The Best Things We Saw in 2019 | Phoenix New Times

The Best Things We Saw on the Metro Phoenix Arts Scene in 2019

Here's out top ten list for metro Phoenix arts and culture.
Throwback to Douglas Miles' installation for "Everyday Sacred."
Throwback to Douglas Miles' installation for "Everyday Sacred." Modified Arts
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The arts landscape offered some intriguing views in 2019, as visual and performance artists created diverse works that often served as mirrors for the metro Phoenix community. Some of the best things we saw tackled issues of a social, political, or cultural nature — including women’s rights, gun violence, and gentrification. Others brought together local creatives and community members, giving them ways to work together on improving shared spaces. Here’s a look back at the 10 best things we saw in arts and culture during 2019, listed in the order they occurred.

Douglas Miles Installation

Modified Arts

Figures of historical and contemporary Native Americans looked out over a strip of Roosevelt Street from March 15 to April 13, as if surveying both changes wrought by a long history of colonization and more recent developments assailed as gentrification. Douglas Miles created the mixed-media installation across the gallery windows at Modified Arts using text, including the names of Chiricahua Apache leaders, images of his family members, and the Apache leader Geronimo. Miles’ installation was part of his “Everyday Sacred” exhibit, which featured photos of everyday life that were meant to counter the objectification and marginalization of Native people both present and past.

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Transforming the Oak Street Alley through mural art.
Lynn Trimble

Oak Street Alley Mural Festival

Coronado Neighborhood

Creatives and community members converged on an alley in the Coronado neighborhood for the Oak Street Alley Mural Festival near Oak and 14th streets. Held on March 16, the free family-friendly event featured live mural painting and music, plus food, workshops, and children’s activities. The festival gave people a chance to meet and talk with some of the city’s best-known muralists and street artists while embracing the power of art to transform public spaces. The murals provided an outdoor gallery that neighbors and visitors can enjoy anytime. The alley serves as a powerful reminder that some of the city’s best art experiences happen outside of mainstream art venues. It also highlights the collaborative nature of the local arts scene and the incredible diversity of the artists in our midst.

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Nyla Lee's chalk work in progress along Grand Avenue.
Lynn Trimble

Grand Ave Chalk Art Festival

Grand Avenue Arts District

A strip of Grand Avenue hailed as the Grand Avenue Arts District became a giant canvas on June 21. That’s when some of the city’s best-loved artists gathered to create chalk art that reflected their unique styles. Janel Garza drew a geometric piece that channeled her 2018 Environ mural for Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Kyllan Maney designed a giant mandala, then installed it upright so community members could help fill in the outline with glow-in-the-dark chalk. Nearby, children made chalk drawings in a courtyard area, inspired by the artists to create their own works of art. The festival showcased the spirit of spontaneity and wonder that’s essential to building and sustaining a thriving arts scene.

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Daniel Funkhouser's Radiant Grove at Burton Barr Central Library.
Lynn Trimble

IN FLUX Public Art

Burton Barr Central Library

Giant beaded animals and a trio of fluorescent trees took root at Burton Barr Central Library in April, as part of cycle 8 for a multi-community public art project called IN FLUX. Christy Puetz created Curious Creatures, a group of whimsical white beings installed near the entrance to the first-floor children’s area. Daniel Funkhouser created Radiant Grove, a set of three large trees made with multicolor laser-cut acrylic. They’re installed on the second floor of the library, where the light streams through the windows to make them especially vibrant and engaging. Together, these offbeat sculptures deliver a sense of discovery and joy.

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Checking out the central portion of Maggie Keane's Prince mural.
Lynn Trimble

Prince Mural

Grand Avenue Arts District

After learning the musician Prince had died, artist Maggie Keane decided she had to paint a mural in his honor. That’s just what she did, starting in late April and doing the official reveal in early July. Keane transformed a building wall at a busy intersection into a purple collage of iconic Prince images measuring 18 feet high and 47 feet wide. Keane’s Prince mural is located at a three-way intersection connecting Grand Avenue with Roosevelt Street and 15th Avenue, where it signals to passersby the fact that they’re in one of the city’s most vibrant creative neighborhoods. Keane’s central Prince image features sunglasses created using two round 36-inch mirrors that reflect the streetscape back to those who come to marvel at the towering tribute.

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Throwback to the Circa Survive concert at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum.
Lynn Trimble

Circa Survive

Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum

A gallery space inside Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum was transformed into a casual concert venue on July 27. That’s when Circa Survive, a Philadelphia rock band fronted by Anthony Green, gave a free pop-up concert while on their way to perform a full set at the Disrupt Festival. The gallery hummed with excited fans, who’d also come to see a solo exhibition featuring Esao Andrews, the Los Angeles artist with Mesa roots who does album art for the group. The gallery lost power as the performance was getting underway, but the band played on as fans bathed the musicians in light from their cellphones. The event highlighted collaboration across artistic disciplines and the ways museums are adapting to shifts in how people want to experience music and art.

Getting a good look at The Revolution (Relaunch).
Rosemarie Dombrowski

The Revolution (Relaunch)


Independence Day marked the launch of a literary publication called The Revolution (Relaunch), which explores social justice issues with a historical and contemporary lens. It was founded by Phoenix poet laureate Rosemarie Dombrowski, who drew inspiration from The Revolution newspaper once published by women’s rights activists Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Dombrowski gathered a group of creatives to help edit the publication, which is now published regularly both in print and online. They publish several genres, from creative nonfiction to opinion pieces, and anyone can submit work for consideration. The grassroots publication signals the need for ongoing dialogue and activism in the face of social injustices. Most importantly, it balances the value of finding and sharing one’s voice with the importance of seeking out and listening to divergent voices in the community.

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Exploring David Bessent's work at Gallery 119.
Lynn Trimble

David Bessent Exhibit

Gallery 119

After emerging artists Zachary Walter and David Bessent were murdered in October 2018, the community found creative ways to honor their memory, from a sidewalk chalk mural to a formal gallery exhibition. Gallery 119 opened a solo exhibition called “A Celebration of the Life and Work of David Bessent” on September 20. Before his death, Bessent spent a year creating a significant body of work that included more than two dozen large-scale abstract paintings. The exhibit included those paintings, as well as hundreds of sketches, small paintings, and writings Bessent kept in various notebooks and journals. For those who gathered that night, it was both a profound tribute and a beautiful way of channeling collective grief.

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Scene from Dutchman, directed by Ralph Remington,
Tempe Center for the Arts


Tempe Center for the Arts

Coupled with the rapid-fire flash of images capturing the violence of racism past and present, the set pieces referencing lynching created a visceral context for Dutchman, which imagines a black man’s chilling encounter with a white woman on a New York City subway. Nuanced performances heightened the impact of playwright LeRoi Jones’ (a.k.a. Amiri Baraka) work, which explores the suppressed rage of blacks against the dominant white culture. With this production, director Ralph Remington put racism front and center, challenging the community to create dialogues about its present-day manifestations.

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Cascade performance during Canal Convergence.
Andrew Pielage


Scottsdale Waterfront

People crowded around a central point on the Marshall Way Bridge during Canal Convergence on Saturday, November 16, in anticipation of a dance performance geared for audience members of all ages. Cascade playfully explored the importance of water. Nicole Olson choreographed the piece, then joined five additional dancers in giving it life along the Arizona Canal. With a glowing backdrop channeling crisp blue water, and clear umbrellas that reflected the surrounding lights, they filled the space with energy and movement. The performance made for a magical evening under the stars, shared by community members connected by their love for art.
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