Big Brains: Check Out the Talented Finalists for Our First-Ever Awards for Emerging Creatives

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Cy Keener and Jay Atherton
Atherton Keener
Some people know Cy Keener and Jay Atherton as artists; others know them as architects, business partners whose Atherton Keener firm has designed a Phoenix home that's received a lot of recent national attention.

Whether they're working on an art installation or designing a sustainable-living structure, Keener, 35, and Atherton, 34, are innovators.


Big Brain Awards

"We're interested in working with things that are complex enough that they require a lot of planning and thought in their design," Keener says, "but that are also not totally in our control, so that there's an aspect of the unexpected in there somewhere."

Atherton grew up here; Keener is from Seattle. They met while studying architecture at ASU. They love the desert and say they're inspired by the desert sunlight.

"What we do is more a way of exploring something that can be applied to different things," Atherton says. "If we're working with light, we're definitely applying it to a local context, but we're also interested in exploring the universal aspects of light and not just its place in the desert."

Sunlight played a big part in the design of the duo's Meadowbrook Residence, which takes the popular architectural theory of sustainable relationship and turns it on its head with new perspectives on urban planning and energy use. Sited on an urban infill lot in Central Phoenix and set back from the street, the home is surrounded by a polypropylene shade cloth that wraps around three sides of the structure to control climate with created shade.

"Meadowbrook is a response to the desert in an urban environment," Atherton says. "It's about what it means to really live in the desert and what we can extract from the suburban asphalt and the city hard-scape that surrounds us."

The idea for the screen, Atherton says, came from driving around the city, looking at other homes — all of which, Atherton says, either had their blinds drawn or had tacked-on structures shielding their windows from the heat. "We saw how people had adapted their environment to compensate where architecture had failed, and we took that idea and moved on from there."

The pair's newest project is called 90 Days Over 100, the first installment in the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary's just-launched Art + Architecture series. The installation will pair ice and channeled sunlight in a museum space throughout 90 days of summer, each of them 100 degrees or hotter. It's a celebration of Arizona climate that will, according to its designers, "explore temporal and physical qualities inherent in material phase change from solid to liquid," and will reveal the relationship between water and electricity in our highly constructed desert environment.

"No matter what we're working on," Atherton says, "we're really just exploring the ways in which our methods can be applied to different things — art, architecture, the environment. Phoenix provides us with the perfect canvas for all these things." — Robrt L. Pela

Mark Dudlik
In March 2009, a young designer named Mark Dudlik wrote an open letter to the Phoenix design community and posted it on his Web site. One tweet and 24 hours later, his letter had been viewed more than 4,000 times.

The third paragraph drew particular attention.

"The Phoenix design scene is dying," Dudlik wrote.

That's a bold statement, coming from a guy who moved to Phoenix nearly five years ago to attend design school at Arizona State University. But the 26-year-old makes no apologies.

Instead, he makes progress.

Back to that letter. Some disliked his bravado, but others joined forces with Dudlik to launch Phoenix Design Week — a series of exhibitions, workshops, and discussions for communication, graphic, and industrial designers — just six months later. The design community, including architects and graphic and industrial designers, all know of each other, says Dudlik, but the interactive piece was missing. At Design Week, these professionals have the opportunity to showcase their work, collaborate on timed visual projects, and discuss future visions of the design scene in Phoenix.

The first Design Week gained the national attention of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), which is now using the Phoenix experience as an example for opportunities in other cities. It also sparked the interest of the national Design Week committee, which chose Phoenix as the site for its 2011 national event.

In the designated design corner of his Phoenix apartment, Dudlik tries to keep his aesthetic neutral. Partly because he doesn't have much free time. The self-described workaholic doesn't remember his last day off. He'll even admit that it's been years since he updated his Web site. At work, he's a graphic designer with Sarkissian Mason, a New York-based media agency with such Phoenix clients as Mazda and Boeing. There, Dudlik creates sleek, modern visual graphics and logos used for marketing campaigns as well as interactive media.

Whether it's a week of activities dedicated to design or brainstorming yet another community project, Dudlik's committed to the notion that collaboration is key. Hence, his latest brainchild: www.dojocollective.com, which he's created with design consultant Dave Bjorn.

Though Dojo is looking for a permanent space, Dudlik and Bjorn have created a virtual place for community and support among communication design students and established Valley designers.

Dudlik's ultimate vision for Dojo includes a graphic design museum that will serve as a community space for tutoring and design curriculum offered to young people interested in design.

"The museum will absolutely be a shelf," Dudlik says. "It will hopefully showcase the work of local designers, but it will also serve as a gathering place, which is exactly what the Phoenix community needs more of in order to survive." — Claire Lawton

Seesaw Design
Three cute girls graduate from college and decide to open a graphic design firm. They rent space in a quirky building, buy a couple of ancient letterpress machines to complement the big-screen Macs lining one side of their cubbyhole of an office, and complete the look with an office dog — a Boston terrier named Feather, who greets clients and nestles on her owner's lap while considering colors and fonts for wedding invitations. They land a couple of big-name clients — K-Swiss is on the list — and pinch themselves, happy to have found success before 30.

Where's this firm based, you ask? San Francisco, Chicago, maybe D.C.? Must be Portland.

Nope. Try Scottsdale. Angela Hardison, Raquel Raney, and Lindsay Tingstrom say they don't care to live anywhere else. And come to think of it, thanks to these three, neither do we.

Seesaw Design is just what this town needs — women with extremely good taste. At 3,000 pounds each, the antique (circa late 1800s) letterpress machines they've taught themselves to use are so huge that they are housed off-site in a garage; but Seesaw's calendars are hanging all over town, and their very limited (so far) line of stationery is highly coveted. Truth be told, computer-generated graphic design — for clients including St. Francis, Chestnut Lane, and At One Yoga — takes up most of the workday.

In their free time, all three are big thrifters. We knew better than to ask for their favorite haunts (though we heard vague references to Sun City) but you can check out their very best finds on their etsy shop. Okay, except for a driftwood lamp taller than Tingstrom, who tops out over 6 feet; she kept the lamp. And they're kind enough to post evidence of their cool hunting (pictures and ideas, not just vintage dresses) on the Seesaw blog. (That and the etsy shop are linked from the company's Web site.)

The three met several years ago at ASU's College of Design and giggle nervously when asked whether they were BFF from the start. No, not really, they say, looking embarrassed and admitting that's probably what's made the working relationship go so smoothly.

At 28, Tingstrom is the self-described "old lady" (at first she says "old maid," then corrects herself — her letterpressed wedding invites are to die for, by the way), raised in the Valley and schooled in California and Italy before finishing up in Tempe. She's the concept person of the group, most interested in branding a client's product. Raney, 26, from Miami, is the "arty" one, and Mesa native Hardison, 25, has more of a "handmade" aesthetic and a real love of typography. (And a great house in Mesa — featured earlier this month on Design Sponge. Our favorite: the plate wall.) All three go for the minimalist look — hence, the etsy shop to get rid of too much thrifted clutter, though they do mourn the recent sale of a Native American yarn wall hanging on display until recently at Seesaw's office.

All three agree that Scottsdale's the place to be. Looking around their sleek, white office, with its chicken-wire covered inspiration wall hung with stamped papers, newspaper clippings, examples of Seesaw's letterpressings and a multi-colored kids' plastic heart, it's hard to disagree. — Amy Silverman


Nathan Blackwell
When he's not looking through his video camera lens, Nathan Blackwell's in the stingray tank.

It's an odd day job for a film director, but being an exhibition tour guide and stingray educator at the Phoenix Zoo gave Blackwell plenty of background for his latest screenplay.

If the screenplay gains enough interest (i.e., financial backing), he'll be back behind his camera directing and filming a couple on a doomed first date, which begins with an alien abduction and relocation in an outer-space zoo exhibit.

The bizarre and extraordinary plot is a "Blackwell classic," as it joins a list of films he's produced, such as "The Hand You're Dealt," in which a guy walks into a tarot card reading and has to leave after his first three cards are death, car bomb, and alien rectal probe, or "The Constant Epiphanies of Billy the Blood Donor," in which poor Billy finds himself in the center of a blood donation clinic's soft drink conspiracy.

It's here where Blackwell succeeds: in the imaginative backstories, the intense character development, and in the concrete and often comedic, bloody visuals he uses under extreme time and resource limits (the tarot card short was written and shot in 48 hours).

His film career began as soon as the first kid on his block got an 8mm video camera for Christmas. The Central Phoenix neighborhood, just miles from where he still lives, made a perfect backdrop for low-tech renditions of Indiana Jones and Star Wars films.

"For me, it has always been about the imagination. It's why I've stayed here in Phoenix, and it's why I keep throwing resources at what I create . . . I'm not looking to make Hollywood blockbusters, but I also don't think my films are the typical 'loners sitting around in a room'-type indie films."

As Blackwell continued experimenting and borrowing equipment, he found himself looking for inspiration. He enrolled in Scottsdale Community College's film production program and, after graduating, created Squishy Studios with a few friends. Blackwell and his four-person studio have since created 40 short films, two feature films, six screenplays. (His second job — the one that actually pays the bills — is freelance commercial work.)

"Squishy comes from the very colorful, fun movies we like to make," he says of his company's name. "We're not Disney, by any means, but we're into that joie de vivre, irrepressible silliness."

At 34, Blackwell describes himself as a late bloomer — perhaps not the kind that couldn't find a date to prom, but the artist whose work still doesn't fit in with what's considered slick or cool.

"I used to look at Chuck Jones (of Looney Toons), who was depressed in art school because he couldn't draw as well as the other students. He was talking to his uncle, who told him that up against a bunch of sports cars, you can be the fastest pig you can be, but you shouldn't want to compete in the same arena. And it's a lot like that for me. I want to create my own projects and share my vision of a unique, fun and enjoyable world." — Claire Lawton

Robert Kilman and Safwat Saleem
In their short film Phoenix: City of the Future, Safwat Saleem and Robert Kilman tell the story of a man who's been hired to make a documentary that will sell the creative class on the joys of living and working in Phoenix. It's a story that hints at the challenges that the filmmakers, who share writing and directing credits on the movie, were struggling with themselves when they were hired to make the movie. Unlike their hero, it's a struggle that both are determined to overcome.

"I have a real love-hate relationship with Phoenix," Kilman admits. "I just returned from several months in England, and being gone from here made me realize that there's a lot of cool stuff happening in this town that I don't take advantage of when I'm here. When I find myself complaining about Phoenix, I try to remember that."

Kilman moved to Tempe from Texas in 2002 to pursue a degree in experimental electronic music at ASU, where he met Pakistan native Saleem, who was wrapping up a graduate degree in graphic information technology. Their first collaboration, 2008's And Everything Was Alright — about a lonely, six-foot-tall teddy bear that longs to travel into outer space — hinted at the cinéma vérité style they would later perfect in the tongue-in-cheek Phoenix: City of the Future.

That movie started out as a straight-ahead commission. When the duo was approached about creating a short film for last year's Phoenix Design Week, an annual event for local designers and other creative types, they jumped. "I said, 'Let's have a big laugh about the struggles of selling our city to the very people who will be seeing it,'" Kilman says. "The film was originally just supposed to be shown at the conference, after the keynote speech, but it was so well received, we ran with it."

Shot in a matter of weeks in the Valley, the movie follows former Australian soap actor Barry Moon, who co-wrote the film with Kilman and Saleem, as he goes looking for what makes Phoenix attractive to people who might move here. Its zingy, pseudo-documentary style teases our town's shortcomings while celebrating what Saleem calls our "from-the-ashes approach to the arts here."

"We cut the original ending from the film," Saleem says, laughing. "The way we shot it was that Barry has a moment of exasperation about trying to sell Phoenix, and he goes into a bar and lights a cigarette. He doesn't realize that it's illegal to smoke in a bar here. And the bartender shoots him, and he dies."

Phoenix: City of the Future went on to play the ASU Art Museum Film Festival, and Kilman and Saleem have recently begun submitting their movie to national festivals here and abroad. They are already at work on their next film, about a woman who dresses as a chicken and allows game-show contestants to beat her up. And Saleem continues to pursue a personal goal: to inspire others with his day job as a graphic designer at ASU. "If I can improve the standard of creativity in both local filmmaking and graphic design," he says, "then there will be no more question about whether Phoenix is attractive to creative types. They will already be on their way here." — Robrt L. Pela

Saxon Richardson
When ASU Art Museum Curator John Spiak got a call from a young-sounding girl, asking whether he'd consider her friend's film for his museum's film festival, he was not optimistic.

For one thing, she said the five-minute film was about skateboarding — and skateboarding shorts are a dime a dozen for young filmmakers. For another, the deadline for submission had already passed.

But Spiak told the girl to send him the video. And the rest, as they say, is history. The short film, "Send Greener Grass Uphill," wasn't just chosen for the festival: It also won the "Arizona Prize," awarded each year to the festival's top submission from an Arizona filmmaker.

That success story is all the more remarkable because the film's director, Saxon Richardson, is just 17. A junior at Ahwatukee's Mountain Pointe High School, Richardson lives to play volleyball and makes straight A's. But he's also been making movies as long as anyone can remember. "Send Greener Grass Uphill," shot on a high-definition camcorder, is just one of the numerous short films he's completed.

The only difference is that, this year, he had someone to market his work. Richardson's friend Anika, a foreign exchange student from Germany, pushed him to contact Spiak. When he didn't, she took the bull by the horns and did it herself. (Apparently, Anika also pushed Richardson to answer questions from New Times — while a good student, he's "a little bit lazy," his mother says, and about the furthest thing possible from a self-promoter.)

There's a reason that "Send Greener Grass Uphill" was chosen over hundreds of timelier, more mature submissions. As Spiak realized immediately, it's a revelation, with a style more evocative of an old Hollywood Western than the typical skater-boy music video rip-off.

"The camera angles are unbelievable," Spiak says. "The way he focuses a shot is fantastic, and his use of light, and the changing of that light. The way he uses the Southwestern landscape — it really works."

