Best Thinking Outside the (Museum) Box 2012 | SMoCA Lounge | People & Places | Phoenix

A couple of years back, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art hosted a lecture. That's not unusual — museums do that kind of thing all the time. But this was a particularly inspiring speech, one we've remembered. Adam Lerner, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, came to town to talk about his unconventional approach to audience development. This has included a series called Mixed Taste that brought together disparate interests — imagine, for example, a lecture that combines the topics of absinthe and Arctic ice caps. Or video art and migratory birds. People in Colorado flocked to the programs and stayed to see the art.

Super, we thought, but how can that happen here? Two years later, we're pretty sure our own SMoCA is setting the bar. Led by writer and performer Tania Katan, SMoCA Lounge is now putting on creative programming that would make Adam Lerner proud — like artists arm-wrestling to earn grant money, a video series about what Katan does at work (tongue firmly in cheek), and the cherry on the sundae, a series called Lit Lounge, featuring terrific local writers (including New Times' Robrt L. Pela and Sativa Peterson) reading their work along with performances by bands like The Pübes. We can't wait to see what you do next, Tania.

If you're lucky enough to catch a ride with one of the artists who frequent the graffiti tunnels in Phoenix, you'll want to pack a few extra cans of paint. In the tunnels (often dried-out drainage tunnels), you'll find years of graffiti history by names such as MAC, SUCH, KAPER, SWIFT, and FICE. These are their practice grounds, their history books, and their means of communication with other artists who stop through town looking for a creative outlet. There's no map on the books or list of access points hidden on some online forum. It takes a long-timer to know where these spots are and a smooth talker to be able to get a tour.

Behind just about every stop sign in Tempe is a sticky collection of hellos, goodbyes, and markings of "So and so was here." This is no slapdash affair. Sticker art has been around for decades, but many trace slap sticking, sticker tagging, or creating art on stickers, name tags, and post office labels and sticking them around town to the early '90s and an artist named Shepard Fairey. Fairey made a sticker with a bold face of wrestler Andre the Giant. He printed thousands, stuck them all over the streets, and mailed them to other artists around the world.

Today, the best spot in town to find work by emerging street artists is on the back of a street sign in Tempe. It's here you'll spot small-scale work that's rarely peeled off by city law enforcement (because of placement and the number of parties and other legal infractions they keep themselves busy with). It's an ephemeral gallery, and the artists — often in art school at ASU or part of the city's quickly expanding art community — don't mind being stuck up for days, weeks, or even better, months.

Tempe's Mill Avenue and Scottsdale's Marshall Way are college kid hangouts, late-night watering holes, and shopping meccas for anyone in the market for ASU apparel or a collection of cowboy art. But this year, the two main drags became canvases for artists, thanks to Kirstin Van Cleef and Maja Aurora of Scottsdale and Tempe's public art programs. In 2010, Van Cleef launched IN FLUX, a program that filled vacant storefronts with art installations and gave everyone a brighter view of the economic downturn. This year, Van Cleef called Aurora, who brought Mill Avenue on board. The two streets are now home to works by Logan Bellew, Craig Randich, Peter Bugg, Christina Mesiti, and Mary Neubauer and Todd Ingalls. These artists, through site-specific installations with tiny budgets, are connecting the communities between scenes that are much stronger together.

If you catch an elevator ride to the top of any building in downtown Phoenix, look toward South Mountain. There, you might be able to make out three words in bold, chunky letters: Right to Remain.

The message and overall design, says local artist DOSE, are the result of a collaboration with Seed & Feed Warehouse owner Michael Levine, with help from graphic designers Andrew Coppola and Raquel Raney. The 20-foot-by-125-foot wall of Seed & Feed can be seen from miles away, but the best view is up close. DOSE put the finishing touches on one of the largest murals in Phoenix last October, and in the months following, he added a wrecking ball, additional shading, and his own signature on what he calls a "social political form of graffiti" and a public call to remain — indigenous, gay, straight, on occupied land, to re-occupy. And we're hoping the mural does just that.

It's located on the north side of First Studio, the former KPHO TV-5 studios, and it's a big, arty hunk of nostalgia for those of us who grew up here. The Wallace and Ladmo Show mural depicts Wall-boy mugging alongside his longtime sidekick Ladmo, who's wearing his signature T-shirt tie and pulling a classic Ladmo face. They're flanking local legend Pat McMahon, who's in Gerald drag circa 1969, and the whole thing, which takes up nearly the entire width of the ancient building, is a sight that may cause Phoenicians of a certain age to drive into a lamppost the first time they see it. Created by artists Nomas, Casebeer, and Jenny Ignaszewski, it's a gorgeous tribute to the longest-running children's TV show in American broadcast history.

KAPER's a household name in the local graffiti scene. If you pay any attention to light poles, alley walls, underground tunnels or train cars around Phoenix (or spend a few minutes on Flickr), you're guaranteed to see his signature, loose-styled typography.

The 40-something has a long local history. He was born in Phoenix, grew up writing with a number of crews, and even founded a few of his own. In 2011, his work was featured in The History of American Graffiti, and in February, photographs of his work were featured in an exhibition, "30 Years of Big Bad Red," at Por Vida Gallery in Phoenix. Sure, he says, he's been painting trains for more than 30 years, and he's not planning on retirement anytime soon.

We are grateful to both coffee and Ted Decker — they allow us to appreciate good artwork in the morning. Decker's an independent art consultant, and when he's not planning the next exhibition of the Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art, helping an emerging artist fund his or her show with the help of a grant, or scouting artwork for a number of his clients, he's at Echo Coffee in Scottsdale, where from February to May of this year, he brought the works of Phoenix-based artists Carolyn Lavender, Daniel Funkhouser, Karolina Sussland, and 10 other artists from the United States, Brazil, Iran, Iraq, and Jordan to the caffeinated public.

It's through venues like coffee shops, Decker says, that the public can be exposed to artwork and form opinions about contemporary artists and the art community. And unlike a number of coffee shops that often toss up whatever's brought in, Decker has a keen eye and a business sense that, if put to good and frequent use, could change the way (and places in which) we see art in Phoenix.

Art Intersection is home to countless local "pherds" (photography nerds, as they call themselves) who don't mind the drive to Gilbert to see quality work. The 7,000-square-foot space is dedicated to photography and photography education under executive director Alan Fitzgerald and local photographer/art instructor Carol Panaro-Smith.

Here you'll find work by the founding fathers of alternative process photography alongside daguerreotypes, platinum/palladium prints, photogravures, and gelatin silver prints made by local emerging artists.While you're there to see the art, be sure to check out the built-in space for workshops and lab areas in black-and-white film, cyanotype, kallitype, platinum, palladium, gum bichromate, wet plate collodion, and digital prints. And if any of those words get your creative muscles working, you're sure to get a big welcome home, pherd.

If you missed this year's Art Detour, there's no need to lament the missed opportunity to people-watch while riding one of the rented London-style double-decker buses that carted around local art fans (complete with a portrait or two of the Queen herself). But you should be giving yourself a swift kick in the shins for missing out on this year's showcase by 3CarPileUp.

The local art collective includes painters James Angel, David Dauncey, and Randy Slack, who've known each other forever and, if we're lucky, will continue to work with each other for even longer. The three artists featured pieces of their latest work, including self-portraits, realistic explosions, and commentary on pop culture and commercialism on the walls of Legend City Studios, which Slack owns with a group of photographers.The studio's off the beaten (and bused) path, but be sure to mark it on the calendar for next year. If Artlink continues for a 25th year — and the boys are in town — you won't want to miss it.

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