If there’s one question that continues to grow louder among museums and art institutions across the globe, it’s this: How can they stay relevant in the 21st century?
Museums still serve as guardians of cultural history, but as communities increasingly come to expect that their institutions reflect them and their needs, these institutions’ self-reflection can allow new ideas to gain traction.
In Phoenix, one of those ideas is Amplified, the annual music and arts festival happening for the second time on Sunday, January 20, at Phoenix Art Museum. This year, more than 50 bands and artist groups will take over the museum for a day, offering visitors not only the experience of a staggering numbers of acts in a single place, but also transforming the possibilities of the museum’s role in the community.
Amplified is led by Lani Hudson, the museum’s audience development manager. Hudson is the same force behind the museum’s well-known First Friday events, as well as PhxArt Project, which brings the museum to other sites in the community, such as CityScape, FORM Arcosanti, and others. Also integral to the event’s planning is David Moroney, talent buyer at well-known Phoenix concert promoter Stateside Presents.
The museum first approached Stateside in 2017 to ask if they would collaborate for the first Amplified event. Hudson knew she wanted to hold a music festival, and as their collaboration progressed, the idea surfaced to make it primarily based around Arizona-based artists.
“It can be frustrating [in some Phoenix venues] that there’s not as much room for local artists,” says Moroney. “We could have done a typical festival and bring in a well-known headliner, but here are these great artists who have been working really hard, so we thought: Let’s give them the opportunity to showcase, and have Amplified be all about local music in general.”
The first Amplified took place in January 2018 and was well-received, with more than 1,500 people in attendance. More than 40 bands participated, playing in different spaces inside the museum.
“The idea was to juxtapose art on the walls with the art that’s being created on the spot in the same vicinity — another kind of art, one that doesn’t have a form aside from the bodies of the musicians and their instruments,” says Moroney. “We set out to create a walking soundtrack to the museum in an effort to bring people into the nooks and crannies of the museum, which is full of unexpected twists and turns people might not know about.”
This year, some of Phoenix’s most well-known artists will perform, including Las Chollas Peligrosas, Geibral Elisha Movement, and Sunn Trio, as well as Tucson artists such as Vox Urbana.
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Returning artists to Amplified are excited for the opportunity to return to the museum; many of them also appreciate the importance of being invited to play inside the museum. “There is this line drawn between fine art and local culture,” says Andria Bunnell of Las Chollas Peligrosas. “When they’re so separate, the marrying of them is so important. It’s amazing to see how our community is profoundly affected when this happens. There is a certain audience who never would have seen us if it weren’t for this event, and there’s also a group of people who never would have come to the museum if these bands weren’t playing there.
“[Many people] absolutely fall in love with what they haven’t known before. They’ve been given this opportunity, this invitation, to go to places that they don’t know. They need this stepping stone.”
PhxArt Amplified. Noon Sunday, January 20, at Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 North Central Avenue; phxart.org. Admission is $23 for ages 22 and over, $13 for ages 6 to 21,and free for museum members and children under 6.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the title held by Lani Hudson. She is the museum's audience development manager, not marketing and outreach manager.