Firmly Planted

After nearly three decades at the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Shelley Cohn departed for civilian life last year. During her stay — most of which was spent as the agency's executive director — she presided over the commission's arts programs, protecting us from a future with no ongoing arts education. Lately, Cohn has become obsessed with gardening, and that obsession has led to some art of her own: One of her low-tech planter boxes is on view in a group show at MADE art boutique.

Robrt L. Pela: We trusted you to keep the arts safe from harm, and you bolted!

Shelley Cohn: I was there for 29 years! And the arts are doing just fine.

Pela: I keep hearing you're a master gardener now. What's that?

Cohn: Well, I'm not a master. If you study to be a master gardener, you study every angle of gardening. I did the program at the Botanical Garden, the one devoted to desert landscaping. It's harder than you think, but I got certified.

Pela: What in the world for?

Cohn: To gain a healthy understanding of the things we need to know about living in the desert. Like pest control and use of utilities and water conservation to keep the ecological system thriving here. Now I collect plants like I used to collect art.

Pela: Everything I stick in the ground withers and dies. Give me a good gardening secret.

Cohn: I can't. But I can give you a good philosophy: Don't get overly attached to plants, because they die.

Pela: Are you going to open a nursery?

Cohn: No, no, no. In fact, I won't even be gardening for the next few weeks. I'm going to Iceland.

Pela: Iceland.

Cohn: I can't wait! I hear they have fabulous architecture, and contemporary art, and the landscape sounds so incredible. And anything with the word "ice" in its name sounds good at this point in the summer.

Pela: Meanwhile, you have a piece of your own on display in an art gallery.

Cohn: I am so embarrassed about this. I was one of the people invited to submit work for this show, and when I got the list of the other artists, they're all these fabulously talented people. And there's my name among them. But I'll be gone most of the time the show is up, so I'm going to try not to think about it.

"ROOTS," a show of artist-made planters featuring John Armstrong, Jeremy Briddell, Dora Hernandez, Laurie Lundquist, Carrie Marill, Steve Martino, Vynnie McDaniels, Matt Moore, Colin Redding, Rick Shindell, Jennifer Toolan, Sherrie Zeitlin — and Shelley Cohn — will be on display Friday, August 18, through September 16 at MADE art boutique, 922 North Fifth Street, 602-256-MADE (6233), with a Third Friday opening reception August 18 from 6 to 9 p.m.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela