The Cool Index

Page 5 of 9

Short on cash but big on ideas, Lanning made Modified an unofficial nonprofit. She runs the gallery and has a manager who books the bands. The rest of the people who work at Modified are volunteers.

"That's what I'm most proud of, that in Phoenix, where people say, This town sucks,' we have been able to put together a volunteer-based art space that has been able to last five years," Lanning says. "When bands leave, they get paid. It's well-run, you know what I mean? And what touches me most is that these kids who are volunteering . . . are learning about how to run a business with integrity and how to be reliable and how to treat bands. We give them a key."

Lanning is now in her mid-30s, although she looks so young you wonder if she raided her mom's closet for the cocktail dress she's wearing at a First Friday opening. But she's a veteran of the scene. Up to now she's kept her record store in a strip mall in Tempe because she doesn't get the traffic she needs in Phoenix to sustain such a business. Even with a volunteer staff, Stinkweeds basically pays the bills for Modified. But Lanning is eternally hopeful. And she's not going anywhere. She bought the Modified building last year.

"All of my peers, everyone that I grew up with . . . they've all gone to do great things in other cities. And they all say, Why are you still there?' And I say, It's getting better.' It's been 15 years that I've been saying it's getting better. But now I'm not the only one who's saying that anymore."

Next came Wayne Rainey.

Rainey's family has roots in downtown Phoenix. His grandfather came to town from Texas in 1918, and Rainey remembers stories about "The Wine Glass," a downtown cattlemen's club.

Rainey, who graduated from Central High School in 1984, grew up around downtown Phoenix, riding his bike, skateboarding. He became a photographer, and his goal was to move to New York or San Francisco.

He bought a house in downtown Phoenix with money he made shooting a Smitty's catalogue, converted the back bedroom into a studio and lost himself in commercial photography.

"I stopped shooting for myself," he says.

By 25, he says, he had burned out. He moved around the country, lived in Alaska for a while, fished. He says no one expected him to make it to 30. "I was a wild boy."

He had stopped making photographs, and just before he turned 30, on his way back to Phoenix, a friend in Albuquerque urged him to pick up the camera again. He did, and photographed a storm that chased him all the way home. Rainey sold some property to pay his debts, got new camera equipment, and started shooting again.

After a year, he says, he had enough money to buy a studio. He chose to stay in town.

"Phoenix has potential. Phoenix has more potential than any of these other cities," Rainey says. "Phoenix is like this extraordinary canvas with all kinds of places to paint."

And although there wasn't much going on, he felt strongly that he needed to be downtown.

"If I'm going to live in a city that's going to help me as an artist thrive, there's got to be heart," he says. "Without heart, there's no place even to meet. And if you can't meet, you can't even disagree."

That's a funny comment, considering that today, Rainey is arguably the most controversial member of the arts community in downtown Phoenix.

He got a government grant for $136,000 to rehab a building he bought near Second Street and Roosevelt and named Holga's. Today the 500-square-foot units rent for $450 a month and a common space houses a gallery; Rainey offers matching funds for improvement projects proposed by his tenants.

Then Rainey bought a building he'd coveted for years, a 1937 warehouse designed by Del Webb, which he named monOrchid and rehabbed into gallery and office space. Last year he started Shade, a beautiful-looking but oddly anti-journalistic/pro-public service magazine that promotes the arts and does not pay its writers.

People in downtown Phoenix love to hate Rainey, partly because he's successful in what they call a Scottsdale sort of way, but mainly because he refused to get in step with the rest of the arts community when it came time to fight the Arizona Cardinals stadium. The stadium found its final home in the West Valley, but in the spring of 2002 it looked as though it would wipe out the galleries and businesses slowly emerging along Roosevelt Street. While other artists and business owners were shouting at city council meetings and marching in protest, Rainey was sitting at the table with the enemy -- the Phoenix Community Alliance and Downtown Phoenix Partnership.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.