New Creative Spaces Are Helping Historic Grand Avenue District Thrive

Checking out one of Beatrice Moore's cake sculptures on Grand Avenue.
Checking out one of Beatrice Moore's cake sculptures on Grand Avenue. Lynn Trimble
Creative types converged on a funky art space called Weird Garden Friday night, eager to see an eclectic mix of piñata-style artworks made by artists and community members. Beatrice Moore, a longtime staple of the downtown arts scene, stood washing her hands over a large sink, as people milled through the space, exploring piñatas shaped like everything from roof rats to Donald Trump.

It was March Third Friday, and people were out making the gallery rounds along a strip of Grand Avenue that runs between Seventh and 15th avenues. Years ago, art spaces dotted the diagonal street that's renowned for having a quirky vibe. Today, new art spaces are opening with regularity, and Grand Avenue is hitting a sweet spot.

Several new businesses have opened along Grand Avenue in recent months, and other creative projects are in the works. In some cases, artists are giving existing spaces an intriguing refresh. And it’s having a visible effect, including more foot traffic during First and Third Friday art walks.

click to enlarge Checking out the Mutant Piñata Show at Weird Garden. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Checking out the Mutant Piñata Show at Weird Garden.
Lynn Trimble
The biggest project is already underway, on West Roosevelt Street, just off Grand and North 15th avenues. That’s where a former National Guard armory has been transformed into creative work spaces, and plans for a new artist live/work development are taking shape.

The McKinley Club moved to Grand Avenue last year, and it’s gearing up for a grand opening celebration with supporters in late March. The co-working space, located next to Unexpected Art Gallery, houses more than two dozen creatives from individual entrepreneurs to nonprofits. "We love the synergy of having all these creative people together in one space," says co-owner Celine Rille.

But smaller projects are happening, as well.

Mike Butzine and Michelle Meyer opened a neon shop called Snood City, situated inside the same red brick building that’s home to Eleventh Monk3y Industries, which sits under a giant anti-Trump billboard created by California artist Karen Fiorito.

click to enlarge Pouring over images at Phoenix Film Revival. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Pouring over images at Phoenix Film Revival.
Lynn Trimble
Phoenix Film Revival opened late last year, in the back portion of a building called La Melgosa. The community darkroom lab, where First and Third Friday crowds often flow into a back courtyard, also hosts workshop and shows photography-based art exhibits. The mint-colored building is also home to art studios for Jeff Slim and Yuko Yabuki, and a yoga shop. "It's been pretty awesome being on Grand Avenue," says Daniel Iannaccone, who opened Phoenix Film Revival during the Grand Avenue Festival in November 2018.

The historic Bragg’s Pie Factory building has seen a fresh influx of new activity as well. Bud’s Glass Shop opened its second location inside the building this year. It’s a retail and arts exhibition space, showcasing works by artists who use glass and other media. Artists Bill Dambrova and Amanda Adkins launched Cobra Flute Projects inside Goat Heart Studio, where they’re presenting small exhibitions featuring their own works and those of other artists.

In some cases, the new spaces share the vintage vibe that already infuses the Grand Avenue creative scene. El Charro Hipster Bar & Cafe had artists paint vintage chairs for all its tables, and the Red Blush Boutique displays contemporary clothing with vintage-inspired decor.

They’re just the latest additions to an already creative enclave.

The creative landscape also includes several food, music, and retail venues – from Barrio Café Gran Reserva to Grand Avenue Records. And more new spaces are coming, including the latest plant-based business for Michael Lanier, who plans to create a shop with exotic plants and room for casual conversations over wine or beer, if he gets the go-ahead from the city to serve alcohol.

click to enlarge Tara Sharpe and Eric Cox painted this mural on Polk Street near Grand Avenue. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Tara Sharpe and Eric Cox painted this mural on Polk Street near Grand Avenue.
Lynn Trimble
The mural scene is burgeoning along Grand Avenue, as well. El Mac painted a small boy’s profile on the roll-up door for Hector Ruiz’s artist studio several years ago, and there’s a popular immigration-themed mural on Grand Avenue, as well. Laura Spalding Best’s mural of part-real, part-imagined Phoenix landscapes graces two sides of the Desert Sun Credit Union building.

There’s also a long list of artists who’ve painted murals in and around Grand Avenue during the last year or so. Doug Bale painted a giant head on the side of Trans Am PHX. Tato Caraveo painted a chef holding a giant plate of cookies inside Cookie Brokers. And Tara Sharpe and Eric Cox did a collaborative mural during the Phoenix Mural Festival.

It’s all part of an expanding creative scene, where new faces are bringing fresh life to the diagonal street with its own funky vibe. "Things are really starting to pick up along Grand Avenue," says Iannaccone. "This is where a lot of creative people are coming these days."
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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble