Greg Esser on the State of the Arts in Metro Phoenix

When Jackalope Ranch issued a 10-question survey asking Phoenicians (and anyone with an opinion of Phoenix) to sound of on the state of the arts in the Valley of the Sun, dozens provided insights on what's happening in the city's creative realm. We'll present a selection of survey responses here over the next three weeks. Up today is artist Greg Esser of ASU and Roosevelt Row CDC.

What are three words that describe the arts in Arizona? diverse, inclusionary, participatory

See also: Rashaad Thomas on the State of the Arts in Metro Phoenix

Describe your role in the Arizona arts scene (including "observer" -- a very important role!) and how it came to be. Artist. As an artist, a significant element of my work is context, creating opportunities for other creatives. In that role, I've served as director of the Phoenix public art program, founded Roosevelt Row CDC and established artist-run spaces including eye lounge, 515 and MADE art boutique. I currently run the ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program (and the Desert Initiative) which brings diverse artists from around the world to live and work in downtown Phoenix and to engage with the vast potential within ASU, the largest Research I university in the country.

Who is making the biggest impact on metro Phoenix's art scene and how are they doing that? Arizona has incredible leadership in the arts including ASU's Dean Steven Tepper, Bob Booker and Roberto Bedoya among many, many others...these three all happen to be on Barry's 2014 list of the 50 most influential leaders in the non-profit arts sector. And even though he is not in Phoenix, a special shout out needs to go to artist and Arizona State Senator Steve Farley for bringing his vision and creativity to the most pressing issues in our state.

Where has metro Phoenix made the biggest strides in the arts in the last 10 years or so? Elevating the profile of the arts and the role of individual artists...bringing the arts more broadly into other arenas including public policy, job growth and transforms lives and intersections with other disciplines are creating new possibilities...

What are Arizona's most underused arts resources? Our individual artists, the bottom of the food chain upon which so much of our creative economy depends...

How can artists and institutions better connect with audiences? Institutions still suffer from perceptual barriers. Bringing art into unexpected places can cultivate more awareness of the arts resources here in Phoenix. We need concentrated and sustained strategies to grow new audiences through direct participation and experience with the arts. And see answer below.

What are the biggest roadblocks in metro Phoenix's art scene and how can we get past them? We woefully underfund the arts at every level of education in spite of resounding evidence of its widespread benefits and impact including increased retention and enhanced academic performance across all disciplines. We have a dearth of critical writing about the arts (present company excepted, of course!), a dearth of direct financial support to individual artists and a dearth in local philanthropy investing in the arts. 5 Arts Circle established by Howard Hirsch is a notable exception and is a powerful example of the tremendous impact that a small group giving small amounts of funding together can have in supporting the arts.

Metro Phoenix's art scene needs to be at least on par in cultural ranking with our population size. The fifth (or sixth) largest city in the United States should be (at least) the fifth (or sixth) best cultural destination.

What can metro Phoenix's art scene learn from other parts of the state -- and country? We will thrive if we continue to invest and invest much more in our own individual artists. Artists are the drivers of creative placemaking and at the center of building healthier and more vibrant communities across Arizona.

In three years, what three words do you hope describe the state of the arts in Arizona? diverse, inclusionary, participatory

See also: Kara Roschi on the State of the Arts in Metro Phoenix Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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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