The haunting soundtrack, Spiak notes, sets the mood. And even though it goes unmentioned in the closing credits, Richardson says he wrote the music himself and performed it on his guitar.

Richardson's mother, Tilda, recalls that her son wanted only one thing for birthdays and Christmases: camera equipment. He'd round up family members to act in various productions. (Once, his father got roped into playing the sheriff.) And before he got his driver's license, he'd beg her to drive out to particular places in the desert. He knew exactly what would make a perfect location.

His mother, who says she really doesn't have any artistic inclination, would watch him set up his shots and wonder, How does he know how to do this?

"He is always thinking," she says. "I wonder sometimes what goes on in his mind while we're watching a movie. He sees it differently than we do."

Saxon Richardson is now looking at film schools. "I would like to do something with film, but I'm not sure exactly what yet," he tells New Times, with typical understatement. We're pretty sure he's going to have plenty of options. — Sarah Fenske


Tony Arranaga
Once upon a time, Tony Arranaga wanted to be a famous actor. Starring in movies and signing autographs and hanging out with starlets sounded like fun to the Los Angeles native and former television news anchor. Today, the only script Arranaga is reading is his own, and it's one that's all about making Phoenix a better place, one light-rail ticket at a time.

Arranaga is better known around here as the Light Rail Blogger. His blog, www.lightrailblogger.com, is devoted to getting the word out about the importance of riding public transportation. In short, pithy posts about the joys of living a car-free life, the 40-year-old public relations flack educates readers about how to be riders. He writes about light-rail destinations, shares maps and etiquette tips, and tells us what he thinks about the trend of wrapping rail cars in giant advertisements. He also stumps for local, light-rail convenient businesses (no kickbacks!), and investigates the public art displayed at each of the light-rail stops. He keeps the blog light and personal: In a recent post titled "Does This Bike Make Me Look Fat?" Arranaga carped about his expanding waistline ("How do you gain weight riding a bike every day? What's up with that?").

"When I first started the blog, it was just dumb and random," Arranaga says. "I had no idea what I was doing. Then I started exploring the ways that public transportation can help build a community, and I decided to really apply that to my life and then write about it."

He's been car-free for a year now and hopes his blog will inspire others to make the same choice. But does Arranaga want everyone to live car-free?

"Absolutely not!" he says, then laughs. "I don't think everyone who lives in Phoenix can go without a car. But if you live downtown, there are a lot more options: You can bike to work, you can use a car-sharing program, you can hop on light rail. If I can make someone, just once a week, think about leaving their car in the garage, I've done my job."

That job occasionally includes nudging the Valley Metro folks about ways to improve their existing system. In one post, he suggests more bike racks at light-rail stops; in another, he bemoans potential transit cuts.

"Unfortunately, light rail has hit a speed bump with the current economy," he says. "Plans to expand the system have been pushed back five or 10 years. In the meantime, though, light rail is fantastic."

Arranaga says his biggest thrill is the feedback his blog provokes. "I can't tell you how many readers have written to say they bought bikes this year," he crows. "Or how many say they've hopped on light rail because of the blog. I really hope I'm changing attitudes about light rail in Phoenix." — Robrt L. Pela

Dave Brookhouser
and Jacqui Johnson
The first thing anyone says about Jacqui Johnson and Dave Brookhouser is that they are so dang cute. At 35, she's got this polished Jackie O. thing going, and he's an adorably scruffy 44. (Just looking at him, you know he'd be fun to have a beer with.) It's no wonder their weekly podcasts at CenPho.TV have attracted a growing — and passionate — audience.

Just how passionate became clear in October. Partners onscreen and off, they'd been filming a five-minute podcast every week for a year, unsure of whether it was really worth all the time and effort, unsure of whether anyone was really watching other than family and friends.

Then their rental apartment off Roosevelt Row was broken into. The thieves helped themselves to a few thousand dollars' worth of camera equipment, the MacBook Johnson and Brookhouser used for editing, even a few pairs of Brookhouser's shoes.

There was no way the show could go on. Yet . . . they'd never missed a week. The show had to go on.

They did the whole thing on a Web cam. And they posted an appeal for donations from their viewers.

They were shocked when the money poured in: $1,300 in days. Soon after, another fan, a photographer, raised an additional $1,000 through a class he was teaching.

"We were like, 'Oh, my God," Brookhouser says.

"We'd been doing it for a year," Johnson recalls. "I was exhausted. It seemed like there was zero return. And then . . ."

The money was great, of course. But the big thing was what it signified. "People really watch! People really like us," Johnson says, still sounding amazed. "People think we're doing something worthwhile enough to donate to!"

The couple met on New Year's Eve 2008 at Carly's, the neighborhood hangout of choice for many downtown Phoenix residents. It's no exaggeration to say that neither one had the slightest experience in broadcast journalism. (By day, he does IT for the Arizona Supreme Court; she works in accounting.)

But nine months after they started dating, they launched CenPhoTV.com together, partly as a way to keep abreast of what was going on in their neighborhood. "You'd walk outside your apartment and see all these people," Johnson says, at street festivals, or Third Fridays. "I'd wonder, 'How did they all find out about this?'"

And so they set about to "report" on events in Central Phoenix. Brookhouser took on music, focusing on bands he liked and where they'd be playing. Johnson tackled everything else.

They had no idea at the time how much work it would be. (They average about 30 hours a week gathering information, writing it, filming, and then editing.) Nor did they calculate what a strain it could put on their relationship, to both live and work out of a tiny apartment.

But today they don't just know what's happening. They are what's happening.

Sometimes, Johnson says, people do recognize her as "that girl from CenPhoTV."

"She loves that," Brookhouser says, looking at his partner adoringly.

"I'm just like, 'OMG! You watch us!'" Johnson says, adding quickly, "It only happens once every few months."

"That's another thing that helps with the burnout," Brookhouser says. "Just to know someone's watching us." — Sarah Fenske

Daniel Davis
Daniel Davis doesn't just dislike driving — he hates it. Not only does he have zero sense of direction but, he claims, he's also got (undiagnosed) road-induced narcolepsy. "I'm driving and my wife's with me, and she'll say, 'You're snoring!'" Davis says. "And that's when I realize I've been dreaming."

There are people who enjoy a nice long commute. Davis, suffice it to say, is not one of them.

So it's both kind of funny and kind of awful that, upon relocating to Arizona in 2005 from Spokane, Washington, Davis got a job at a graphic design firm located near Sky Harbor Airport — and a home outside Peoria.

Yet it's precisely that god-awful drive that became the inspiration for Davis' archly funny Web comic, www.monstercommute.com. The daily cartoon, which Davis has been sketching since September 2008, chronicles the commute of two monsters as they make their way along the "Hellway."

Davis doesn't draw just cartoons. He and his wife/collaborator, Dawna, started a company called Steam Crow upon moving to Phoenix. Their work is inspired partly by the steampunk movement, which mashes up Victoriana and science fiction, and partly by their own "monster punk" sensibilities. They sell T-shirts, art prints, books and buttons both online and at steamcrow.com and at Red Hot Robot, the way-cool CenPho "geek" shop.

Their work, like monstercommute.com, manages to be both witty and approachable. (One example: The Davis' designed a T-shirt proclaiming "Miso Hungry," showing a bowl of the Japanese soup. After that took off, they launched a shirt declaring "Miso Angry" — in which the soup in question manages to appear downright pissed.)

Jason Kiningham, the owner of Red Hot Robot, calls monstercommute.com "brilliant." He praises the couple's distinctive sensibility.

"There's a deceptively simple aspect to their art," he says. "But even though it looks cute on the exterior, there's this little bit of evil lurking behind that. There's something else there."

Davis, 41, dabbled in art for years, but it was only after having a son and moving to Phoenix that he really felt the need to hunker down and get to work.

"I'd been a graphic designer for 11 years, and all I could show for it is I did these banking banners that aren't even up online anymore," he says. "Or I designed a Web site for a dentist. It paid the bills at the time, but it had no lasting value. Having him forced me to finish my projects. I needed a body of work to be a legacy for him."

Being in Phoenix, he adds, really brought everything together.

The Davises have been shocked by the popularity of Steam Crow and the many, many fans who regularly log in to monstercommute.com. The couple had originally intended to work here for a while and then "get the heck out," Davis says. "But we've gotten all this support from this city."

And the one thing that was killing Davis' quality of life here has changed. He no longer makes the three-hour-plus daily pilgrimage to and from work — he's working for a new firm now, and they let him work remotely.

But Monster Commute fans needn't worry that the well of inspiration will run dry.

"If I never drove again for the rest of my life, I'd still be angry about all that driving," Davis says. Lucky for us. — Sarah Fenske


Tricia Moore
When performance artist Tricia Moore saw her big sister twirling flaming batons at age 9, little did she know it was foreshadowing a hobby that was to become her own life's work. Moore grew up in northern Arizona before moving to Phoenix 20 years ago in search of a better life. She went to school at Arizona State University and took a rewarding job as a special education teacher. It was every parent's dream for their kid — minus the 2.5 kids and dog. But even then, Moore was different. "I picked up some martial arts weapons but never saw it going anywhere," she says. "It was just fun to pull out at parties — something to do to get people excited."

Things changed a decade ago when Moore spotted Stephen Strange's now-defunct fire-arts troupe, Culte De Feu, spinning fire at a First Friday performance. "I saw little balls of fire in the distance and I just started heading toward them," she says. "I watched their entire show." Moore was entranced by the performance but too shy to approach the group and ask questions. Several years later, she signed up for a fire-spinning class on a whim and was soon performing with Culte de Feu and other fire-spinning groups. "It was the best time of my life," she says.

Though the 40-year-old artist enjoys performing, her legacy is the hundreds of students who've come through her classes and the hundreds more she'll help teach over a lifetime. In 2005, she began teaching fire-spinning classes at Domba dance studio in Tempe (now Plaza de Anaya). Moore also spent several summers teaching at a circus camp for kids in Boston. Kids playing with fire? Don't let your imagination run wild — these aren't pyromaniacs in training. "For me, it's not about fire," Moore tells New Times. "I think about it like teaching kids how to twirl staves and how to spin poi. I just happen to add fire to all of the props I use."

Moore also has opened her house for mutual teaching sessions where performers of various skill levels share their secrets. Every major city has a circus house, she says, "and in Phoenix, it's my house. It's been nicknamed the circus house because when circus performers and prop artists come to town they look each other up, and for some reason they would always be referred to me!"

If you think it's unusual to have circus performers sleeping on your pullout couch, just wait until you hear about Moore's most ambitious project to date: The Circus Farm. She recently purchased a farm in Mesa that she plans to turn into a unique gathering place for circus performers. Think trampoline in the backyard, unicyclists in the driveway — maybe even a clown or two on a high-wire (eek!). That may not be everyone's idea of utopia, but for this quirky fire performer and the community she serves, it's a dream come true. — Wynter Holden

Marcelino Quiñonez
Last year, during a visit to New York's Museum of Modern Art, Marcelino Quiñonez saw Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night for the first time. "I was overwhelmed," Quiñonez says. "It was the work of someone who had completely immersed himself in his art. And I started to think, What kind of artist am I? When am I going to reach that level of expression?"

There are plenty of people in Phoenix who would say that Quiñonez has already achieved that higher level of expression. As a drama teacher for at-risk youth at New Carpa Theater (then known as the Colores Actors-Writers Workshop). As the coordinator of the Artist Memorial for Immigrants. As an actor in James Garcia's Voices of Valor, which chronicled the Latino's experience in World War II. And in diverse roles for Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, Teatro Bravo, and at ASU, where he majored in theater and minored in Chicano studies.

"Still, I sometimes feel like I'm just getting started," Quiñonez shrugs.

The oldest of five siblings, Quiñonez was born in Durango, Mexico, but grew up in San Jose, California, and moved to Phoenix when he was 13. "My mom came out here in 1994 and she really liked it," he recalls. "So she went home and told my dad, 'We're moving to Phoenix.'"

While he was finishing his degree, Quiñonez, who's 26, taught at the behavioral health facility TERROS, where he produced a play called I Don't Get Anything Out of School. "I like plays that challenge racial stereotypes and attitudes about how learning is never any fun," he says. "You can change the equation for kids if you understand your audience."

Today, he teaches English and drama at a charter high school in South Phoenix. "I have a chance to really motivate these kids, most of whom are Latino," he says, "because I look like them. So I can use myself as an example and no one is thinking it's easy for me because I'm white."

When he's not teaching, he's looking for ways to impact the community with his art. Among his projects is the Artist Memorial for Immigrants, an annual event that honors immigrants who've died trying to cross the border. Quiñonez assembles a group of thespians and visual artists at César Chávez Park in Berkeley, California, and has them create art in honor of those immigrants who died trying to better their lives.

"It's an opportunity to use art to benefit another soul," Quinones says, "and not to gain anything superficial like fame or admiration."

Still, it's hard not to admire Quiñonez for creating art that gives disadvantaged youth a leg up and that memorializes those who've gone before us. He has, he says, more memorializing to do.

"I know there's another soul out there who will find a way to tell me, 'Marcelino, look at me. I am gone, but you must tell my story.' And then I'll start studying up to put his life up on the stage." — Robrt L. Pela

Kara Roschi
Five years ago, if you'd told artist Kara Roschi that she'd be giving away hand massages and getting lip-prints from strangers on her undergarments in the name of art, she'd have laughed at the joke. In fact, when ASU instructor Angela Ellsworth announced that the mixed-media class Roschi signed up for back in her undergrad days would heavily focus on performance art, this budding artist seriously considered dropping. She opted to stick it out and embraced her newfound performance skills, literally taking her show on the road with interactive shows on intimacy at First Friday in downtown Phoenix.

"I always used my art as personal therapy. I got into work about intimacy because I was dealing with a long-term relationship when I moved into the downtown area," Roschi says. Her "Intimacy" series featured eight live performances, including the aforementioned panty-kissing project and one in which ink-stained swatches of fabric were sewed onto willing participants' clothing. Roschi is quick to correct viewers on the meaning of the word "intimacy" as it relates to her work. Yes, there's a sensual component to a few of her performance pieces, but she's more interested in exploring human connection than sexuality. Sorry, boys!

