Best Library 2020 | Burton Barr Public Library | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Inside the Burton Barr Central Library, you can marvel at architectural elements designed by Will Bruder, stare at art installed throughout the five floors, and get creative inside the maker space. The enormous library, which is the flagship location of the Phoenix Public Library system, also houses a teen area, college planning center, entrepreneur space, children's area, gift shop, and a room filled with Arizona history resources. Central Gallery hosts rotating exhibitions of works by local artists, and the library presents a robust lineup of community programming. The rare book room is filled with treasures you didn't know existed in Phoenix, like cuneiform tablets and a page from a Gutenberg Bible. Best of all, the library is located within walking distance of the galleries and other cultural amenities located along Roosevelt Row, making it a hub for learning that spans far beyond bookshelves.

At Wasted Ink Zine Distro, founder Charissa Lucille has created a welcoming space where you can explore hundreds of zines by authors and illustrators based in Arizona and beyond. The charming DIY hub is filled with literature and art that reflects the creative pulse of Phoenix. Wasted Ink hosts dozens of community events, presents workshops for new and experienced zine creatives, and has an online store offering more than 100 titles. Walking into Wasted Zine is like setting foot on a path that branches off in myriad directions. Sometimes, it takes you places you never expected to go, with companions you wouldn't have encountered in other spaces, fueling the curiosity and connections that make for a vibrant literary scene and city.

Located in an old warehouse that was fixed up last year and outfitted with shabby-chic and modern furnishings, the McKinley Club is a little piece of Brooklyn in downtown Phoenix. The break room of this co-working space has taps with cold-brew coffee, wine, and beer. The big windows look out on Grand Avenue's gritty mix of industry and (now-struggling) art galleries, specialty stores, and restaurants. True, the virus has changed things. The club requires masks and gloves in common areas. The cozy private offices, well, you may need to get on a waiting list. Private desks in shared spaces, and fully shared workspaces are more readily available here (as they are at other co-working spaces around town). But give this place a look when it's time to get out of the damned house and focus on work. It sure beats the hell out of a gray cubicle.

You won't find big blockbuster exhibitions at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. Instead, you'll find smaller-scale exhibits by artists, many of them local to Arizona, that nevertheless pack a powerful punch. Recent exhibits featured fine art pinatas with a medieval twist made by Roberto Benavidez, and Kazuma Sambe's ceramic pieces exploring the intersection of advertising with the international food industry. The museum holds season openings that draw a diverse crowd for music, art, small bites, and lively conversation. And it's part of the vibrant Mesa Arts Center campus, where people can expand their art horizons via its busy schedule of performances, festivals, classes, and art demonstrations.

Andrew Pielage

In her subterranean gallery space, Lisa Sette represents more than three dozen artists. Many — including Angela Ellsworth and Carrie Marill — are based in Phoenix. Often, Sette's curatorial choices reflect challenges facing contemporary society, such as white supremacy, clergy abuse of children, and climate change. The gallery also presents artist talks, sponsors film series at Phoenix Art Museum, and takes work to national and international art fairs. Both casual art lovers and experienced collectors are welcome in the space, which consistently presents work that challenges viewers to see self and society in new ways.

A strip of McDowell Road called Miracle Mile became significantly brighter following the addition of a new mural that blended the talents of established artist Jeff Slim and emerging artist Edgar Fernandez. The two men drew inspiration from the diversity of the neighborhoods surrounding the mural in creating their 14-foot high and 60-foot long piece, anchored by a figure holding soil that symbolizes the region's Indigenous roots. Elaborate line work flanking the central images draws on symbolism used in O'odham pottery, and includes the word "Unity" written in several languages used by people living in the community. The mural, which is on the side of the Lionetti Hair Clipper Service building, is distinguished by its mix of narrative and abstract elements and the ways it mirrors the cultural richness of its setting. Although the artists have very different styles, they're beautifully blended to create this work celebrating life, culture, and creativity.

The rich complexity of Indigenous cultures filled 13,000 square feet of gallery space when the Heard Museum opened "Larger Than Memory: Contemporary Art From Indigenous North America" on September 4. Featuring more than 40 works by 24 artists and collaborators — participating artists include Mike Patten (Zagime Anishinabek), Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), Marie Watt (Seneca), and Steven J. Yazzie (Diné/Laguna Pueblo/Anglo); thoughtful curation by Diana Pardue and Erin Joyce — this visually stunning ensemble of artworks challenges viewer perspectives on Indigenous symbols and ordinary objects. Here, red stickers, a baseball bat, a batch of fry bread, and an asthma inhaler take on new connotations. Every artwork has layers of meaning. The more time you spend with this exhibit, the more powerful it becomes.

The landscape in downtown Phoenix is dotted with murals by Laura Spalding Best, an artist whose work often brings surreal, mirage-like imagery to utility poles and other ubiquitous objects in the urban desert. This year, Best added a new twist to her oeuvre with a field mural in Tempe, which was created using more than 200 decommissioned traffic signs. The artist painted each sign using colors inspired by the way the sky shifts throughout the day, then installed them on the north bank of Tempe Town Lake, where plants grew up around them to reinforce the interplay of natural and manufactured environments. The piece gave passersby a chance to have an accidental encounter with art, creating a sense of wonder that's sometimes lost when seeking out art in more traditional settings.

More than 200 laser-cut steel shapes form a sculptural shade structure called Infinite Wave installed near the entrance of the Chandler Museum. Created by Scottsdale artist Jeff Zischke, the public artwork throws a shadow of repeating patterns onto the ground below during the day, the uniform shapes suggesting various natural forms such as leaves, waves, and cactus. At night, the piece transforms into a canvas of color with LED lights in pink, purple, blue, green, and other vibrant colors. Ultimately, the piece is about the intersection of technological and natural environments at the heart of contemporary desert life — a topic we find ourselves thinking about more and more with each passing year, and that we're grateful to Zischke for illuminating so beautifully.

There's a particular spark of spontaneity on Grand Avenue, where First Friday offerings have a way of inspiring creative detours. The street is dotted with art spaces ranging from galleries to courtyards, and browsing them you'll find an intriguing mix of works by emerging and established artists, as well as impromptu art experiences. One First Friday, you may discover a massive temporary art installation using recycled and found objects. Return next month, and you could stumble onto artists doing aerosol paintings on wooden panels lined up along a sidewalk. There's a palpable sense of community here, too — people linger to talk, making connections that last far beyond First Friday.

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