ColorOrgy’s wears like candy-apple red on a pin-up’s lips. The Mesa native, formerly known as Scott Wolf, is known for disorienting paintings that take cartoonish midcentury images and twist them into sexualized horror shows. “I create images that blend perversion with pop culture, creating a twisted take on Americana with the help of violence and sex,” he says.

Read on for the rest of 2016's 100 Creatives.

Liz Magura
Designer
Liz Magura brings her past as a competitive athlete to her career in design. And her achievements show it. She’s worked on the creative team for the Phoenix Suns and as an art director at Sitewire. Currently, she holds a senior-level user experience, user interface (UX/UI) design lead position at University of Phoenix, freelances, and serves as president of AIGA Arizona, the state chapter of the professional design association.

Anita and Sam Means
Creative Entrepreneurs
Hello Apparel

Anita and Sam Means are a package deal, and that just might be the key to their success. Sam’s a musician and the founder of Hello Merch, a company that helps indie bands sell merch without major-label contracts. Anita spun off the idea into Hello Apparel, a casualwear brand. From Phoenix, they’ve built something of a clothing and accessories empire, emblazoned with the sturdy cursive “hello” logo.

Liz Ann Hewett
Dancer and Choreographer
As the curtain closed on Liz Ann Hewett’s directorial debut, All in the Heir, she knew she’d found what she was meant to do. Her pieces are best described as dance plays. “The spine of my work is the overall storyline, a set of characters and their journey,” she says. “The story is then met with super-athletic choreography, and supported by a soundtrack that helps narrate the campaign.”

Tiffany Fairall
Curator of Exhibitions
Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum

Tiffany Fairall knows museums. She interned at Phoenix Art Museum and the Heard. At ASU Art Museum, she worked her way from work-study student to curatorial assistant. And for the past 10 years, Fairall has worked at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, bringing thought-provoking exhibitions to the museum’s galleries and working with Phoenix-area artists to showcase local talent.

Vanessa Davidson
Shawn and Joe Lampe Curator of Latin American Art
Phoenix Art Museum

Vanessa Davidson says it was through a combination of hard work, passion, good advice, and luck that she became the Latin American Art curator at Phoenix Art Museum. All of which come in handy when she’s “researching, organizing exhibitions, writing publications, and giving gallery tours and lectures on art in Latin America from the colonial period to the present day,” she says.

Michelle Dock
Curator and Art Educator
City of Tempe

Michelle Dock’s childhood love of drawing took her to study it as her major in New Mexico State University. But Dock took a work-study job at a museum and loved it. Now, she’s a curator and art educator who manages and curates artworks for several Tempe venues. “I’ve been with the City of Tempe for 10 years now, and it’s still my dream job,” she says.

Nia Witherspoon
Playwright, Multidisciplinary Artist
Nia Witherspoon has made a career of her creativity, and she’s taken it bicoastal, splitting her time between Arizona and New York. Witherspoon serves as an assistant professor of theater and performance at Arizona State University, with which she’d been affiliated since 2014, and works in Brooklyn, where she was based before joining the university.

Monique Sandoval
Dressmaker
Cleo and Clementine

Monique Sandoval got where she is by following her heart and trusting her instincts. She owns Cleo and Clementine, a boutique on the Melrose Curve that specializes in unconventional formal wear. “I’d like to think that creating a warm environment has encouraged inspiration, creativity, and nostalgia for my employees, friends, family, and clientele,” she says. “Our work is unique and sentimental.”

Nayon Iovino
Dancer
Ballet Arizona

Nayon Iovino says dance chose him. He gained a national audience at 17 when he competed in the Youth American Grand Prix and went on to join Ballet Arizona, where he dances, teaches, and choreographs. “Performing leading roles has been very fulfilling,” Iovino says of his center-stage work in productions including Napoli. “I really enjoy experiencing that freedom on stage.”

Daniel Davisson
Lighting Designer
Daniel Davisson’s work is the kind you see but might not notice. “A lighting designer is the person that paints the stage with light,” says Davisson, who works with Phoenix Theater, Scorpius Dance Theatre, Glendale Community College, and Herberger Theater Center. He’s also the production manager for Scorpius, Center Dance Ensemble, and Southwest Shakespeare Company. That means helping make sure that their season is “produced thoroughly and that all technical elements are arranged for and determined.”

