Helen Hestenes, performance artist and owner of the Icehouse, on Jackson Street in downtown Phoenix, has never given up on her dreams for the city — or her arts venue. When she purchased the neglected historic property with then-husband David Therrien in 1990, Hestenes imagined an avant-garde gallery and performance space with an edgy, urban heartbeat married to a solid foundation of history. The faux-column façade, large open rooms and church-like "Cathedral Room" seemed the perfect match to her vision. In no time, Hestenes was bringing in the kinds of acts the culture-deprived community was missing: a 12-hour performance piece by Live Art Platform, the LIFE (Liberty, Independence, and Freedom of Expression) Festival, the Invisible Woman breast cancer exhibit and an international art exchange program made possible by a Rockefeller Foundation grant.
But her dreams didn't end with the property lines. Hestenes hoped that other artists would follow suit and revitalize the surrounding buildings into gallery spaces, cozy cafes and entertainment palaces for underground art. Think an American version of Paris, minus the Eiffel Tower. The city of Phoenix had different ideas; namely, razing many of the nearby historic buildings to make way for parking garages, more jails, and a morgue — plans that never came to fruition.
Hestenes has always been outspoken about the need to preserve Phoenix's historic properties. After the Borden Dairy building was demolished, The Icehouse staged a mock funeral complete with tombstone and eulogy. Admittedly, it was a little quirky.
Nearly two decades later, the building stands as a testament to Hestenes' resolve. Despite numerous code violations, cease-and-desist orders, and demolition permits, the Icehouse hosts art shows, raves, and private parties. Recently, Hestenes offered a large-scale painting by the late Phoenix artist Rose Johnson during the summer's barter exhibit in return for a handicap-accessible ramp or repairs to the venue's elevator system.
It's proof that Hestenes still has plans for the Icehouse.
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