100 Creatives

Ben Smith of Unexpected Art Gallery in Downtown Phoenix on the Joy of Collaboration

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 27. Ben Smith.

Ben Smith knows what he's good at and what he's horrible at. The 48-year-old Phoenician learned when he got his start working as an entrepreneur — then in tech, finance, advertising, and consulting.

Now, he's back in the entrepreneurial realm and working with several companies, including downtown Phoenix relative newcomer Unexpected Gallery. Located just off Grand Avenue, the space combines fine art with on-sale eclectic objects and has hosted art exhibitions, fashion shows, and boundary-defying culture events such as Francisco Flores' "Crystals and Lasers" show in July.

Smith's proper 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."

Unexpected is already undergoing a bit of a reinvention. Smith says they're in the process of building out photo, video, and recording studios.

Smith describes his work a weird combination of right- and left-brain thinking with a dose of daydreaming. He loves "what-ifs" and the feeling "when a team comes together and we can brainstorm a theme, recreate a product line, or develop a plan to do something no one has ever seen."

As one might imagine, that doesn't result in many days deemed average. Smith says he spends 70 percent of his waking hours immersed in projects and meetings. "I meet hundreds of amazing souls every week, and I love it," he says. 

I came to Phoenix many years back to get residency my senior year of high school so I could attend U of A.

I make art with words and deals. I deal in artisans, musicians, dancers, designers, and visionaries. Though I have no actual "art" skills, my ability and skills are my art.

I'm most productive when I have a bar of Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate and a problem to solve.

My inspiration wall is full of things from almost every single person I meet. I collect ideas and knowledge every day from every interaction.

I've learned most from listening. Sounds silly, but the less I talk, the more I learn.

Good work should always be a goal, but sometimes you just need to call it when a project goes south. No amount of work will make it fly!

The Phoenix creative scene could use more collaboration and exposure. Part of our mission at Unexpected is to create a connecting point for those who live to create and those who can capitalize it, as well as those who wish to experience it.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
54. Robert Hoekman Jr.
53. Joan Waters
52. Gabriela Muñoz
51. ColorOrgy
50. Liz Magura
49. Anita and Sam Means
48. Liz Ann Hewett
47. Tiffany Fairall
46. Vanessa Davidson
45. Michelle Dock
44. Nia Witherspoon
43. Monique Sandoval
42. Nayon Iovino
41. Daniel Davisson
40. Andrew King
39. Michelle Moyer
38. Jimmy Nguyen
37. Tiffany Lopez
36. Kristin Bauer
35. Donna Isaac
34. Douglas Miles
33. Sierra Joy
32. Francisco Flores
31. Amy Robinson
30. Julio Cesar Morales
29. Duane Daniels
28. Kelsey Pinckney
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski