El Mirage Locks Artist-in-Residence Thomas Schultz Out of City-Owned Gallery

El Mirage officials are booting artist and photographer Thomas Schultz from the city's downtown gallery.

The reasons remain unknown.

And even though on Friday the city gave Schultz a whopping five days to clear out, city officials changed the locks on gallery over the weekend because Schultz wouldn't hand over the keys to the city-owned building.

He tells New Times that he hadn't given officials the keys because he still has thousands of dollars worth of printing and photography equipment inside the building. Not to mention original photographs that belong to a Valley artist most recently showing at the gallery.

El Mirage City Manager Spencer Isom tells New Times that this is an ongoing issue but that expects to have some answers for us later this afternoon.

Getting locked out and evicted is apparently an El Mirage-style "thank you" for Schultz, who has been working since 2009 to help cultivate arts and culture in the heart of the city.

What makes it harder to stomach is that Schultz did not call the city looking for a gig. City officials sought him out and invited him to be their artist-in-residence. And other than giving him space in a building that was previously used as a storage shed, the city wasn't paying Schultz for his time.

Schultz tells New Times that he met with Isom on March 14, and Isom said they were working on his contract. He told Isom that he was planning to attend an arts forum in Goodyear on March 26 with the West Valley Arts Council and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Schultz wanted to know what he, as a representative of El Mirage, should relay to the group.

Schultz says Isom told him to tell the arts leaders that they were working on his contract and that El Mirage plans to continue its downtown arts festivals.

"Why did they allow me to continue to spend time, continue to invite musicians and organize shows, and inconvenience those people if they knew they were going to let me go?" Schultz says. "Why didn't they just come clean with me? I asked them to do that three months ago, to just be honest with me, but they kept telling me that they were for the arts."

Instead of coming clean, city officials gladly allowed him to organize three more Third Thursdays, a downtown arts festival that includes a show in the art gallery and entertainment in the downtown plaza.

We raised questions in Crossed Paths (February 24) about just how long the arts would survive new El Mirage Mayor Lana Mook and the new regime of elected officials. You see, the idea to incorporate arts and culture in downtown El Mirage was born during the previous administration.

When the new council took office at the beginning of the year, its members got rid of most of the previous city administrators, including those taking the lead on arts projects.

Perhaps it just took them a little longer to get around to Schultz?

Here's a snippet from Crossed Paths:

Last month, Schultz sat inside the El Mirage Gallery and Studio, discussing his uncertain future. Lining the walls behind him are photographs of abandoned cars and worn farmhouses illuminated by the haunting glow of Arizona's moonlight.

Schultz took the photographs at junkyards across the Valley. In the center of the open gallery stands a giant metal sign he rescued years ago from a shuttered business.

The artist sees potential in items that most people would cast away. It was the promise of creating something amazing in El Mirage -- a community most have already dismissed as irrelevant -- that convinced him he should rearrange his life and help with the city's fledgling artist-in-residence program.

City officials had promised him they would help him find a house in the arts district they were establishing. He would help them entice local artists to move into homes abandoned during the massive wave of foreclosures that hit El Mirage hard.

But the one-year contract he signed with El Mirage to use the city building has expired. He has artists scheduled several months out to show their work at the gallery.

There's been no official word from City Hall. Schultz's future in El Mirage isn't promising, given that he was championed by the previous slate of elected officials. And economic development director Scott Chesney, who led the charge on incorporating art and artists into downtown El Mirage, is now out of a job himself.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo