Best Art at the Airport 2022 | The Phoenix | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Renting a car at the airport is pretty high on the list of mundane travel experiences, so when a monumental work of art gets installed inside a rental car center, it's a big deal. Paul Coze's triptych spanning 70 feet was first installed at Sky Harbor Airport in 1962, and reinstalled inside the rental car center in 2021 amid airport improvements. Anchored by a giant phoenix rising over the city, the piece speaks to the city's past while also calling to mind its future. But it also symbolizes the city's strong history of showing art at the airport, which gives both residents and visitors a way to experience the rich cultural diversity of the city in an unexpected setting. As Phoenix, like other major metropolitan areas, continues to face challenges, the artwork is a powerful reminder of the myth of the phoenix, a bird that rises from the ashes as a symbol of rebirth and renewal.

Driving along most freeways in metro Phoenix, you won't find much to delight your senses. There's the occasional mile marker, signs telling you where you can eat and drink near various exits, and sometimes a humorous overhead display by ADOT that references pop culture icons such as Star Wars or the musical Hamilton as a way to encourage safe driving. But when you travel along the six-mile strip of the Pima Freeway/Highway 101 in Scottsdale, where the freeway walls sport Carolyn Braaksma's massive desert designs inspired by cactus, flowers, and wildlife, you get a delightful respite from the regular freeway views. On the freeway, and retaining walls in adjacent neighborhoods, you'll find her massive prickly pear cactuses, giant green lizards, and other desert delights that renew your sense of pride in living in the desert, with all its natural beauty.

Taking inspiration from Amanda Gorman, the country's first national youth poet laureate, artist Jerome Fleming created the image of an African-American girl that anchors his art installation on a giant curved wall at a busy light rail station in Roosevelt Row. People using the light rail or passing the artwork while driving, bicycling, or walking enjoy a bright reminder of the power of youth, nature, reading, and imagination. The central figure in Fleming's piece stands in a field with yellow flowers, near a lone butterfly hovering by an open book. Gorman's poetry centers on the African diaspora, and the mural also calls to mind the Great Migration of African-Americans out of the rural South during the 20th century. Fleming's beautiful imagery conveys an idyllic setting, but also prompts reflection on themes that are prevalent in Gorman's work, including racism, feminism, and ongoing oppression. It's particularly poignant when considered in the context of calls in some circles to limit youth access to books that celebrate diverse identities, experiences, and communities.

For many, the return of air travel meant moving from isolated existence to a mélange of uncertainties, along with visions of swamped airport terminals and planes packed with bodies. For people traversing Sky Harbor Airport, several artworks installed as terrazzo flooring provide a visual break from travel worries or stress. That's particularly true for From the Earth to the Sky, the 6,000-square-foot design that channels the energy and movement in Bill Dambrova's larger body of work, which trains the eye on what he describes as "our biological and metaphysical relationship with plants, animals, the cosmos, and each other." Walking atop his colorful design filled with natural forms, travelers feel a sense of wonder and joy. But the artwork is also a reminder that all those people we sometimes find so maddening in airplane aisles or restroom lines are fellow travelers on a journey through a magnificent desert that's best enjoyed by being curious and kind.

Creative spaces can be hard to come by, especially if you're an artist looking for a studio where you can be surrounded by other artists, have access to common areas and equipment, welcome visitors for exhibits or events, and still feel like you have your own creative home. The Rockin' S Art Ranch operated by Phoenix-based artist Patricia Sannit has studios of various sizes, along with common areas for working on larger projects, and access to equipment like kilns. Events from studio tours to art markets give local art lovers a chance to meet artists and explore works in several mediums in a casual setting with a great community vibe. Best of all, it's off the beaten path of the downtown arts scene, which helps to reinforce the fact that amazing work is being made all over the city.

Yes, it's still a dry heat. But you can dream of bountiful waves of water when you see this giant wave form made with salvaged industrial pipe. It's not a trip to the beach, but it'll help you imagine being there just long enough to break your laser focus on the sweltering heat. Beyond that, this elegant organic form pays homage to the value of reusing and recycling, which is something we could all do more of in our daily plastic-filled lives. Three small pieces that appear to rise out of the desert are also part of this installation, which calls to mind the early canal system built by the Hohokam. It's technically a temporary artwork because of the site where it's located, but it's permanent in our eyes and we hope it continues to surprise and delight the people who stumble on it for a long, long time.

Traditions sometimes taken for granted took on fresh meaning this year, amid the ongoing effects of COVID-19, which shifted the ways people enjoyed creative spaces such as performing arts centers. By teaming up to bring contemporary dance to a landscape filled with natural and built environments, these two creative organizations provided a way for audiences to explore both movement and architecture in an outdoor setting where they felt safe but also experienced the serenity of seeing art created in nature. The collaboration encouraged supporters of one art form to discover another, expanding their visions of how art in metro Phoenix can and should be happening. It also brought the return of dance to Taliesin West, where it's had a significant role in the past. And it gave dancers an opportunity to expand their thinking and feeling about connections between interior and exterior landscapes as they moved through the challenges of creative opportunities lost during the worst of the pandemic, thus creating fresh perspectives for moving forward.

Pop art icon Andy Warhol is often quoted as saying he had a social disease, meaning he had to go out every single night. Once you've been to the Walter Where?House, you get it. The 24,000-square-foot event space comes alive with light, color, music, dance, funky fashion, and all manner of creative merriment that makes you forget about any unpleasant realities clogging up your brain cells before you stepped inside. It's one of the places you'll find the massive Kalliope dance party machine that can blast 70,000 watts of audio along with lasers and flame effects that transform the space into an alternative reality of beats and bliss. It's also home to several large-scale art cars, jumbo versions of traditional games, walls of offbeat visual art by local creatives, and an outdoor area so you can enjoy the night sky while you take in all the electric, eclectic happiness of it all.

Scottsdale Public Art transformed the banks of a portion of the Arizona Canal between Scottsdale Road and Goldwater Boulevard into a light-filled interactive experience to rival any and all of the immersive indoor exhibitions that hit the city during the past year, giving people a chance to explore creations by local to international artists in an unconventional setting without having to pay a dime for the experience. From bundles of multicolored square lights positioned like bunches of flowers growing out of the ground to a light-shifting waterfall made with material that looked like fancy vacuum tubing, featured light-based artworks inspired playful conversations and a beautiful sense of community. At one space, people could walk under a giant arc. At another, they could open a door that revealed a changing selection of light-infused imagery. Taken together, these artworks powered the imagination of people young and old, reinforcing the ways that art can bring people together during even the most divisive of times.

There's an incredible sense of community that arises from spending time in this alley in the Coronado neighborhood, where one mural memorializes a child who bravely faced cancer and another honors one of the city's graffiti pioneers. The alley is home to a changing array of murals, including several by some of the city's most renowned artists. Whether you walk through the alley alone, or attend the annual mural festival during which new pieces take shape, you can tell these artworks reflect the heart of the city. Whether you're into music or animals or social justice or nature, you'll find something here that speaks to you. It's true that some murals make amazing selfie backdrops, but spending time in this space, it's very clear that these artists were working from a place of authenticity rather than trying to promote anyone's 15 minutes of fame.

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