Those Crazy Artists

Hear that squawking? It's not The Bird. It's that group we've come to know as "downtown artists."

This time they're not shrieking about city fathers trying to police the lawlessness of their monthly First Friday gatherings (one of which is coming up just next week) along that stretch of galleries known as Roosevelt Row. Nope. This time, the brush-heads have gotten their paint-splattered panties in a bunch because ValueOptions, the Maricopa County mental-health agency, has opened a 24-hour Urgent Psychiatric Care facility at Second Street and Garfield -- mere spitting distance from First Fridays hot spots, not to mention the studios and homes of the artists who keep this new arts community alive.

The newly opened nut farm is housed in a 15,000-square-foot concrete bunker that provides round-the-clock head-shrinking services to patients who either walk in or are escorted in by local law enforcement. ValueOptions' Jeff Karako told The Bird that the facility treats about 30 people a day, from garden-variety manic-depressives who need refills of their meds to hard-core nut jobs who are "a danger to themselves or others."

So much for that old saw about artists being big-hearted and sensitive. Most of the creative types The Bird chewed the rag with were so busy bitching about the weirdoes walking their streets and goofing up their art openings that they forgot to make like they give a hoot about any humankind who can't draw, sculpt or perform theatrically.

The Bird managed to keep its beak shut, but it couldn't help but wonder: Is there that great a divide between ValueOptions loonies and those who make their living making mobiles out of old Dixie cups? That would be some of the downtown, um, artists.

The Bird perched on the shoulder of one Roosevelt Row gallery owner -- who refused to be identified, of course -- just long enough to hear this: "We have enough trouble with the transients coming in on First Fridays without having to deal with sick people, too. I know it sounds bad, but we want people to come back to First Friday. They won't if they think [downtown is] all just homeless bag people and people on leave from a psych facility."

Whined Sam Wilkes, Row resident and Artists' Theatre Project actor, "It's a little scary because we don't know who's going to be walking around our neighborhood. I have a roommate who's 18, and it's possible that some psycho could accost her!"

Did this guy just fall off the turnip truck? Regardless of whether there's a mental-health facility around the corner, there are always crazies on the streets of U.S. downtowns.

The Roosevelt Row goobers would've complained about Vincent Van Gogh hanging out.

Between carping about their new wacky neighbors, Wilkes and Ian Wender -- a resident of Holgas, a trendy Roosevelt Row apartment complex populated by arty types -- like to complain that ValueOptions didn't deign to tell residents it was opening a nuthouse.

Um, the artists must've been so busy rinsing brushes that they missed the facility's much-publicized grand opening ceremony in September. The event, The Bird heard from ValueOptions chief operating officer Sue Dess, was attended by local politicos like Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and state Senators Robert Meza and Jim Warring. (Talk about goofballs in their midst!)

Dess pooh-poohs the notion that her clients pose any threat to Roosevelt residents or visitors, and points out that the neighborhood was already home to Art Awakenings, an art-based therapy program for people with serious mental illnesses.

In any case, this feathered fiend doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. It seems mighty convenient for artists to have a mental-health facility right in their neighborhood. They'll have less distance to travel when their crayons break and they just can't take it no more.

Ticket to Ride

The timing couldn't have been worse. This month, the Scottsdale City Council was faced with voting on whether to go ahead with a pilot project to pioneer photo radar cameras on Loop 101.

The Bird supposes that, by now, everyone has gotten used to the pesky red-light cameras now in place in Valley cities from Paradise Valley to Chandler, but Scottsdale's program will mark the first time that cameras will be used to catch speeders on a U.S. freeway.

And so let's just say that Scottsdale couldn't have been happy to admit that, in the very same month that it's authorizing unprecedented use of photo radar surveillance, it's also quietly refunding fines from 1,964 traffic tickets mistakenly issued to its citizens.

You read that right: 1,964 drivers were wrongly ticketed in Scottsdale.

And because everyone knows there's no use fighting a photo ticket, a good chunk of those poor saps -- no one at City Hall seems to know exactly how many -- went ahead and paid up.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela