Big Brain Awards 2013

Phoenix, we're surrounded.

This year, we set out on a mission to find emerging creatives around the city who could use some cash for their next big projects.

Truth is, there are countless individuals who continue to shape Phoenix through their visual art, performing art, design, online, culinary, and craft ventures. But we had to narrow down the nominations to a group of 18 — three in each category — and this week, we're crowning the winners.

The six Big Brain Award winners will be announced on Saturday, April 27, at Monarch Theatre in downtown Phoenix, and each will receive a $500 cash prize. The party, dubbed Artopia, will include an evening of food, art, performance, and craft, as well as a chance to rub elbows with the up-and-coming class of movers and shakers.

You can grab a ticket to Artopia and get all the details here. Winners will be announced online on phxculture.com and in next week's paper.

Now, let's roll out the red carpet. Here are the finalists for New Times' 2013 Big Brain Awards.



Brandon Boetto's work is heavy — but not as heavy as you'd expect.

The industrial designer deals in concrete. It's not just any concrete, though. Boetto explains that the mixture he uses is high-performance, meaning it's extremely durable and ideal for use in furniture and home accessories. Sure, heavy items can be crafted, but small pieces, like coasters and bookends, are lighter than they look.

Boetto was drawn to concrete as a creative medium about two years ago, when he found himself in an artistic rut. "I needed to get off my computer and get involved with something tangible that I could shape and sculpt to life with my own hands," he says.

He kept seeing concrete sinks featured on architectural design blogs. He took a class with local artisan concrete worker Brandon Gore of Gore Design Co. and Hard Goods, and he's been hooked ever since.

"The nuances of concrete are so intriguing to me because the beauty in a piece is most often actually the result of mistakes made by the artisan," Boetto says. "The shade, discolorations, voids, and stains all work to add character to a piece, making each creation highly unique. The beauty of concrete is found in its imperfections."

Boetto counts Gore as a mentor and good friend. "He taught me to not be afraid of screwing up. You can't allow your creativity to ever be held back by fear."

Boetto launched his company SlabHaus (www.slabhaus.com) in his garage. But his neighbors weren't too keen on his noisy new hobby. A few months ago, he moved SlabHaus into a shared studio space in a Tempe industrial area. That's where he heads after his day job as marketing director at bluemedia, a digital printing company.

SlabHaus is a solo endeavor, and Boetto says he's still learning as he goes. That's resulted in a few flawed pieces — including his first project. He set out to create an integrated bathroom sink/countertop for his home. He missed a few steps and ingredients along the way, but Boetto still has the sink.

"For me, it's a validation of why I love working in concrete so much. It's symbolic of discovering the perfection hidden within imperfection."

Since then, he's found success in crafting minimalist tables, sinks, furniture, and lighting fixtures with clean lines. Each of his pieces comes with a custom numbered coin embedded in the concrete.

His latest creation is a pair of Hulk hands that can be used as bookends or doorstops. They're modeled after children's toy gloves that Boetto spotted while birthday shopping with his nephew at Toys"R"Us. He says the multipurpose fists are, hands down, one of his favorite projects to date.

Recently, he completed a 100-pound lamp that took two incarnations to get right. The first one wouldn't release from its acrylic mold.

"I decided it would be best to cut my losses and throw it off the roof. Totally fun way to dispose of failed art, but that didn't really end up working out, either," Boetto says.

"When it hit the ground, it didn't even break. It just made a huge dent in the street."

Forget Hulk. Boetto's the one who's going to be a smash. — Becky Bartkowski


If Ashley Cooper likes it, then she'll want to put a pattern on it.

The Mesa-based textile designer creates bold graphics reminiscent of Trina Turk, Jonathan Adler, and Diane Von Furstenberg. Clothing, accessories, pillows, wallpaper: She wants her designs on all of them.

She weaves her work for Ashley Cooper Designs into a maxed-out schedule — one that includes a husband who's studying pre-med at Arizona State University, raising two kids, running her style blog design-parlor (www.design-parlor.blogspot.com), and studying fashion merchandising and design at Mesa Community College.