Artists Reflect on Changes in the Phoenix Art Scene in monOrchid's 25 Years Downtown

With the numerous galleries that now populate both Grand Avenue and Roosevelt Row (not to mention the staggering crowds that flock downtown each month for First Friday), it's sometimes hard to imagine the Phoenix art scene of times past. For those of us who have been here over the years, taking a moment to reflect on what has changed (and what has not) can be sort of a terrifying prospect.

But in monOrchid's latest exhibition 25 Years Downtown, curator Justin Germain invited 100 local artists to do just that.

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Sixty of those 100 took him up on the offer, submitting pieces of artwork along with written reflections of personal experiences with downtown Phoenix over the past quarter century. And this is one big nostalgia party you will not want to miss.

The artists showcased in 25 Years Downtown come from a wide range of disciplines and levels of experience. "The show grew organically," says curator Justin Germain. "We first identified specific artists that had a major impact on the Phoenix arts scene and invited them. We asked them to suggest others, and then did the same with those suggested."

The artwork alone (of both veterans and newcomers) makes the show a must-see. But it's the written reflections of the artists that take it to the next level.

Many artists ruminate wistfully on the grittier downtown Phoenix where they began their careers, but others express gratitude for the growth that has taken place and the opportunities that came with it. Still, as Germain notes, "it is also apparent that many of the artists feel the same way we do. This is an art community that is vibrant and active but lacks the local support to keep them working here, and it is hard to make a living as an artist just focused on Phoenix."

25 Years Downtown is clearly designed as an informal retrospective of the Phoenix art scene, but it is also intended to make us think about what's next. Seeing just how far we've come over the years becomes an impetus for continuing the development of the downtown arts community and offering increased support to allow artists to really thrive here.

For Germain that means breaking away from the First and Third Friday mentality: "Friday should be the night that everyone knows downtown is open for business. Then we can eventually get back to Saturday hours and hopefully even full time. The key is activating the spaces and getting the word out."

In this way, 25 Years Downtown is not only a survey of the past 25 years, but an inspiration for the next 25.

"We need to work together as a community to make downtown a destination for art lovers, art enthusiasts, art aficionados, and of course anyone interested in experiencing the culture of our city."

25 Years Downtown will be on view at MonOrchid through the end of the month. The gallery will be open Fridays (March 22 and 29) from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.. For more info on the exhibit, visit MonOrchid's current exhibitions page.

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Katrina Montgomery