Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch, Chow Bella, and Up on the Sun will profile the legends. Up today: Kimber Lanning, who is receiving the award for Urban Vision.
Kimber Lanning has always looked at Phoenix through rose-colored glasses. And that is a very good thing. From her earliest days as a record store owner, Lanning wanted more for this place, looking to the urban core while others focused on strip malls and little pink houses stretching past the city's limits.
But that doesn't mean Lanning hasn't stretched -- particularly when it comes to bringing her urban vision into sharp focus. In her early 20s, she says, she got sick of driving to LA to see her favorite bands. So she decided to figure out how to get them to come here.
"So many people were leaving and they were all saying this place has no culture, this place has no soul," she says.
But she liked it here. She stayed. Today, Lanning runs three businesses: Stinkweeds, an indie record store in central Phoenix; Modified Arts , a gallery space on Roosevelt Row; and Local First Arizona, a non-profit that aims to empower independent local businesses in myriad ways.
Lanning's an extraordinary multi-tasker. She began Modified Arts as not just a gallery but also a small music and performance space that encouraged indie bands to stop in Phoenix instead of bypassing us for Tucson or other more obvious spots. Modified hosted bands like Arcade Fire before they were huge; Lanning has a knack for spotting talent early. Ditto for her visual art space, which serves as an incubator of sorts for emerging artists. (Modified no longer hosts music.)
And speaking of space, the multi-tasking took on a whole new meaning last year when Lanning turned Modified Arts' physical space into Local First Arizona's office. She bought tables and computers that are easily stored on weekends to bring Modified back to its original gallery space. On a recent Wednesday morning, a handful of Local First Arizona staffers kept busy at keyboards in the main gallery space, surrounded by -- among other things -- a display of bras and panties hung from the ceiling, part of a show by Chelsea Pace called "Asking for It: The Consent Project."
Talk about adaptive reuse.
Lanning's out of the box approach extends beyond her own walls, to City Hall and the Arizona legislature, where she's lobbied effectively for measures and laws designed to make it less onerous to run an independent business. Today Local First Arizona is the largest local business coalition in the country, with 2,450 members, three offices (the Modified space is one) and 13 employees. Lanning and her members have championed urban "inflll" -- whether it's taken the form of adaptive reuse of old buildings or growing crops in the middle of town. The farming is popular with younger people, Lanning says, adding that other areas -- like procurement reform -- are not taking off the way she'd hoped.
And while more people are creating art, she sees fewer willing to offer up the infrastructure necessary to support a vibrant scene.
"I'm seeing the energy around a willingness to share and perform. But the arts don't function unless you have the grunt labor."
Don't get her wrong, Lanning's proud of the work that's been done. But there's so much more. "I want a city that is very diverse, very celebratory of arts and culture," she says. "I want a city that has a lot of community pride."
On the "to do" list: affordable housing for all, quality public transit, and socio-economic diversity "in every sense." Lanning wants people outside Phoenix to stop thinking of the city only as a leisure destination, all golf courses and spas, and start seeing it as the city she grew up alongside.
"It's a tall order," she admits.
If anyone can make it happen, it's Kimber Lanning.
Artopia will take place from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, April 25, at Bentley Projects in downtown Phoenix. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 the day of the event. See more at www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bigbrainawards.
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