Roschi's "Intimacy" performances are over; however, she plans to start a new series at First Fridays this summer. Many of the participating galleries have lost patrons since organizers started blocking off Roosevelt Street during the art walk. Roschi's off-the-wall solution is the Ridiculous Red Dress Tour, in which she and other local artists will parade through a different section of the art walk each First Friday clothed in poufy red gowns salvaged from local thrift shops. Anyone who wants to take the tour will be encouraged to strap on a red corsage or don a red tie as a display of unity.

The idea, Roschi says, is that people will spot the gaudy garments and follow the parade, thus touring galleries they might otherwise have neglected. Clever, right? We're guessing all of the non-Roosevelt Row galleries will be the first on board with her plan. Roschi's also considering writing for Friday Night Live, a new sketch comedy show premièring this fall at The Firehouse.

This up-and-comer is so addicted to audience participation that even her visual art has a performance component. For her April exhibit, "Complicit," with Nicole Dunlap at Practical Art (where she works part time), Roschi designed wood and metal structures containing fragile eggs that broke unexpectedly as visitors came through. The eggs that didn't break were destroyed by Roschi in an egg-smashing extravaganza at the closing reception.

When asked whether she'd rather continue performing or move into more traditional exhibition, Roschi is quick to confirm her status as a lifelong performer. "There's an immediacy to it," she says. "[Performance art] gives people another way to go out and engage, rather than watching TV or a movie." Even if it means giving out free hand massages and letting strangers leave kiss marks on her clothes, Roschi is determined to get Phoenicians to turn off American Idol and tune into local talent instead — a fact that doesn't go unappreciated. — Wynter Holden


Peter Bugg
Last October, Peter Bugg went to a wedding in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. "People were asking me, 'How do you like Phoenix?'" he says. "And I was still like, 'I don't love it there.'"

But by winter, Bugg had changed his mind. "I started looking around and realized how much of an impact Phoenix had on my art."

Phoenix has benefited from Bugg's art, as well. A series of high-profile shows about our obsession with pop culture and tabloid news (most notably "Paper or Plastic," which offered mash-ups of celeb magazine covers, and "World Exclusive!" about the graphic tease of tabloid headlines) merged the 29-year-old artist's interest in photography and his observation that most of the information we get about Hollywood comes from pictures, rather than from text. It's an insight that drives Bugg's work, an insight he honed while still an art student at ASU.

"Living here has really informed my work," Bugg says. "Before I moved here, I was taking photographs of my family and my friends, but then I got here and I didn't have any family or friends to photograph." After a recent internship at a paparazzi photo agency in Los Angeles, Bugg returned to Tempe determined to apply his new insider's perspective to art. "It forced me to really think about what I wanted to do. And what I really wanted to do was make art about my passion for pop culture."

That passion has resulted in an exhibit at last year's Arizona Biennial at the Tucson Museum of Art, and an attention-grabbing show about the wicked life of Britney Spears (invitations to the opening were glued to empty prescription drug bottles). With his most recent show, Bugg stepped away from using other people's celebrity photos and turned his own lens on his audience: In Unseen Footage, Bugg sicced a group of motion-activated surveillance cameras on eye lounge visitors who came to see the exhibit.

"I still don't love the hot weather here," Bugg says. "But Phoenix is an amazing place." It's the perfect place for a visual artist, Bugg says, because it offers a more immediate audience. "I actually meet other artists here all the time, which leads to conversations about art and opportunities for collaboration. That's not something you get in, you know, New York or L.A.

"Artist friends of mine complain about living and working in New York City," says Bugg, who just graduated from ASU with a master's in visual art. "Because out there the attitude about artists is, 'Oh, great, another one of you.' But out here it's, 'Oh, you do art? Cool! We should hang out!'" — Robrt L. Pela

Spencer Hibert
At the tender age of 30, Spencer Hibert has already made art for the masses. Literally.

Inspired by video games and "pop psychedelic" art, Hibert's got a background in painting, but a few years ago, he decided he wanted to sculpt.

More specifically, he wanted to make characters like his own personal creation, the Miigii (pronounced mee-gee, with a hard "g" — you can read more at www.miigiiland.com) out of molds and resin. So he got himself a job at a mold supply company in town and learned how. Part of the appeal: "I can take a really, really long time on a piece and then present it in a bunch of different mediums."

His hand-cast Miigiis — whether they're opaque, semi-opaque, or clear — stand about six inches tall. You can see one on the cover of this week's issue. We've customized it, and Hibert invites anyone with so much as a Sharpie to do the same. He sells them with a sticker sheet of cartoon features, sort of Mr. Potato Head meets Slime.

