Best Revolving Public Art 2010 | Seventh Avenue Streetscape Panels | People & Places | Phoenix
The city spends a bunch of money on a huge piece of public art. What happens next? The masses hate it and complain like crazy about the waste of funds on the hideous eyesore. Before you know it, the image is smeared on bumper stickers, stamps, and T-shirts. Ta-da! It has become a defining symbol of the city. Though this is how the life of public art usually plays out, we really don't have time for all that tomfoolery when it comes to the Seventh Avenue Streetscape Panels. The collaborative piece currently features art by Suzanne Falk, Colton Brock, and Catie Raya, with poetry by Catherine Hammond, Ryan Holden, and Kathleen Winter. The images and text share double-sided, translucent, illuminated panels. This installation stays up until spring 2011, after which the city will replace it with work by a new crop of local artists. So push the fast-forward button and rush through the hate-turning-to-love part; you have only a little while to enjoy this.
Last November, local promoter Charlie Levy hired Tucson artist Joe Pagac to paint murals advertising upcoming music and culture events on the west wall of eye lounge in downtown Phoenix. Ever since then, we've been making excuses to drive by the gallery. On First Fridays, you'll find Pagac on his ladder painting over last month's mural and creating a new masterpiece. His works aren't always gorgeous, but they're a hell of a lot better-looking than the bland stucco walls and amateur punk-ass tagging that you find elsewhere in Phoenix's urban core. In an ad for RJD2's show at The Rhythm Room, an adorable cartoon Nosferatu was depicted building a sandcastle with the help of his pet bats. The shading was gorgeous and the muted midnight blue and purple tones striking. Pagac's other funky murals have featured indie movie posters and caricatures of the band Sonic Youth. We look forward to seeing Pagac paint a new piece on the building each month, even though they're technically as commercial as a giant McDonald's billboard.
Agree or disagree, it was time for Modified Arts to change. The building's exterior needed some serious TLC, the stage was one amplified band short of collapse, and the sewage smell seeping from the bathroom needed to be kicked to the curb. So when longtime owner Kimber Lanning handed the keys to Adam Murray and Kim Larkin, it was an artsy godsend, mostly because the husband-and-wife team really went to town on the space. In mid-December 2009, with the help of a handful of volunteers, they tore out the stage and green room and hauled mountains of yucky grime to the trash. Then, the two gave the space a new coat of paint, laid down beautiful wood floors, and slapped up a new sign outside. The result: a space that is way gorgeous, and that's not even counting the amazing artwork displayed on the walls during monthly exhibits.
Aptly billed as the world's first global history museum, the MIM is a rare example of something or someone's living up to its hype and then exceeding expectations. The beautifully open and inviting space opened in April with a collection that includes instruments from literally every nation on the globe — no small feat. That makes for quite a day at this privately funded gem in the desert. We were entranced by the myriad sounds pulsating through our wireless headsets as we spent time with the 300-plus exhibits, and we learned so much more than we had expected. We got a special charge out of the klezmer exhibit (covering music dedicated to preserving the Jewish heritage), and we tripped out on handcrafted instruments from such exotic locales as Nepal, Ghana, and Mali. And, for you foodies, the eats at the MIM are terrific, with global cuisine and local/regional dishes available for a fair price. This museum is a must-visit.
Yes, we know, there's another children's museum in town. And we've been there, and it's cool. But this year, we want to make sure you know about the Valley's original museum for kids, Arizona Museum for Youth. In our estimation, this is what a children's museum should be. There are some play elements, which we think is terrific, but there are also engaging, educational exhibits. Our kids are still talking about the Jim Henson-inspired exhibit AMY brought to town years ago, and they almost jumped out of their skin when they heard about the current show, "Jump to Japan: Discovering Culture Through Popular Art." That exhibit, sponsored by the Minnesota Children's Museum, incorporates interactive displays involving everything Japanese, from kimono to formal tea to comic books, as well as special events including Japanese swordsmanship, calligraphy, and origami demonstrations. Such methods teach kids about another culture in a way they won't soon forget. Now, that's a fine art.

