A Brief History of Tempe Art Collective The Paper Knife

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Throughout the past year, The Paper Knife has never ceased to bring something special to the creative scene in Tempe. Up until September of 2014, there were one or two Paper Knife events each month, if not more. This multimedia collective, encompassing visual art, music, and publishing, accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. Though its members are taking a breather from a busy year (and because most of the leaders are students at ASU), there's still a lot left for them to do. With several exhibitions and events on their résumé and a few publications under their belt, this young collective will surely be gaining momentum in the coming year.

See also: The Table Showcases Photography and Encourages Arts Discussion in Phoenix

The seeds of The Paper Knife were planted when Cody Inglis and Robbie Boccelli, high school friends and founding members of the collective, both moved to separate states on the East Coast for college in 2012. Wanting to promote and share the art that they and their friends were making, the two decided to launch The Paper Knife as a way to connect creatives in their circle. They bought the domain name and began sharing creative work, utilizing the website as an archive of sorts. According to Inglis, that "was really all it ever was supposed to be."

When Inglis and Boccelli moved back to Arizona to attend ASU in the fall of 2013, it felt like a homecoming. They brought the idea of The Paper Knife with them and soon had an opportunity to extend it beyond a web aggregate. When Parliament, a now-defunct all-ages venue in Tempe opened in August 2013, the group expanded to include musicians Evan Bisbee and Isaac Parker. They began putting on rock 'n' roll shows, jazz nights, and releasing music on cassette.

These twice-a-month jazz nights sparked the desire to showcase artwork. In January 2014, the group organized its first pop-up art show to coincide with their jazz showcase. One of the artists showcased then was Chris Czaja, who would soon become the curator of the collective. A painting and drawing student at ASU, Czaja began helping the collective find artists to showcase and eventually started organizing these exhibitions. Like much of the beginnings of The Paper Knife, it all happened organically.

While these art and music events continued to flourish throughout 2014, the group began to put out published work. The Paper Knife Volume I was co-released with Art Problems Press in March 2014, followed by a second volume in September. These now out-of-print unbound books came with everything from art prints, short stories, and even sheet music. Here, all of the eclecticism that is The Paper Knife comes together to coalesce.

The melding of different forms of creativity is what makes The Paper Knife special. Musicians and music-lovers get introduced to visual art, and vice-versa for artists and art appreciators. Young people get to tap into the creative world that can often be closed off to them. On top of that, they get to experience a culture that they may not have been exposed to yet. These events "got people excited about looking at drawings on a wall and listening to jazz," said Czaja. "You wouldn't think that you'd get a room full of young people dressed nicely to appreciate jazz."

The openness of this collective is something that our art scene needs. There's always an opportunity for new faces to become a part of it. As a collective, The Paper Knife is not exclusive to those in its circle. According to Inglis, "anyone can come to us with an idea and we'll do our best to help put it on." That's exactly how they have grown so much in the past year. Word of mouth from creative to creative has enabled this group to develop, and it will continue to do so.

Parliament's closure in August 2014 may have interrupted the gaining momentum of the group, but it's still going. Instead of having a dedicated space where they have the ability to do whatever they want, the collective now has to deal with a lot of the red tape that comes with putting on both music and art shows. But, that doesn't mean it's over. "Now that it's gone that doesn't mean the scene's dead," says Inglis, "the scene's very much alive, it's just kind of shifted."

The Paper Knife has been taking a short, well-deserved break. Several of the heads of the group are still in school, along with many of the artists they showcase. Going into 2015, however, the collective has big plans. They're currently in the process of organizing their first exhibition in Phoenix -- and it won't be just a quick pop-up in a dimly lit space. At Parliament, they were limited to showing mostly two-dimensional work, so Czaja is excited to bring other media into the collective.

Though the collective is named after the kind of knife you'd use to open an envelope, the idea came from Jean Paul Sartre, the 20th century existential philosopher. For Sartre, human existence precedes the essence of it, meaning that we determine our own essence, but the essence of an man-made object precedes its existence. A paper knife is made with a purpose in mind, to offer a solution. This collective was started with a purpose, too, and it's beginning to offer a solution for the Phoenix art scene.

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