The biggest cultural moments in Phoenix in 2023: Dbacks, Metrocenter, Barbie | Phoenix New Times
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The biggest cultural moments in Phoenix in 2023

Barbie mania, more death knells for Phoenix malls and a World Series run.
The Super Bowl took over the Valley in February.
The Super Bowl took over the Valley in February. Benjamin Leatherman
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Another year is behind us, and we’ve got plenty of things to look back at. In 2023, plenty of things happened in the culture of Phoenix, from nationwide trends showing up in town to marquee sporting events and some fond farewells.

Here are some of the biggest cultural moments in Phoenix in 2023.

The big game

Winter in the Valley, which always includes the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction, the WM Phoenix Open golf tournament and Cactus League spring training, is invariably an exciting time for us residents. Add the Super Bowl in on top of it, and you’ve got a recipe for fun and chaos, which is exactly what we got in February.

Anticipation about hosting the Super Bowl had been building for months by the time the circus came to town (and we’re talking about the thousands of visitors and the media frenzy, not just the Shaq’s Fun House carnival-themed party). And the weeklong festivities didn’t disappoint. In every corner of the Valley, there were parties, concerts and festivals attended by everyone from A- to Z-list celebrities and football fans from across the country. We know it’ll be several years before Phoenix gets to host another Super Bowl, but honestly, we can’t wait.

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Geoffrey Pixley, Orlando Barrera and Tommy Shorr don their D-backs luchador masks at a World Series watch party outside Chase Field.
Aaron Soto

Let’s go, D-backs

And speaking of championships, our Arizona Diamondbacks nearly brought one home to us this year. The ride from the wild card race to Game 5 of the World Series was a wild one indeed, and one that few fans saw coming. But Arizona sports fans love a good playoff run, and we jumped in with both feet to root, root, root for the home team. Though the D-backs didn’t pull it off, the fan base seemed unusually serene and gracious about loss, like we knew that in this case, just to get this far was a gift.

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This is Tito Muñoz's last season as conductor of the Phoenix Symphony.
The Phoenix Symphony

Final seasons

The 2023-24 performance season represents a curtain call for two longtime Phoenix arts professionals. In March, the Phoenix Symphony announced that Tito Munoz, the Virginia G. Piper Musical Director, would complete his 10th and final season on Aug. 31, 2024, after which he would transition into the newly created role of Artistic Partner for the next two years. His 10-season tenure has been one of the longest in the symphony’s history. In April, more news came: After 24 years with the company, Ballet Arizona Artistic Director Ib Andersen will depart on June 30, 2024. His title thereafter will be Artistic Director Emeritus. Nationwide searches for Munoz’s and Andersen’s replacements are underway, but the artistic legacy left by both men will continue to resonate in the cultural life of the city.

Latino cultural center incoming

It’s surprising and frankly, disappointing that a city the size of Phoenix, with its significant Latino population, doesn’t already have a permanent space for the Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center. But after voters approved a $500 million bond package in November that, along with money for police and fire departments, public parks, street maintenance and the like, includes almost $22 million for a Latino cultural center, it looks like one is on the horizon. No timeline has been announced for the project, but in our opinion, really soon isn’t soon enough.

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Sweet Dee's Bakeshop in Scottsdale was just one of many local businesses that took part in the "Barbie" craze.
Sweet Dee's Bakeshop

Barbie mania

For a few weeks in July, it seemed like the whole country turned pink. Before “Barbie” even hit theaters, a flood of movie-themed events took over the Valley. There were roller-skating events and drag brunches, dance nights and pool parties. When the flick finally debuted, theaters put Barbie boxes in the lobby and hosted special screenings. The initial furor may have subsided, but with a blockbuster exhibition about the doll coming to Phoenix Art Museum in February, and the Barbie Beach House attraction opening in the Mattel Adventure Park in Glendale … sometime next year, we’ll be thinking pink for a long time to come.
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Metrocenter was just one beloved mall that met the wrecking ball this year.
Stacy Piotti

End of a (shopping) era

Ask a group of Phoenicians of a certain age about their childhood mall, and you’ll soon be buried in an avalanche of adolescent nostalgia. The mall was a major cultural touchpoint in the late 20th century, and generations of locals grew up at places like Metrocenter and Fiesta Mall, two shopping centers that finally saw their demise this year. Metrocenter closed in 2020 and was the site of more than one enormous goodbye celebration, but demolition began this spring so the grande dame of West Valley retail could make way for a mixed-use development. Fiesta Mall in Mesa shut down all the way back in 2018, but it too faced the wrecking ball this summer. Sometimes, progress is bittersweet.
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