Scottsdale Civic Center Mall

Talk about a cheap high at taxpayers' expense — thankfully. On a spring afternoon, dozens of people are picnicking, frolicking, reading, text-messaging, and simply lying on the lush, green grass supplied to citizens by the City of Scottsdale. This is no mesa (no Mesa, either), but instead, a lovely oasis of gentle slopes, inviting shade trees, and the constant sweet splash of a big fountain not far away. Business types in ties and high heels are not immune from the charms of this space, and kids . . .  well, forget it. They never seem to want to leave, particularly when the splash fountain's going. Go figure.

From Red Hot Robot on Camelback to Practical Arts around the corner on Central, this corner is a hot bed of indie action. Anchored by Kimber Lanning's infamous Stinkweeds records, you can find everything from funky lighting to cool comics on this corner, and even get yourself a piercing at Halo and a Dilly Bar at one of the last old Dairy Queens.

We love the mix of old and new, and the fact that light rail will someday take us right to this little urban mecca.

The downtown art space confusingly called .anti_space is one of our favorite destinations on First Fridays and the occasional Third Friday. The squat concrete structure, which encompasses a large portion of the city block it rests upon, is a carnival-like cluster of cool. Not only does it have a wacked-out, test-pattern-style rainbow color scheme (guaranteed to sear your eyes), there always seems to be some interesting or artistic action going down on the property. During one visit, Andrea Beasley-Brown (a.k.a. the Midnite Movie Mamacita) was screening trailers for schlocky '70s horror films on a bedsheet screen while the Arizona Derby Dames sold baked goods, and people attempted to walk a foot-high steel-cable tightrope.

On other months, we've seen residents ride modified bikes in unison in front of the joint, thrill at the high-flying antics of aerialist Matti Baine, or rock out to local bands performing on the sidewalk. Oh, yeah, and a half-dozen galleries and boutiques are housed within .anti_space's walls, including CB*AG, Waldoism, and Fabriculture.

There's a chance that .anti_space might close by the end of the year. Then again, it's very possible that the complex could remain open well into 2009 or beyond. What's the deal? Well, it seems as though the property owner has designs on razing the building and erecting condos or something similarly gaudy. But because of the sagging real estate market, such plans are on hold, and the folks behind .anti_space can remain.

Three cheers for the recession!

Roosevelt Row CDC

There was a lot of hand-wringing earlier this year by Valley art scenesters when Phoenix officials cracked down on unlicensed vending during the monthly First Friday art walk in downtown Phoenix. The paint-splattered set was (understandably) concerned that the event's funky nature would be compromised if sales and displays of their etchings on street corners and vacant lots were banned.

But amidst the fretting, the folks behind Roosevelt Row (the nonprofit organization representing a cluster of downtown galleries and art-friendly businesses in the Evans Churchill neighborhood) provided a solution to the problem. Folks such as Greg Esser and Cindy Dach (the power couple behind MADE and eye lounge) helped organize a monthly street fair and block party where vending would be permitted, provided participants obtain necessary tax licenses from the city and county, as well as pay a monthly fee.

Since their debut in April, the parties have attracted an eclectic collection of more than a hundred vendors and artists, ranging from the wordsmiths of Desert Dragon Poetry to the kiddy clothiers of Young Ones Clothing. For those who're worried that First Fridays will slip into blasé blandness, the parties are still edgier and cooler than the Tempe Festival of the Arts. Let's just hope they keep out the funnel cakes salesmen and those dudes hawking Bob Marley blankets.

A slew of cities across the country have weird parades: Philadelphia has the nutty Mummers affair. Tucson boasts the even nuttier All Soul's Day Procession. And New York City hosts the boffo and beyond-bizarre Village Halloween Parade. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, the Valley fringe community has created the Phoenix Annual Parade of the Arts. Over the past two years, the event, which goes down around Halloween time (natch), has been a lively and fanciful showcase of costumed revelers, crazy antics, and artistic endeavors. Organizers describe PAPA as a "parading art fair" that allows PHX residents (as well as members of the local art scene and gonzo fringe community) to gather together in the spirit of fun and to let their freak flags fly. The 2007 version was a memorable experience, populated by artsy shopping cart floats, cyclists on modified bikes, belly dancers, stilt walkers, and countless other weirdos who marched along a mile-long route around downtown Phoenix. Book-ending the frenetic fete was a street party in Copper Square featuring music and performance art, capped off with a fireworks show. This year's event (scheduled for November 1), promises an "Out of this World" theme, so we're expecting to see plenty of outrageous aliens and astronauts in attendance.