You can buy Miigiis around town (more on that in a minute), but that wasn't enough for Hibert. He found a local vending machine company and sold the owner on the idea of making a smaller, 50-cent version of the MiiGii to be sold in machines alongside fake mustaches and gumballs.

With a minimum required order of 300,000, the vending machine company must have taken this guy seriously, because Hibert was asked to make a prototype to be sent to China. He didn't actually get to go to China to make the mold himself, so the thing went back and forth for a while.

"They forgot the butt crack at first. It was all over the place," he says.

Eventually they got it right, and today you can find the mini Miigiis everywhere. Hibert's next vending machine project is even more ambitious. One element: He's asking 10 illustrators from around the world to design sticker faces.

Hibert's influences — not to mention other ideas he's got in the works — are too numerous to list here in full, but one of his more ambitious current projects bears mentioning. Raised in Seattle and Phoenix, Hibert now calls the Valley home. He's settled just off Roosevelt Street in the former Kitchenette photography collective. A narrow garage is packed with paintings, Miigiis, and prototypes for more figures, while another space has just enough room for a bed, couch, desk and Hibert's extensive toy collection, awash in hot pinks, blues, yellows, and black.

So you'd think that when it came time to rent gallery space — another dream — Hibert would have landed on Roosevelt Row. He tried that. Turned out, it was actually easier to rent space on the formerly tony, but now nearly empty, Marshall Way in Scottsdale, still home to, among others, Lisa Sette and Bentley galleries. A longtime gallery owner persuaded a landlord to lower rent for some youngsters, in an attempt to increase traffic for everyone.

That's how Hibert found himself sipping a martini in a loud little bar in Old Town during a recent Thursday art walk. Dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a Modelo T-shirt, armed with a pack of Camels, he seems out of place among the tanned Scottsdale crowd. But he doesn't care, as long as people stop by Soyal Gallery. Hibert runs Soyal with Emmett Potter III, a guy he met at the mold supply company. Hibert's Miigiis are prominently displayed in the window, and several of the pieces in the gallery's first show (super-graphic paintings by Grant Wiggins) actually sold, though the two-month-old gallery's far from becoming a Marshall Way mainstay.

After a cocktail, Hibert admits he's over the Miigii, whose "powers" include the ability to squash humans' bad luck. "It's done too well," he says. "I'm sick of it."

He's onto another character, a cool, bumpy-looking guy named Goo Goo Ghandi, designed to meditate away negative energy. Good luck with that. — Amy Silverman

Jen Urso
Jen Urso never doubted her path in life. Her childhood afternoons were spent sketching portraits of neighbors, and by the time she reached sixth grade, she had dreams of illustrating for Disney. Urso moved past the cartoon stage and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1996 with a bachelor's degree in painting and sculpture. Then, she relocated to Arizona, where her family had vacationed years earlier. "I thought [Phoenix] was really beautiful," she says. "I was fascinated with it, and I needed to get out of Pennsylvania because it's cold and damp."

The move was a turning point for Urso's fine-art career. Her work was chosen for exhibits at local venues including The Icehouse, eye lounge, and, most recently, Artlink's A.E. England Gallery in downtown Phoenix. You may remember the installation she created at Modified Arts in 2006, which enveloped the brick building in a spider web-like cocoon that passersby mistook for a playful Halloween decoration.

For Urso's recent exhibit "White Space," she walked the distance between the two Pennsylvania towns where she grew up. It was a courageous move for Urso, who described her childhood home as abusive. The feelings she experienced were chronicled in a series of pen-and-ink drawings done each night and a documentary currently in progress. It's Urso's willingness to take such risky journeys that have made her a fixture in the local arts community.

Urso has watched that arts community blossom in the decade she's been here. Artists are moving away from a singular focus on workmanship to a more conceptually driven aesthetic. Art schools are teaching students to question their motivations and accept failure as a learning experience. If there's one lesson Urso would like to impart on the next generation of artists, it's that they need to take more risks. She has come to appreciate the pieces she wasn't happy with because "they're a step towards something. You have to fail in order to figure out what works."

Currently, Urso is working on a project for the Glendale Centennial that involves historical maps of the city layered on top of each other so that Urso can pinpoint spaces that have remained empty throughout the years. "It's those unimportant spots where you live most of your life, walking from one place to another," she says. The project highlights the theme that flows through all of her work: It's the journey that counts, not the destination.

For a 2008 performance piece at The Icehouse, Urso scratched designs on a 350-pound rock, slowly chiseled it apart, and scattered the pieces around Phoenix. Rumor has it that locals were picking up pieces of rock as souvenirs weeks after the Icehouse performance. For Urso, the chiseling of the rock was more important than the finished piece. "The moments in between big events are really frustrating, and when you're on a path to get to a certain goal it seems tedious," she says. "But it's those little steps that build you up towards the bigger moments in your life." — Wynter Holden

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