Andrew King
Visual Artist
Standard Wax

Andrew King moved to Tempe and spent a few years working what he calls terrible jobs. He walked away with stories, but ultimately, “all of those experiences helped guide me back to my creative self and put me back on the right track for me.” That meant studying graphic design, which led him to working as a visual artist and co-founding candle company Standard Wax, for which he creates the ceramic vessels.

Michelle Moyer
Jewelry Artist
Kenneth Pierre Designs

“I don’t want to look back on my life and think ‘if only I had…’” That’s why Michelle Moyer left behind her 9-to-5 to make jewelry full-time. She now runs Kenneth Pierre Designs, which is named for her father and grandfather, respectively. Available at Bunky Boutique and MADE Art Boutique, her pieces include rings set with coral and Howlite stones. She describes them as wearable metal sculptures.

Jimmy Nguyen
Nail Artist
Stash House Az

Jimmy Nguyen is a nail artist, one with some 6,000 Instagram followers who comment glowing praise like “want!” and “I love these” on each photo of his latest handiwork. “The thing that inspires me is the creative minds of artists,” he says, citing Andy Warhol among his greatest influences. “Andy Warhol’s 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans had the most impact because he was able to take an already familiar item and make it iconic.”

Tiffany López
Director of the School of Film, Dance, and Theatre
Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute

To Arizona State University, Tiffany López brings more than 30 years of experience as a dramaturge, working to build and expand plays, projects, and audiences. “Working within a university setting,” she says, “I have focused on developing community-based arts programming and cultivating opportunities for students to create the stories they feel are missing from the world and most want to see told.”

Kristin Bauer
Visual Artist
Kristin Bauer uses her words. They’re the most recognizable part of her visual art practice, which uses plastic products to create sculptural objects and installations that explore human constructs. “Perception itself is a human construct I attempt to mold and expand, in my desire to open consciousness, increase dimensionality, and reimagine the mundane, whether it be a window, three monosyllabic words, or a simple arc,” she says.

Donna Isaac
Director
Scottsdale Public Art

Donna Isaac has had two major accomplishments during her tenure at Scottsdale Public Art: the completion of the Soleri Bridge & Plaza and the founding of Canal Convergence. “Some are experiencing contemporary art through public art installations for the first time,” Isaac says. “Canal Convergence allows us to support local artists while bringing installations from around the world to Scottsdale.”

Douglas Miles
Artist
Apache Skateboards

With every mural, painting, and collaborative project he works on, artist and Apache Skateboards founder Douglas Miles bridges the present with the past. “I thinks it’s a combination of Native history and resistance through a street-art graffiti sensibility,” he says, describing his acclaimed work. He draws inspiration from “people, Apache history, good art, music, and movies that bring reality to life in new ways.”

Sierra Joy
Visual Artist
If you’ve been to Roosevelt Row, you’ve likely seen Sierra Joy’s work. The artist’s most visible piece is a jagged mountain range in Easter egg pinks, yellows, and blues on the low, block building at Third and Roosevelt streets. And for anyone who takes it in, the work achieves Joy’s ultimate aim in creating. “I want for people to look at my work and feel that they are a part of it, that they are connected and more open,” she says.

Francisco Flores
Artist
Light and sound meet spirituality and aesthetics in the work of Francisco Flores. He works as a post-production audio-visual designer and technician, but dedicates his off-hours to exploring well-being and self-realization by crafting visual and/or sound compositions that have an interactive component. “I’ve been working with lasers for a couple of years now,” he says, “doing laser shows, art installations, and architectural sculptures using lasers.”

Amy Robinson
Graphic Designer
Arizona Cardinals

Graphic designer Amy Robinson is inspired by movement. It’s fitting, considering she works for the Arizona Cardinals, but it goes beyond her job. The creative spends her off-hours running and doing Crossfit, and tending to her toddler. “So, I’ve used that aspect of my life as continual inspiration,” Robinson says. “This translates to movement within imagery or typography used in design.”

