Modern existence can be frustrating, to say the least, and there's only so much that therapy, scented candles, and meditation apps can do to mellow us out. Which is why we dig the concept of Simply Smashing Rage Room, a small space in a Tempe strip mall where we can work through our emotions by breaking stuff. When we arrive, we have our choice of what to break, as well as what to break it with, which creates dozens of possibilities — we can break dishes with a crowbar, computer monitors with a golf club, or lamps with a baseball bat. After a session, someone else handles the cleanup, and we emerge into the sunshine with a much rosier outlook on life.

Ann Morton launched her "Proof Reading" series in 2017 with a hand-made handkerchief embroidered with the phrase "are we fucked?" — modified through editing marks to say "we are fucked." Now her second work in the series, inspired this year by Donald Trump's "shithole" remark, is the year's best political art. Once again, Morton has used tasteful red, white, and blue materials to address the brutality that's rife in the age of Trump. With a single word, transformed from "shithole" to "asshole" through editing marks, she gives voice to those resisting Trump and his ilk. There's no shortage of Trump-inspired artwork, but Morton's work is distinguished by its elegant simplicity, which profoundly whispers to viewers even as they live within a perpetual primal scream for truth and justice.

Artists and community members gathered around a steamroller in the Bentley Projects parking lot on March 18, for an informal celebration of community and culture. Led by master printer Damian Charette, more than a dozen Native, Latino, and Chicano artists demonstrated the art of printmaking, creating designs that were transferred to cloth using the steamroller moving across them on the pavement. Artists worked with the themes of solidarity and unity, making prints with images from hearts to the Statue of Liberty, then hung them on a nearby chain-link fence in the style of a collective mural. The gathering drew a diverse crowd, whose time spent rallying around art together signaled their collective power to shape their shared community.

Head to Hazel & Violet during First or Third Friday, and you'll find a bustling scene complete with creatives sharing lively conversations while eager visitors try their hand at making custom coasters. Other times, you'll find folks checking out an impressive assortment of options for invitations, announcements, and stationery. Proprietor Nancy Hill manages to blend it all into a seamless seduction of the written word. The shop's walls are filled with posters that jab, inspire, and perplex. And Hill, who heads the print crew, has a glorious combination of expertise and warmth. She's even got an impressive collection of working presses, made between 1922 and 1968. Best of all, her passion for the printing press, and the Grand Avenue community she's a part of, is delightfully contagious.

Plenty of people wish they'd met up with Picasso or Kahlo during their early years. That's one reason ASU Grant Street Studios is such a local treasure. The converted warehouse is home to studios for more than 50 graduate art students working in diverse media such as painting, ceramics, fiber art, and photography. For two days in March, ASU held an Open Studios event at Grant Street Studios, which featured demonstrations, exhibitions, and studios open to the public — where art nerds could go behind the scenes, talk with artists about their work, and see artworks in progress that later made their way into several gallery shows around town. Bottom line: It's entirely possible that artists who've trained here will go on to be household names. And Open Studios was a great way to get to know their work before everyone else does.

Apparently, art cows are a thing here in Phoenix. They've been popping up in recent years, thanks to artists including Tiffany C. Bailey, who featured a winsome piece called Contemporary Cows in her "Idyllic Landscape" exhibition at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. Bailey created several palm-size ceramic cows in a creamy off-white color, then gave each distinct markings before setting them under glass as if roaming a pasture together. Bailey's cows are a playful reminder of the role of agriculture in American life, a nod to the Midwestern roots of so many Phoenix residents, and a riff on the ways even like creatures bear their own unique markings.

Some fancy, multiday art festivals happen around metro Phoenix every year, but the year's best was a smaller affair off the beaten path organized by local creatives who just wanted to make a day for art, family, and community. They convened artists to paint murals one Sunday in March, in an alley that's a popular canvas for some of the area's best street artists, then added music, a barbecue, and the good vibes that are hard to replicate on a larger scale. The event drew neighbors, artists, and other community members, for a casual day of authentic conversation, relaxation, and creativity — forging and reinforcing the bonds of community during an age when nothing is more important than listening to and learning from each other.

Modified Arts

Making a meaningful gallery experience requires more than hanging pictures on the wall. Modified Arts, a creative space founded by Kimber Lanning in 1999, gets it. Art is about ideas, and galleries help diverse community members explore them together. Modified Arts is a welcoming space that's open six days a week, conveying the sense that art should be an everyday encounter accessible to all, rather than a mere cultural exercise for elites. Its monthly exhibitions feature thought-provoking works by diverse artists, which prompt curiosity and conversations among gallerygoers. This year, Modified Arts has shown images exploring North Korea, works created with flat-rate postal boxes, photographs by Burton Barr Central Library architect Will Bruder, and much more. It's a go-to gallery for seeing works by emerging and established artists. But more important, it's a place where you can linger over art that challenges your assumptions about yourself and the world around you.

Being independent, together. That's the premise behind Megaphone PHX, an art gallery that's also the studio space for artist Andy Brown, whose work often features concentric lines and cycling imagery. He has shown work by metro Phoenix favorites such as JJ Horner, Lauren Lee, and Beth Tom, and welcomed group shows curated by other creatives. But the gallery is also a popular gathering space for poets and collage creatives, and it has featured music and dance performance, too. Megaphone PHX is distinguished as a gathering place for creatives, whose cross-pollination across different genres enriches the cultural ethos in Phoenix. In a city where too many artists still exist within their own silos, Megaphone PHX is mixing it up and pointing the way toward increased collaboration.

Time with compelling works and the artists who make them — that's what you get at the best student galleries, including the Step Gallery where Arizona State University presents Master of Fine Arts thesis exhibitions. It's located in a former warehouse, and its concrete floors and exposed ceiling beams provide a stunning backdrop for works in all media. This year, it's contained a neon landscape of icons created by Lily Reeves, wooden objects crafted by Alex Foster to spur adult play, a miniature production plant by Andrew Noble exploring relationships between humans and machines, and myriad other works that push past people's misconceptions of art as an isolated entity existing on the periphery of enterprises deemed more useful or exciting. For people who make the art rounds on First and Third Fridays in Phoenix, Step Gallery is always on the must-see list, because it's a place where you can see new works and talk with the creatives who gave them life.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of