Geisha A Go Go
Josh Chesler

When our dining companion slipped into the bathroom at this swanky Scottsdale eatery and stayed a while, we assumed she was sniffing some Bolivian "marching powder" — or getting it on with a hot waiter. But when she returned, she wasn't runny-nosed or chatty; she was rapturous. "Dude, you have got to try the toilet," she breathed. And for once, she was right: These W.C.s really are to die for, from the heated toilet seats to a seat that lifts and rotates its plastic sheath on cue for each new customer, to the incredibly nifty bidets. We guarantee you'll return to your table not only feeling cleaner but positively excited. It's got to be the most fun you can have in a public restroom without breaking the law.

Urban beautification takes many forms, and the one we like most is car customizer Luis Miranda's walls at his business, Miranda's Custom Cars, at Central and Grant. The wall sections actually begin on Grant and curve around to First Avenue. On them is some of the finest graf art in the Valley, colossal, colorful pieces featuring jumbo Krylon cans-turned-demons, Transformer-like robots, bandanna-wearing skulls and a hockey-masked Jason, straight out of Friday the 13th.

Those who think graffiti isn't art need only cruise down to Miranda's and inspect this outdoor art show. Kudos to Miranda for allowing talented spray-can wielders to get creative on his property, and to give the lie to the line that all graffiti is urban blight. Why, this art was so impressive that none other than County Attorney Andrew Thomas ripped off some of it for an anti-truancy flier that his office published. Alas, Thomas didn't even bother to contact the artist for permission, much less pay the guy. Still, a piece of the graffiti wall was used in the flier and a fake graf artist posed before it, the implication being that the art was illegal. In fact, it was painted onto a "legal wall." Does that make our county attorney a thief? If we were the artist, we'd make Andy answer that one in court, while we were suing his ass for copyright infringement.

1700 Curry

Rob Evans, owner of the storage facility dubbed 1700 Curry, sees in his property a community center for artists and musicians in Tempe. His plan includes building additional stories on top of the current storage buildings, adding a parking lot and even a performance theater for local bands.

Of course, the bigger the dream, the more cold, hard cash is required. To help raise the necessary funds, Evans invited taggers and traditional artists to cover building G on the property with graffiti art. The result was a plethora of painted pieces ranging from a tribute to the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series to a pink mural with stenciled houses in minute detail.

Evans plans to auction off the painted doors of building G to raise money for his artistic utopia. Currently neither a time nor place has been decided upon for the auction, though he has decided to wait until the fall when there are more people in town. Looks as though one person's vandalism is another person's down payment.

David Caruso would eat his heart out if he were to get a gander at the wild, new public art installation in the lobby of the recently opened Phoenix Forensics Crime Laboratory. Pattern Recognition, described by its creators Ralph Helmick and Stuart Schecter as "a surrealistic chandelier that pays homage to the arts of forensic science," dangles from the lobby ceiling like a drug dealer's bad dream.

The mixed-media sculpture, which measures over 17 feet in height and 10 feet in diameter, incorporates hundreds of stock forensic lab equipment items you've seen a hundred times on CSI: Miami — glass beakers, flasks, test tubes, pipettes, blue Petri dishes — all held together by steel rods and laboratory clamps and decorated with over 130 magnifying glasses. Helmick and Schecter's sense of humor is sprinkled liberally throughout with pop culture references to police work in the piece, including patterns representing a bullet hole, a bullet trajectory, and a film reel, together with artist-made molecular models of drugs, fingerprints, DNA helix strands and various and sundry other chemicals and biological substances (we guess there may even be something approximating the structure of anthrax mixed in for good measure). The only thing this piece is missing is a pair of David Caruso's sunglasses.

We've been thoroughly entertained by the ballyhoo surrounding the construction of a monumental $2.4 million dollar, wind-driven net sculpture designed by internationally renowned Boston artist Janet Echelman and inspired by the fleeting blossom of Arizona's singular saguaro. First, the sculpture is given the green light and contracted for by the City of Phoenix. Then, nefarious forces want to cancel the contract, supposedly because it won't be finished in time for the opening of Phoenix's light-rail project. After public outcry, the contract is reinstated (actually, it was never rescinded) and we are waiting with bated breath for Echelman's masterpiece to be unveiled with the opening of the light rail, which is woefully set back because of rail defects.

The sculpture's been called a massive sphincter, an upside-down cowpie, a floating jellyfish, an empty thought bubble, and "too arty," whatever that means. Will it actually look like cow poop or a large butthole? Or will it truly be iconic of our fair city and a cultural destination in its own right, as its supporters maintain? We can hardly wait for the finale of this ongoing public art soap opera.

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