Julio Cesar Morales
Curator
ASU Art Museum

Julio Cesar Morales’ politically charged artwork, focusing on migration and labor, has been featured in publications including the New York Times and Artforum. In 2012, he joined ASU Art Museum as curator. Despite his notoriety, he’s encountered racism and ignorance while living in the Valley. But, there’s a flip side. “What I find inspiring,” he says, “is the local activism by individuals and organizations fighting against social injustices within Arizona.”

Duane Daniels
Artistic Director
Space 55

Actor, director, producer, and teacher Duane Daniels runs acting studio the Actors WorkHouse and serves as the artistic director at the neighboring theater, Space 55, located just south of Roosevelt Row. Surrounding himself with people inspires Daniels, who finds joy in seeing actors achieve their goals and “figuring out how to take a scene or a line of dialogue and make it as powerful and impactful as possible.”

Kelsey Pinckney
Managing Editor
Four Chambers Press

Kelsey Pinckney’s days are devoted to engaging in art and literacy. As managing editor at Four Chambers Press, she works with artists to lay out books, plan events, and edit or develop works. “There is so much to say, think, and feel, and one person only contributes to a tiny fraction of that,” she says. “There are so many voices out there that differ from my own. I want to hear them all.”

Ben Smith
Chief Strategy Officer
Unexpected Art Gallery

Ben Smith is an entrepreneur who works with several companies, including Unexpected Gallery. The space combines fine art with on-sale eclectic objects and has hosted art exhibitions, fashion shows, and boundary-defying culture events. His title is chief strategy officer because, he says, “there was no title for a guy who makes stuff happen, dreams big, finds teams to implement, causes change, and reinvents products, people, or companies.”

Rembrandt Quiballo
Visual Artist
Rembrandt Quiballo’s need to explore is crucial to his art-making, which looks at how the mass media’s moving images affect both society and politics — often to absurd ends. “It’s given me a purpose and a lens through which to experience life,” he says. “Being an artist means you are aligning yourself to certain values and ideals that are sometimes antithetical to the broader culture.”

Corinne Geertsen
Visual Artist
Corinne Geertsen combines historical photographs with pictures she takes. “I’m going for surreal, humor with a twist of lemon, and psychology,” she says. “Mischief and a good plight are excellent, as well.” Such layers of meaning aren’t so simple to conjure, and Geertsen knows it. That’s why, she says, she’s never stopped making pictures.

Tess Mosko Scherer
Artistic Director
Shemer Art Center

Tess Mosko Scherer’s creative endeavors have one chief aim: to emphasize “expression — yours and mine.” If her mission sounds broad, that’s because it is. But it has to be, given her multifaceted career in the arts. Beyond her creative practice, she serves as artistic director of Shemer Art Center, president of the Arizona Artists Guild, owner of Scherer Gallery, and as a coach and mentor to others, often artists.

Slawomir Wozniak
Artistic Director
Phoenix Ballet

Slawomir Wozniak serves as the artistic director of the Phoenix Ballet and is the founder of Master Ballet Academy. “I pursue my mission to make ballet an important part of human culture,” he says. “By creating new works and teaching new generations of dancers with amazing technical skills and artistry, I hope I am capable of changing other people’s lives through the power of art.”

Elly Finzer
Poet
Elly Finzer’s creativity can’t be contained. A poet by trade, she counts music, painting, dancing, and even some interior design as artistic pursuits. Her dedication to writing has spanned decades, however. It paid off when her first book, Says the Speck, was released this spring. “After 30 years of writing, and 15 years of seriously gathering material for the manuscript, my very biggest dream came true,” she says.

Josh Brizuela
Visual Artist
Josh Brizuela just might take over the city. Also known as Bask, the artist gained a following through his online presence before debuting his work IRL back in 2013. Since then, his practice has grown creatively by leaps and bounds. So, too, have his canvases. “I can say that small sketches are now rare for me,” the 23-year-old says. “I’ve been working on bigger pieces nonstop, and it’s so fun.”

