Here’s looking at you Phoenix. This year’s been a doozy, but we found a lot to love about 2017 — especially when it came to the arts. From theater and dance to festivals and exhibitions, the Valley delivered a visual feast. These are the best things we saw in 2017.
Karen Fiorito’s Trump Billboard
By his own accounts, President Donald Trump is H-U-G-E. That’s certainly the case on Grand Avenue, where artist and historic preservationist Beatrice Moore commissioned a 40-foot-wide billboard bearing the image of Trump as a warmonger and moneygrubber. Located between 10th and 11th avenues, it’s the work of California artist Karen Fiorito, who reminds passersby of the power of diversity and resistance with the mural’s flip side, which features five hands with different skin tones using sign language to spell U-N-I-T-Y. Since going up in March, the billboard has been a powerful reminder that creativity is one hell of a coping mechanism. Lynn Trimble
“Tell Me Why, Tell Me Why, Tell Me Why (Why Can’t We Live Together?)”
Incensed and dejected by the political climate leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Lisa Sette did what she does best: She curated an art exhibition. The gallerist presented a full-to-the-brim show that reflected her heartache and horror at the news cycle. “Why Can’t We Live Together?” addressed Black Lives Matter, systemic racism, and police violence with Charlotte Potter’s two-in-one portrait of Michael Brown and the police officer who shot him to death, Sonya Clark’s shocking and shredded Confederate flag, and bejeweled handcuffs by Kambui Olujimi. The gallery’s inner sanctum invited literal self-reflection with Binh Danh’s Buddha daguerreotype and quieting thoughts at Carrie Marill’s altar. Becky Bartkowski
Through thoughtful movement choices executed with deep passion, artists drew audience members into their inner and outer struggles during Phoenix’s first BlakTina Festival. Phoenix dancer and choreographer Liliana Gomez worked with Licia Perea, who founded the BlakTina Festival in the Los Angeles area in 2013, to present the showcase, which took place on July 22 at Black Theatre Troupe’s performance space. The festival featured 10 works by mostly Arizona-based choreographers exploring the universal human experience and the complexities of life, punctuating the rich contributions that creatives of color make to the Phoenix arts landscape. Lynn Trimble
Mega Ran on WWE SmackDown
Among his many geeky pursuits, nerdcore star and Valley resident Mega Ran is a major wrestling fan. And when WWE brought its weekly SmackDown show to Talking Stick Resort Arena on July 4, he experienced the show from a unique vantage point: inside the ring. Mega Ran backed up three-man tag team The New Day as they faced off against The Usos in a rap battle. Ran’s appearance came via his friendship with The New Day’s Xavier Woods, who invited him beforehand. Despite being in the background, Mega Ran made the most of his screen time, including clowning around and helping make the battle a highlight of the show. He even got name-checked. Benjamin Leatherman
Artist Angela Ellsworth introduced Phoenicians to the wonders of contemplative walking in March, with an event called The Walk. It was the first large-scale contemplative walk presented by the Museum of Walking, which Ellsworth co-founded. The Walk brought people together, without cellphones, for a 90-minute exploration of the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area. It’s a former landfill, located along South Central Avenue, that’s been transformed into a riparian habitat complete with wildlife and lush vegetation. For jaded city types, it was a chance to embrace nature while honing the listening and observations skills that make city life more civil. Lynn Trimble
Hercules vs. Vampires
It’s not every day that a trip to the opera turns into a toga party. Arizona Opera kicked off its season with a performance of Patrick Morganelli’s Hercules vs. Vampires. The opera takes Mario Bava’s 1961 film Hercules in the Haunted World, strips out the original audio, and screens the movie synced with a live orchestra and singers performing Morganelli’s score. This take offered a mix of gravitas and goofy humor — perfect for a film starring Christopher Lee as a vampiric Greek king. Some operagoers even turned up in togas and laurels to hoot at Reg Park’s preposterously ripped Hercules. Ashley Naftule
Lost Lake Murals
They had us at music — and murals. When Lost Lake Festival organizers put together the lineup for the inaugural three-day event at Steele Indian School Park, they included live mural painting by nine artists with vastly different styles. Festival attendees had the opportunity to talk with the Phoenix artists, see how large-scale works come together, and snap selfies in front of vibrant backdrops. We loved the bold lines and colors, and attention to detail, in murals by Kyllan Maney, Jeff Slim, JB Snyder, and Lisa Von Hoffner. And the crowds, who gravitated toward their murals both day and night, clearly agreed. Lynn Trimble
“Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera”
On July 7, more than 3,000 people lined up outside the Heard Museum in sweltering 115-degree heat to celebrate the 110th birthday of everyone’s favorite unibrowed surrealist. The overwhelming response to this event prompted the museum to extend the “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera” exhibition’s sole North American stop until September. Displaying rarely seen works from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, including Rivera’s Sunflowers and Kahlo’s affecting depiction of her tragic miscarriage, this showcase gave Phoenix a rare look at the Mexican artists’ work. Jason Keil
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Light Rail Plays
For the fifth annual Light Rail Plays, Rising Youth Theatre presented its first Platform Tour, featuring eight five-minute works performed at Valley Metro light rail stations in Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe. The closing performance, held Sunday, December 10, at the Central and Roosevelt station in Roosevelt Row, was a poignant and playful nod toward shared humanity – complete with live music, movement, spoken word, and theater performed by professional artists and local youth. Co-curated by Xanthia Walker and Liliana Gomez, the tour affirmed creativity’s role in sustaining thriving civic spaces and conversations, and revealed the space’s potential as an ongoing performance platform. Lynn Trimble
Oceans of Light
For years, Scottsdale Arts has been transforming the Arizona Canal with light-based installations during Canal Convergence. This year, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art transformed an entire gallery space into Oceans of Light: Submergence. For most of May through June, the interactive LED light installation, which comprised more than 8,000 lights, was suspended from the ceiling in strands that patrons could walk through. Created by an international group of artists called Squidsoup, the installation turned perfectly mature art lovers into wide-eyed, childlike explorers. And it left us wondering – how many ceiling hooks would we need to try this at home? Lynn Trimble