We're big fans of all three hosts of local National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's magazine-style program The Show. Steve Goldstein and Mark Brody have the institutional knowledge and journalist acumen it takes to keep us up to date Monday through Friday. But Lauren Gilger's the one who puts this show over the top. She's got the news chops for sure, but she also understands how important it is to look beyond the headlines at the ways the arts and culture both reflect and affect our lives. We hope she never trades us for a larger market.
In a sea of options, we prefer to get our local news from KAET-TV, metro Phoenix's PBS station, and Horizon, which has been on the air for more than 40 years, has long been Channel 8's crown jewel. That makes Ted Simons, who's been on the show since 2007, the king. And the guy wears his crown well, managing to always be prepared no matter the topic, and elevating the conversation while still making his guests feel welcome. Simons manages to be hard-hitting and gracious at the same time. Not an easy feat. All hail Ted!
When we think of people doing an outstanding job supporting local music, the DJs of KWSS are right near the top of the list. The indie station will celebrate its 16th anniversary later this year, which means it has spent more than a decade and a half playing songs by local artists and exposing the public to aspects of the Phoenix music scene they may have missed. The DJs are all volunteers, so when you've listened to The Jay Cairo Show, Dani's Diner Retro Hour, or Dubs' Private Reserve (which just ended a four-year run), remember that you're tuning in to a group of folks who care enough about bringing music to the Valley that they're willing to do it for free.
It's not every day you see a lowrider car built by an artist placed at the center of a museum gallery, or realize the genius that must go into creating an automotive mashup as a symbol of hybridized cultures and identity. But that's exactly what happened to visitors who explored ASU Art Museum earlier this year, where the "Body/Magic: Liz Cohen" exhibit expanded on the artist's previous "Bodyworks" series inspired in part by lowrider culture. The exhibit introduced new audiences to Cohen's take on labor, identity, and transformation during a year when those very issues were at the heart of contemporary life. The museum's "Pilot Projects" explored social justice as the nation grappled with police brutality, white supremacy, and health inequities. The museum provided outdoor art experiences amid the pandemic and a robust lineup of virtual conversations with artists. Free admission meant greater access for community members and helped the museum stay relevant and responsive during challenging times. Bottom line: ASU Art Museum was the right museum at the right time.
Gallerist Lisa Sette has a gift for finding connections between contemporary art and contemporary society. For part of the past year, she showed works organized around the color blue, highlighting the color's historical, aesthetic, and political significance (from ancient times, the color has represented the sky and the sea, and served as a symbol of power, wealth, and status; today, of course, Americans identify it with the Democratic Party). Sette's midtown gallery is also distinguished by its artist roster, which includes Sonya Clark, Claudio Dicochea, Mark Klett, James Turrell, and many more. Walking into her gallery, you'll always see a fascinating mix of materials, from Annie Lopez's cyanotype photography on tamale paper to Mayme Kratz's delicate animal bones encased in resin. Lisa Sette Gallery is also a great place to discover emerging talent, such as collaborators Merryn Omotayo Alaka and Sam Fresquez, whose large-scale suspended sculptures made with synthetic hair and braid crimps were shown alongside Angela Ellsworth's bonnets made with thousands of corsage pins for this year's "Things We Carry" exhibit exploring identity and radical self-expression. Here, both art aficionados and the art-curious find work that stretches their ideas and perceptions, delivering that perfect mix of questions and answers.
New Mexico artist Cannupa Hanska Luger (Madan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota, European) suspended strands with more than 7,000 hand-formed unfired clay beads in a circular form inside a gallery space at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, creating the Something to Hold Onto installation that anchored his "Passage" exhibition. Made by artisans across the U.S. and Mexico, the beads represent those who've died migrating north across the U.S.-Mexico border. Luger invited several artists to collaborate for this exhibit, including Arizona artists Thomas "Breeze" Marcus (Tohono O'odham) and Dwayne Manuel (Onk Akimel O'odham), who created a monumental spiral-shaped floor mural that Luger mirrored when hanging his work. During a year filled with immigration-related rhetoric, the installation demanded that viewers consider the people behind the statistics, and served as a powerful call to advance justice for asylum-seekers and Indigenous people living in the borderlands.
Tunnel vision marked much of the year, as massive misinformation campaigns, alternative realities, and social media algorithms magnified existing fissures in the country's political landscape. With "Elemental," the first U.S. mid-career survey of works by Teresita Fernandez, Phoenix Art Museum (in conjunction with Pérez Art Museum Miami) seemed to foreshadow the rapid rise of literal and metaphorical wildfires, including public health dangers amplified by hubris and denial. Through materials, forms, and ideas referencing colonial histories and present-day exploitations, Fernandez gave viewers the chance to consider the complex nature of the American landscape, and how their own words and actions are altering that terrain. Her Fire (United States of the Americas) 2 installation, comprising the 50 states made with charcoal, was the perfect visual for a year when it felt like everything familiar was simply burning to the ground. The exhibit challenged viewers to forgo tunnel vision for a wider view of the world, even if the view wasn't always pretty.
Mural artists were busy this year, bringing art to public spaces even as many traditional art venues took a pandemic pause. One mural, painted in downtown Phoenix, stood high above the rest — and not just literally. Miles MacGregor ("El Mac") and Thomas "Breeze" Marcus collaborated to create a 45-foot-high portrait of a young woman from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa community. She appears to be gazing over the city built on the ancestral homeland of her people. More than a work of art, it's a new monument to the history of the region and the Indigenous people who continue to call this land home. Elsewhere around the county, old monuments rooted in white supremacy have been coming down. Here in Phoenix, this new monument was raised up, paying homage to Indigenous peoples of the past, present, and future.
After a massive yellow mural reading "Black Lives Matter" was painted on a prominent street in Washington, D.C., Gizette Knight hoped to install a street mural with that same theme in downtown Phoenix. When she couldn't get city approval, Knight did what activists do best: She found another way to make the message heard. Knight coordinated a Black Lives Matter mural project that included numerous Black History Matters murals painted by various artists around Phoenix. The murals, hosted by places like The Nash and Carly's Bistro in Roosevelt Row, featured the faces of renowned Black changemakers like Shirley Chisholm, Huey P. Newton, and Harriet Tubman — as well as some who aren't as well known. Best of all, the project included a billboard along Grand Avenue, assuring that the Black History Matters message would be widely seen in our urban landscape.
Arizona-based artists M. Jenea Sanchez and Gabriela Muñoz have been collaborating for more than five years, most recently working with a women's self-help collective along the border between Arizona and Mexico. This year, that collaboration leveled up with an exhibition at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art titled "Division of Labor: Women Shifting a Transnational Gaze." The museum had invited Sanchez and Muñoz to co-curate an exhibition of works drawn from its own collection. Instead, the artists created an exhibition featuring not only works from the collection, but also 10 contemporary Latinx artists working in the borderlands. The collaboration went beyond two artists teaming up; it became a model for shared power and horizontal leadership within art museums and communities.