Amy K. Nichols
YA Author
Through her young-adult novels Now That You’re Here and While You Were Gone, also known as the “Duplexity” series, Amy K. Nichols tells the story of a bookworm and a bad boy brought together by a glitch in the universe — one they must mend. “My joy is in writing,” Nichols says. “I like having joy. So I keep writing.”

Angela Johnson
Fashion Designer
LabelHorde

Instead of bemoaning Phoenix’s lack of fashion industry infrastructure, Angela Johnson started building it. In the early 2000s, she launched LabelHorde, a directory of designers and fashion resources in the Phoenix area. Now, it has expanded to include an incubator space with AZ Fashion Source to serve as the Valley’s go-to brick-and-mortar space for designers both aspiring and established.

Grant Vetter
ASU Galleries Director
Grant Vetter runs Tempe contemporary art space Fine Art Complex 1101, writes for the Arts Beacon, and serves as the galleries director at Arizona State University. “Anyone who reads this and ‘likes’ ASU Step Gallery, ASU Harry Wood Gallery, ASU Gallery 100 on Facebook has my sincere thanks for supporting the incredible work of the ASU graduates and our amazing local artists who exhibit there,” he says.

Michelle and Melanie Craven
Co-owners
Tilt Gallery

Michelle and Melanie Craven deal in duality. The twin sisters, 47, are the gallerists behind Scottsdale art space Tilt. Their art practice intertwines, too. For more than a decade, the pair has run the contemporary photography exhibition space and worked in traditional photography, collaborating on a series called “identical otherness” that examines their similarities and differences as twins.

Erick Biez
Comedian
Meet your friendly neighborhood Erick Biez. If you frequent Phoenix comedy clubs, you’re probably already acquainted with the 32-year-old stand-up who borrows his descriptor from Spider-Man. Biez co-produces It’s Not For Everyone at Majerle’s and Literally The Worst Show Ever alongside Anwar Newton at Valley Bar; and he produces and hosts Swipe Right for Awesomeness at the Rebel Lounge and Next Step Comedy Showcase at House of Comedy. Yeah, he’s not kidding about the “neighborhood” thing.

Leah Marche
Storyteller
Leah Marche says her mission is to inspire people to “live out the poetry in their lives.” That’s why she hosts Live Poetic on Radio Phoenix, performs on stage, writes, and produces events. She’s the co-founder of BlackPoet Ventures and has presented events including a production of for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf that Ntozake Shange, its creator, said was one of the best she had seen.

Lisa Von Hoffner
Painter
Lisa Von Hoffner packs her days with art-making. Since moving to Arizona in 2013 to get her master’s of fine art at Arizona State University, she has shown work in some 15 Valley exhibitions, including two shows at ASU galleries. For her MFA thesis show at Harry Wood Gallery, she contrasted the organic curvature of women’s bodies with geometric puzzles in tones of Barbie pink and reflective blue-green foil with Lisa Frank rainbows.

Amada Cruz
Director
Phoenix Art Museum

Every day is a big project for Amada Cruz. That comes with the job. She’s served as Phoenix Art Museum’s director since February 2015, running and planning the future of an institution with a collection of more than 18,000 works. “I love what I do,” she says. “But the best part of my job at PAM is when I’m in the galleries surrounded by happy visitors.”

Amber Robins
Dancer
Center Dance Ensemble

It wasn’t until Amber Robins found Frances Smith Cohen’s Center Dance Ensemble that things clicked like they had in her first childhood dance class. “I have danced for them for 18 years, teach company ballet, and have been given the chance to dance and interpret many wonderful roles,” she says. Blending her classical training with modern techniques, she makes it a point to try contemporary classes “to broaden my knowledge and to stay current with my choreography.”

Xandriss
Painter
Xandriss grew up the youngest of seven kids in Mesa. Though her parents struggled, they worked hard, she recalls, and wasted nothing. “That has always had such an impact on my own attitude and work ethic,” the 38-year-old says. That’s why she applies for all the opportunities she can handle — and doesn’t let rejections hinder her creativity. “I’m thankful to have been in a lot of great shows with many other talented local artists over the years,” she says.

