The Phoenix artist is one of more than 50 creatives participating in a temporary art project called "Roadside Attraction," which is giving artists new ways to make and share work while most art venues are taking a pandemic pause.
Sannit conceived of Roadside Attraction after learning of artists making similar adaptations to COVID-19 shutdowns in other cities, then worked with fellow creatives Chris Jagmin, Lisa Olson, and Lani Hudson to bring the idea to life here in the Valley.
Organizers put out a call for artists in early June, inviting them to participate by showing new or existing works in spaces where people could enjoy them while walking, cycling, or driving. Several established artists, including many with significant experience in creating public art, responded to the call.
Laura Spalding Best, a Phoenix artist who painted landscapes on decommissioned traffic signs to create a field mural that’s currently on view near Tempe Town Lake, used wooden pallets and signs to make a temporary fence mural in the Garfield neighborhood.
giant white rabbit sculpture in Old Town Scottsdale sported a yellow mask during early pandemic days, created a new metal sculpture called Everyman. “This piece is an homage to everyday people who are the front line workers, not just during these trying times, but always, every day,” Nelson says.
Most "Roadside Attraction" installations are located in Phoenix, but the project also includes pieces in Tempe, Scottsdale, Mesa, and Gilbert. There’s a map showing "Roadside Attraction" sites on the Practical Art website.
Of course, there are other outdoor art offerings around the Valley, including murals, works of public art along the Valley Metro light rail line, and self-guided art tours in downtown Chandler, Mesa, and Tempe.
The project launched on June 26 and continues through July 26. Some installations will be on view the entire time, whereas others will happen on select dates. Most take place between dawn and dusk, although there are exceptions.
"Roadside Attraction" is well-timed given that the downtown Phoenix arts scene is in a state of flux. The arts ecosystem has shifted in recent years, as new developments have meant closures for some galleries and moves for others — including Five15 Arts and Eye Lounge.
Art venues began temporarily closing due to COVID-19 in mid-March, just as the annual multiday Art Detour event organized by Artlink was set to open. Most venues opted to close rather than participate, then remained closed during what would have been subsequent First and Third Friday art walks.
By the time "Roadside Attraction" premiered in late June, Arizona had joined the ranks of states with severe COVID-19 outbreaks. There’s additional context for the project, including recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
Given facts on the ground, it’s no surprise that several "Roadside Attraction" artists made work with a political twist.
Phoenix artist Ann Morton created a special edition of her "Proofreading" series comprising pristine white textiles embroidered in red and blue with edited Donald Trump quotes. The vinyl version created for "Roadside Attraction" riffs on Trump’s COVID-19 prediction: “It’s like a miracle. One day it will just disappear.” Morton uses a proofreading mark to indicate that the word “it” should read “I” instead.
Malena Barnhart wrote the word “CREEP” in large letters at the center of a sign that references perpetrators of sexual assault. “Over the course of the exhibition, I’ll be adding stickers until the large orange text is hopefully obscured,” she says.
Another artist, Denise Yaghmourian, is using stickers reading “Just Fucking Vote” to build excitement on social media for her voting-themed installation.
Monica Aissa Martinez saw the call for art while adjusting to new technology for teaching college art classes online, then wrote a blog post about how the project spurred her to go beyond her comfort zone by painting a swarm of bees on a perimeter wall around her home.
Morgan McQuillan, an artist who transformed her front yard into an exhibition space for her own paintings, credits the project with re-sparking her creative energy and helping her connect with neighbors who see the work. “My husband is a musician and we are playing music along with a simple video after dusk,” McQuillan says.