A cacophony of construction noise confronts weekday visitors to Park Central, where developers are working with Artlink to build a thriving hub of creativity. Back in 1957, this was Phoenix’s first shopping mall. Today, it’s undergoing renovations after languishing for more than a decade.
There’s a building at the back of the site where Artlink has had space for about a year now, according to Catrina Kahler, the group’s CEO. It’s next to the cavernous space where the nonprofit organization held a juried exhibition in late January.
The group pays just $1 a year to lease space at Park Central, says Sharon Harper, the CEO of Plaza Companies. Her company purchased Park Central with the Holualoa Companies in 2017. It turned to Artlink for help in bringing more arts and culture to the site.
Harper hopes that art will help to rejuvenate the midcentury expanse. To that end, its new owners are providing Artlink with space that’s “valued in the millions.”
The partnership clearly benefits Artlink. But how will it help local artists?
Kahler sees that happening in several ways.
They’ve actually got 3,800 square feet of space inside the Geare building at Park Central, which is more than they need for Artlink’s staff of five. The space also houses a group focused on fashion as art. “We’ve been broadening our scope to include more than visual arts,” Kahler says.
It will also provide new exhibition opportunities for artists with its gallery called The Mood Room. It’s managed by Grant Vetter, who joined Artlink as the curatorial programs director last year after leaving a similar position at ASU.
The space opens in March, and more exhibits are in the works. “We’ll do a new exhibit every season, starting this summer,” Vetter says. “We’ll be choosing artists through open calls for art.”
Park Central has several additional art elements. It’s designated an outdoor area as a performance space, commissioned the first of several planned murals, and reinstalled an iconic sculpture called The Sun Worshipper.
Harper expects Artlink to activate additional Park Central spaces over time.
“Several of the former stores had basements, but we never planned to do anything with them,” Harper says. Kahler hopes to hold their 2021 juried exhibition in an 18,000-square-foot basement on the south side of the complex near Kobalt.
Kahler also hopes their Park Central presence will help to boost the area’s arts ecosystem, which includes established spaces such as Lisa Sette Gallery. “We’re thinking about how Artlink can be a catalyst for the midtown arts scene by connecting assets that are already in place,” Kahler says.
For now, Artlink’s main focus is preparing for its annual Art Detour event in March, which will launch with a gala and group exhibition at Park Central. After that, they’ll start what Kahler calls the “next phase.”
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“We’ll be convening meetings and surveying people about what they want to see happen,” she says. “It’s part of a planning process funded by a $55,000 grant we got last year from the Flinn and Piper foundations.”
“We know a lot, but we’re not going to presume what the community needs,” Kahler says. “We’re going to dialogue with groups about where arts and culture are today, and what it needs to move forward.”
Artlink’s mission remains connecting businesses, artists, and the community. “We’re out there making the case for the value of arts and culture,” Kahler says. “Elevating the arts scene helps all artists.”
Ultimately, it will be up to artists to assess whether Artlink’s partnership with Park Central is making a difference in their lives — or just adding more background noise.