Steven Tepper
Dean
Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute
It has been an incredible journey, Steven Tepper says. “I ended up as dean of the Herberger Institute because much of my research and writing has been about the education and careers of arts graduates,” he says. And heading up the Institute — supporting its thousands of students and hundreds of faculty — is no small task. “I feel like I am the chief opportunity officer for the Institute — finding local and national partners to help us advance our big ideas.”

Bentley Calverley
Gallerist
Bentley Gallery

Bentley Calverley grew up in New Jersey, taking the train or bus into New York to visit galleries and museums. Eventually, her love of art led to collecting and then representing a few artists, putting together exhibitions, and leasing spaces for shows. In 1984, she opened Bentley Gallery. Twenty-plus years later, she’s as excited as ever about sharing innovative works through her gallery. “This is the most rewarding part of what I do.”

Lisa Olson
Owner
Practical Art

Lisa Olson uses art to connect people through Practical Art, her gallery that sells work by more than 130 local artists. The CenPho space hosts exhibitions and pie nights, donates more than $10,000 a year to charity, and engages local creators to lead make-and-take classes.” We use art as the medium by which we bring people together to improve our community,” she says.

Eric Torres
Game Designer
Eric Torres built his own world. It’s called Rynaga, and it’s full of colorful characters, stories, and places. He’s even mapped it. And you can go there, too, through the Phoenix designer’s boardgame Iconica, which blends strategy, chance, and card play. Since its 2007 release, the game has garnered attention from Wired, GeekDad, and Penny Arcade, among other online gaming sources.

Genevieve Rice
Comedian
In her own words, Genevieve Rice’s style is “elegantly silly.” Which is fitting given the comedian’s stage persona — and the podcast she cohosts with Anthony Desamito. “We, along with a guest, recap episodes of The Golden Girls and share crazy theories about the show,” she says of the podcast, called Thank You for Being A Podcast. “We’re both fans and genuinely enjoy the show, but we can also go real hard at poking fun at it.”

Kathleen Trott
Costume Designer
Arizona Opera

Kathleen Trott can’t remember a time when the arts weren’t part of her life. In junior high, she started performing onstage, and later she found a niche backstage. Now, she’s one of the resident costume designers for Arizona Opera, where she utilizes an array of skills and love of history. She gets to “combine them with lots of other artists to create something that is vibrant, moving, and greater than anything I could have created by myself.”

Alberto Álvaro Ríos
Poet
Alberto Álvaro Ríos has the great gift of perspective. Born in Nogales, Arizona, the state’s inaugural Poet Laureate has devoted his life to “writing about cultures and borders of all sorts since the late ’60s.” As a writer, arts advocate, teacher who has been with Arizona State University since 1982, and the host of the PBS program Books & Co., Ríos has honed his craft through consistency and practice. “Work, then work again,” he says. “Miraculously, it adds up, so long as it has in fact been done.”

Louis Farber
Associate Artistic Director
Stray Cat Theatre

The one thing Louis Farber wishes people knew about Phoenix? How vibrant and dedicated the arts community is. He’s dedicated to one particular element of that community: Tempe’s Stray Cat Theatre. His responsibilities there include reading plays, helping select works for the acclaimed indie troupe’s upcoming seasons, and directing one of the works they choose to produce each season. “Ultimately,” he says, “I feel my job is to help produce the best possible version of the play.”

Lisa Sette
Gallerist
Lisa Sette Gallery

Lisa Sette’s name is all but synonymous with stellar contemporary art. She and her eponymous art space have presented world-class exhibitions in the Valley for more than three decades. As Sette puts it, “I don’t respond to ‘ma’am,’ but I should.” Running a gallery that’s anything but average means there are no average days for Sette, who says she’s arrived at this point in her career by “day in and day out responding to visual art as a means of understanding the world.”

The Fortoul Brothers
Co-owners
40Owls

Gabriel and Isaac Fortoul resist boundaries. Whether you deem them commitment-averse or limitless is no matter. The Colombian-born brothers have made a name for themselves through their nomadic gallery and art, recognizable by its heavy black outlines, strong yet simple palettes, and figures with bending limbs and almond-shaped eyes. “We are merely a vessel for its creation,” they say of their work. “The images reveal themselves differently depending on the viewer.”

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