Best Chance to Revitalize Downtown Phoenix


It's almost too good to be true, but there it is, towering over us at Central and Washington. Cityscape is a reality, threatening to energize downtown Phoenix, once and for all. This multi-use destination is making it harder for critics to claim there's still no reason to linger downtown after work, what with its blending of residential, retail, dining, and office space. Its planned open spaces (Cityscape is still being born; Phase Two of its massive complex will be completed in early 2011) aren't what we hoped for, but they will provide a park-like setting for shoppers and students of ASU, whose downtown campus will spill over into Cityscape. Two city blocks in the heart of downtown between First Avenue and First Street, Washington and Jefferson streets, have been given over to this project, which we hope will result in our city's long-awaited critical mass. In the meantime, there's the big, glittering glass tower that's already the home of some prestigious law firms, and the retail section that's bustling with action from the Lucky Strike Bowling Alley and Gold's Gym. We get it: There are haters. But we are ready to give Big City Life a chance. Look for us at Cityscape!
We know, we know: It is so not cool to party at a Sheraton. Except, strangely, it is! We're perpetually stunned when we walk into District, the sleek bar at Phoenix's newest downtown hotel, and see that it's packed with revelers. At first, we thought it must merely be conventioneers, dorky out-of-towners with tube socks and nametags. Ha! On one recent Saturday, we stumbled into an eclectic crowd of genuine downtown Phoenix types: black, white, Latino, funky-haired, coolly shod, and artsy. On a recent Tuesday, while sipping our martinis, we saw beautiful people: attractive older men in suits, chic Scottsdale ladies in halter dresses. In downtown Phoenix! At the Sheraton! So get over your prejudices already. The party is happening, whether you're there or not. And as for us, we're popping by so often, we're becoming regulars. At a Sheraton!
This stunning Spanish Colonial Revival building is home to a clinic named for Lois Anita Grunow, who died in 1929 at the age of 7 from a ruptured appendix. Her well-to-do parents built the clinic, recognizable by its distinctive bas-relief façade etched with elaborate stone carvings. Its two-story open lobby, though, is really worth a peek: all stonework and wall murals and high-up windows that let in some lovely, late-afternoon light. Appointed with period-correct furniture, the lobby still sports a series of paintings — one of them a portrait of little Lois — commissioned by Maximilian Aurel Reinitz Rasko, a noted artist popular at the time of the building's dedication in 1931. Check it out!
Ever hear the story about an abandoned underground bowling alley between Matt's Big Breakfast and The Westward Ho? Turns out it's totally true. As weird as it is to believe, a subterranean bowling alley called The Gold Spot existed at Central Avenue and Pierce Street up until about 1950. Look closely and you can still see glass blocks on the otherwise abandoned lot, which allowed sunlight to filter through to the bowlers below. According to a 2003 story in the Arizona Republic, it's now "little more than a cellar held up by concrete columns," though the words "Please Stay Back of Foul Line" are painted on one of the support beams, while a bowling-pin graphic is painted on another beam. So, yeah, it's definitely not worth risking life, limb, or legal trouble to see for yourself — but feel free to pass on the legend, now that you know it's actually true.
We discovered this historic gem when we attended a vocal recital in the Virginia G. Piper Auditorium (which is neither the Virginia G. Piper Theater at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, the Virginia G. Piper Repertory Theater at Mesa Arts Center, nor the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU Tempe) at the University of Arizona — but not in Tucson. The 1912-vintage auditorium, originally built for the first Phoenix Union High School, has been preserved and spruced up, along with its two lovely siblings from the old campus, as part of the UA College of Medicine, Phoenix. Part of the facelift (okay, more of a lipo) installed a breathtaking collection of Phoenix Union "stuff" in dignified glass cases downstairs in what is, yes, the restroom corridor — but it's way cool. Fascinating old trophies, photos, athletic equipment, uniforms, yearbooks, and other treasures going all the way back to those early 20th-century school days will make you forget what you actually came downtown for. During docent hours (call to check), you can even page through some of the annuals and pick the brain of a cheerful volunteer.

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