Last Thursday afternoon, Michelle Meyer said she has several "artners" in crime.
“I might have made up that word,” she shrugged from just inside the door of Snood City Neon, the Grand Avenue studio she operates with her principal "artner," Mike Butzine. “'Artner.' It’s a pun-y kind of thing. Because we’re partners and we make art here.”
Snood City is a fully functioning neon studio. “We can bend and pump neon tubes, all in-house,” Meyer said. She studied at ASU, one of only three colleges in the country where one can learn professional neon-crafting. “But it isn’t like welding or woodworking. It’s more difficult to find a job doing it. I wanted to keep on creating neon, so we set up Snood City. It’s a neon shop, but it’s also an artist collective. We have neon artists, and we have painters and sculptors and fashion.”
The collective was preparing to collaborate on a fashion show for the annual Grand Avenue Festival on Saturday, November 9. A fashion curator named Irene, one of Meyer’s collaborators, arrived at Snood City while Meyer tried to explain about Snoodmen, the studio’s mascot.
“I did this project when I was at ASU where I decided to cover a room in fake fur — the walls and the furniture and the floor," she recalled. "I created a character named Snoodmen, who grew out of the walls, and I made this Snoodmen costume. It’s like a fur onesie. I walked around the gallery in the Snoodmen suit, and that was the birth of Snoodmen. He interacted with the attendees because art is about experience. It’s an exchange.”
Meyer had three Snoodmen suits in rotation right now, each a different color. “They are so cool,” Irene observed.
“Irene is an arts activist, a fashion designer, and a curator,” Meyer announced. “She’s our other 'artner' in crime for the festival.”
“'Artner,'” Irene laughed. “Hey, I like that word!”
She met Meyer, Irene said, in the art scene. “I mainly do high fashion. A lot of the stuff I was doing required building headpieces and [things] like that. I saw the really cool stuff Michelle was making and I thought, ‘She is super talented, I need to work with her.’”
Meyer nodded. “We totally wanted to work together.”
“With fashion, you always want to take it to the next level,” explained Irene, who owns a company called Weezy’s Playhouse. “I get hired by different designers and companies to do fashion installations or curate fashion shows.”
She likes to collaborate with real artists, Irene said. She and Meyer had been working for five months on the Grand Avenue event, which they call "Master Your Monster: A Spectacle of Art, Performance & Fashion." Irene was looking forward to working with a designer called Flower Power.
“Beatrice Moore does the Untrashed Recycled Fashion Show every year,” Meyer said, “where people turn recycled goods into fashion. But our show is a more formal thing.”
“The whole premise of the show is coming to terms with the inner spirits that reside in us all,” she said. “Sometimes they just rage out, and sometimes we have control over them.”
Both women believe incorporating drag performers and a storyline narrative make their fashion show unique. “Our emcee wrote this beautiful poem about releasing your inner monster, and he’s going to read that while the models are walking,” Meyer said, stepping out onto the sidewalk in front of her studio. She rounded a corner into the studio’s courtyard, filled with Pete Deise sculptures.
“The models will be walking through here, and the sculptures will be the backdrop,” she said, sounding excited. “The runway will come out of that shipping container over there, and the finale will be everyone coming out into the crowd. People like to see the outfits up close and interact with them, and we want to provide that to the Grand Avenue people.”
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Letting the audience take selfies with the models promoted integration, Meyer thought. It suggests, Irene offered, the idea that art isn’t untouchable.
“A lot of my following has never been out here to Grand Avenue,” she admitted. “They’re mostly in Scottsdale. I can’t wait for them to fall in love with this scene. I know back in the day downtown wasn’t the best place for people to, like, visit. It had a stigma. But my people are totally going to love the vibe here.”
Meyer nodded. “A lot of the people I invite down here for our First Friday events are like, ‘I wouldn’t go down there unless I was packing something on my hip.’ We need to get rid of the downtown stigma. I’m up for the challenge.”
Snoodmen wasn’t afraid of downtown, Meyer said. “He will be here for the Festival, walking around being unconventional. Count on it.”