Best Place to Catch the Summer Solstice (in the Comfort of A/C)

Burton Barr Central Library

While we're complaining about triple-digit temperatures and rummaging through our closets to find anything comfortable to wear, Burton Barr Central Library preps for its coolest event of the year. At the stroke of noon every June 21, the library opens its doors to the public for a unique natural light show. When the library was designed by Will Bruder, the architect included a Great Reading Room with a 32-foot suspended ceiling and several 6-inch-by-300-foot skylights on the east and west walls that work together to create a dazzling spectacle every Summer Solstice. Call it a good excuse to ditch the office or an impressive lunch date, we'll be marking our calendars for a cultural escape from the heat.

Women and their stories are not being adequately represented in American theater — not here in the Valley, nor on Broadway, nor points between. Two women working in local theater took note of these daunting demographics and, late last year, took action. Thespians Brenda Jean Foley and Tracy Liz Miller launched the Bridge Initiative to address the issue of gender disparity in Arizona theater. In January, the newly founded organization was awarded a $6,000 Arts Tank seed funding grant by the Arizona Arts Commission, and took that money to actress and businesswoman Lizz Reeves Fidler. The trio landed at Mesa Encore Theatre, a small East Valley house that provided additional fiscal sponsorship, a place to perform, and access to the company's nonprofit status. After meeting their matching-money goal via a crowd-sourcing campaign, they went on to create a series of quarterly networking events, offer master classes in playwriting, and created an awards program that will mount a production of its first-place play. Brava!

Millions of stunning pictures have been taken by photographers attempting to capture the essence of the flowering desert. But none has done so at the level of Petra Fromme, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at ASU who led an international team of scientists to take the first snapshots of photosynthesis in action. That's right; the pictures show the plants' cells splitting water into protons, electrons, and oxygen. The photos aren't the prettiest Arizona has ever produced, but Fromme's work could lead to the development of an artificial leaf, which scientists think may be one solution to energy shortages. We're impressed.

What Arizona Republic photographer Mark Henle can do with an Instagram account shouldn't be legal. We know we can't make our photos look like that no matter how many filters we try. But Henle is nice enough to share, and we are inspired and awed on a daily basis by the humor and talent in a simple image of a pool toy or a silly shot of a dog. We love seeing our world through his eyes.


Ah, to live the city life through the lens of @downindowntown, a.k.a. Keith G. Mulvin. The downtown Phoenix enthusiast spends his days working for the International Rescue Committee, which often means interacting with people and friends all over town. And whether he's on foot or on his bike, Mulvin has a good eye for the still-lifes that make Phoenix, well, Phoenix. He's captured a range of downtown's unique architecture (both existing and in the process of being demolished), stunning sunsets, quirky street art, and details we may pass everyday but are happily surprised to see again in a neat, framed square.

There's more to Phoenix photography than sun-soaked scenes of cacti and mountains. Take the historic warehouse district, for example. Situated in an area bounded by Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue and Jackson and Grant streets, this downtown district acts as a playground for photographers aiming for that oh-so-in industrial look. Vintage signage, exposed brick backdrops, and the occasional street art makes for some memorable engagement shots, art portfolios, and gritty film stills. This callback to the city's commercial past combined with its raw urban presence makes for a winning juxtaposition of alt-charm. While the district is slowly seeing a revival thanks to businesses like Icehouse, The Duce, Bentley Projects, R+R, and Moses, much of the landscape remains retired and surpassingly accessible for the agile photographer and his crew.

Downtown Phoenix's warehouse district is well on its way to an urban revival, thanks to forward-thinking art galleries, ad agencies, and developers who don't shy away from the shadier parts of town. Among this parade of industrial pioneers is our new favorite place for private events, The Croft. Inside this seemingly unsuspecting building, longtime event planners and venue owners Mark and Angela Karp of Angelic Grove have taken their staging skills to the next level by creating an event space that does cozy as well as it does corporate. Exposed brick walls, concrete floors, suspended chandeliers, and wrought iron gates from a retired bank building are just a few of the fixtures that give this rehabbed building the romantic touch. With an outdoor patio, ceremony room, reception hall, and their own private office space, The Croft is taking events both big and small and making them the talk of the town.

When the Haynes Copper Company started digging a mine in a suburb about a mile north of Jerome around the turn of the 20th century, it hoped to find copper. Instead, the firm struck gold. Now, over 100 years later, we get to benefit with the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town. Step through the gold mine museum's doors, and you'll simultaneously take a step back to the early 1900s. Check out the old mining equipment, witness a demonstration on a sawmill from that era, and walk around the old mine shaft. Be sure to stop in the blacksmith's shop as well. And, of course, don't forget to pay Jerome a visit, too, as you head back to the Valley.

More than 250,000 people attend the Renaissance Festival from February to March each year, and it's a rather distinct-looking crowd. Checking out the mix of Arizona suburbanites and carny-like employees — musicians, comedians, falconers, kings, queens, what have you — is half the reason we force our family to endure the dust, winter heat, and un-glamour of the RenFest. Here, we tend to see polo shirts, nice shorts, $110 sandals, and more tattoos than an average inmate — young people in weather-appropriate (read: minimal) clothing, since Arizona State University's an hour away.

Yet not all attendees are posers, students, or slightly upscale commoners. There are some rough-hewn types with jackboots and ear gauges the size of doughnuts — they're usually wearing a bizarre accessory like a wicked top hat, leather vest, scabbard ensemble, or something else that would get their ass kicked on the light rail west of Priest Road. Families of all types — cute kids, cute MILFs, plus the occasional 4-year-old being screamed at by their trashy mom. Of course, we wouldn't fail to mention the cute princesses with the velvet dresses and extreme push-up bras that show off just a tiny blush of areola. Winter is coming — which means turkey legs, the many other shapely legs and thighs, mead-swilling faux royalty, plus the nerds, seductresses, and warriors of the scenic RenFest.

Readers Choice: Sky Harbor Airport

It should be a requirement for anyone who lives in the Valley to go to Taliesin West and get the crash course on Frank Lloyd Wright and his particular brand of architecture. Wright set up the Scottsdale school in the '30s, and it remains an architecture school to this day. There are a variety of tours available every day, and you'll learn Wright's philosophies of design, as well as what made him tick. Armed with your new-found Wright knowledge, you'll have a better appreciation for the buildings in Phoenix (and elsewhere) that were designed by Wright or his students. The tours offered at Taliesin West are worth it for visitors and residents alike.

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