Opening/Closing

Walter Studios Brings More Art, Music, and Culture to Downtown Phoenix

The scene inside Walter Studios during a recent electronic dance music event.
The scene inside Walter Studios during a recent electronic dance music event. Peter Speyer
The folks behind Walter Productions are in the midst of a busy summer. In addition to prepping their fantastical art cars for Burning Man later this month, the local immersive entertainment production company recently added to its small empire of event venues around the Valley.

In the last week of June, they opened Walter Studios, a 16,000-square-foot venue located at Seventh Avenue and Roosevelt Street. Much like the company’s other spots, including popular immersive art/music space Walter Where?House and arty brewery Walter Station, the cavernous venue fulfills a number of roles.

Walter Studios is described as an “evolving community concept [and] house of fun” on its Facebook page. The 4,500-square-foot main room, dubbed Studio A, hosts concerts and electronic dance music events.

Meanwhile, there’s an art gallery on the premises, as well as a taproom, restaurant, lounge, and hangout called the Honey Bar along the side of the building facing Roosevelt Street.

Walter Productions owner Kirk Strawn refers to the place as a “multidimensional concept” that embodies one of the focuses for the company, which was founded in 2008.

“A big part of establishing our roots in Phoenix over the years has been to create spaces where people want to come to and gather,” he recently told Phoenix New Times. “And so our vision is to be somewhere you can go from breakfast to late night and be a community gathering place. It’s a platform for artists at its core and we want a place where people get inspired and where they feel comfortable expressing themselves.”

Walter Studios has been busy every weekend since its opening with EDM gigs by such well-known DJ/producers as UK legend Lee Burridge, Mikey Lion of the Desert Hearts collective, and Dirtybird Records signee Ardalan. The DJs perform from within Kalliope, a massive art car and mobile stage that’s currently parked inside Studio A.

Local DJs also perform at Walter Studios on the regular. Phoenix-based Recordbar Radio debuted its RBR Live event series at the venue in June, and weekly brunchtime DJ sessions take place inside Honey Bar on Sunday afternoons.
click to enlarge
Mikey Lion of the Desert Hearts collective performs at Walter Studios.
Peter Speyer
Studio A also operates as a recording studio (hence its name) for film, television, and music production, which links back to the property’s origins as the home of legendary local Native American-focused label Canyon Records. Built in 1948 by label co-founders Ray and Mary Boley, the building hosted recording sessions for musicians from around the Southwest, including Navajo singer Ed Lee Natay. In 1953, the couple launched the now-defunct Canyon Films, which shot various commercials, movies, and television shows at the property.

“It was built to be a studio, so we really wanted to celebrate that part of its history and adapt it,” Strawn says.

Walter Productions purchased the property in 2014 after Strawn saw “nothing but possibilities” for it.

“We came in and it had an audio recording and editing bays, a large soundstage and one of the bigger [cyclorama] walls in the Valley,” he says. “We thought, ‘We could really do something here,’ and create a unique space.”

They may have been the only ones. In 2014, that portion of Seventh Avenue would’ve been best described as “sleepy.” Located approximately halfway between the art havens of Grand Avenue and Roosevelt Row, it was a cultural dead zone with mostly offices and only a handful of mom-and-pop restaurants in the area.

“When we acquired the building and told people it was going to be a gathering space someday, the common reaction was, ‘Nobody's ever going to go there because it’s too far off of Roosevelt Row and in the middle of nowhere,” Strawn says.

Things have changed a bit in the area over the last eight years. Popular nightspot Gracie’s Tax Bar and several high-end apartment buildings have since opened in the area. which is now known as the Triangle Neighborhood (as it's bordered by Grand Avenue, Seventh, and Roosevelt).

“If you look at the growth of Grand Avenue and the migration in some ways that’s occurred there in terms of arts and entertainment, we're right in the middle of it now,” Strawn says. “We’re at the northeast corner of the Triangle Neighborhood, which has become this cool, diverse area.”

It took several years for Walter Productions to transform the property into its current form, as it largely served as storage for the company's fleet of art cars (including Kalliope and an enormous VW Bug called Big Red).
click to enlarge
The interior of the Honey Bar at Walter Studios.
Peter Speyer
In 2020, renovations began on the building, including converting Studio A into more of a venue. Lighting fixtures were added to a large circle truss, a sound system was installed, old dressing rooms became restrooms, and offices were transformed into the Honey Bar. The cyclorama wall, though, remained untouched, as Strawn says they wanted to project video streams onto it.

“Projection as a medium has really a lot of awesome potential, so we thought it would be perfect for that purpose,” he says. “It adds so much to the space [during events].”

The circle truss is also being used to hang a silver-colored metal sculpture by local artist Sean T French called PsyRen. Strawn says one of their goals for Walter Studios is to display art in unique ways.

“Instead of having a disco ball, we wanted to show off Sean’s work,” he says. “It's going to be interesting to see it when lights hit it.”

Strawn says they’re not done making improvements to the property. Current plans include adding another lounge called the Blue Bar sometime in the coming months.

“It’s probably one of the most highly anticipated of our developments with the project,” he says. “Like with everything else involved with Walter Studios, we're working with a number of different artists to help us create something really, really unique.”
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.