Phoenix's Melrose District will have a new park early in 2018. It's called The Lyceum.
It will be located on what's currently an empty, 11,000-square-foot lot at the northwest corner of Seventh and Montecito avenues, according to Lyceum project manager Charley Jones.
The Lyceum was first conceived by Perry Allen, a Phoenix-based artist who uses public space as an art medium. “I’m thrilled,” Allen says of the park project. “This is just like a dream, and I can’t believe that it’s happening.”
The park is a joint project for the Community Alliance of Seventh Avenue, the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, and Clear Channel Outdoor, an international company specializing in outdoor advertising.
The Community Alliance of Seventh Avenue, which also goes by CASA, is a nonprofit organization founded in 2013 to promote neighborhood revitalization in the Melrose District, which runs along Seventh Avenue between Camelback and Indian School roads. Jones serves as president of the CASA board of directors.
A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday, December 12, and construction will begin on Monday, December 18. The park is slated for completion by the end of February 2018.
The Lyceum will have a small stage, seating, lighting, and bike racks. Landscaping will include low-water trees and plants. Jones says the stage is meant to encourage spontaneous performances by community members, whether playing guitar or reading poetry.
Its name comes from the Lyceum movement of the mid-19th century, which created public spaces for speeches, civic discourse, and entertainment. Its best-known proponents include Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Allen says he got the idea for launching a lyceum in Phoenix during fall 2013. He’d just completed an artist residency at Whiskeytown, a national recreation center north of Sacramento, California. At the time, he was focused on filmmaking.
“I became inspired to use space as a medium rather than working with film,” Allen says. “I wanted to work with land and bodies.” After the residency, Allen returned to the Melrose neighborhood he calls home.
“I saw the disparity of class in Melrose and around it,” Allen says. And he had a lightbulb moment. “We need to do something here to bring all the social groups together, so there’s a public place that’s for all the people,” he recalls thinking at the time.
Allen drafted a proposal for turning the dirt lot into a civic space called The Lyceum, and he started sharing the idea with others. He even created a mock-up design and shared it with Pam Pawlowski, who chaired a local neighborhood association at the time. She introduced Allen to Jones.
In 2014, CASA adopted The Lyceum Project. Jones took the lead, working with the city of Phoenix and Clear Channel Outdoor, which has a billboard at the site.
CASA selected Denver-based Norris Design, which has a Phoenix office, to design and create the park, Jones says. Norris Design chose Harvest Design Group to do the construction. Creating The Lyceum will cost about $80,000 to $85,000, Jones says.
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For Allen, the central focus is what happens in the park.
He’s got some experience that may come in handy. In 2015, he created a pop-up experience called The Lyceum on a dirt lot located at First and McKinley streets. He set up a small seating area and stage on February’s First Friday, then invited several performers to share their work.
That night’s lineup included Leah Marché of Black Poet Ventures, dancer Liliana Gomez, and Jake Friedman of Four Chambers Press, to name a few. For the new park, the focus will be on unplanned activities generated by community members, Allen says.
“I hope the spontaneous birth of expression takes place there,” Allen says. “I’m just so excited to see what people make with the space.”