Big Brain Awards 2014: Meet the Finalists and Our First Urban Legend Winners

We see you, Phoenix.

When we set our sights on finding up-and-coming creatives pushing boundaries in performing art, visual art, design, culinary art, and urban vision, you suggested hundreds of nominees about to hit it big.

We narrowed down that long list to 15 finalists for the 2014 Big Brain Awards. They burn wood, brew beer, and better Phoenix.

The five Big Brain Award winners will be announced and awarded with $500 on Friday, April 25, at Artopia, a see-and-be-seen party featuring food, drink, art, and performance, at Bentley Projects in Phoenix's warehouse district.

Get Artopia details and tickets at www.phoenixnewtimes.com/artopia. Winners also will be announced on phxculture.com and in next week's paper.

Big Brain Awards 2014: Meet the Finalists (Slideshow)

Because this year marks the fifth annual edition of the awards, we're also honoring five Urban Legends, established creatives who have made this city a cooler place to live — and inspired others along the way.

Have a look. Here are the finalists for New Times' 2014 Big Brain Awards and Phoenix's first-ever Urban Legend Award winners.


Kimber Lanning | Urban Vision
Kimber Lanning has always looked at Phoenix through rose-colored glasses. And that is a very good thing. From her earliest days as a record-store owner, Lanning wanted more for this place, looking to the urban core while others focused on strip malls and little pink houses stretching past the city's limits.

But that doesn't mean Lanning hasn't stretched — particularly when it comes to bringing her urban vision into sharp focus. In her early 20s, she says, she got sick of driving to L.A. to see her favorite bands. So she decided to figure out how to get them to come here.

"So many people were leaving, and they were all saying this place has no culture, this place has no soul," she says.

But she liked it here. She stayed. Today, Lanning runs three businesses: Stinkweeds, an indie record store in Central Phoenix; Modified Arts, a gallery space on Roosevelt Row; and Local First Arizona, a nonprofit that aims to empower independent local businesses in myriad ways.

Lanning's an extraordinary multi-tasker. She began Modified Arts as not just a gallery but also a small music and performance space that encouraged indie bands to stop in Phoenix instead of bypassing us for Tucson or other more obvious spots. Modified hosted bands like Arcade Fire before they were huge; Lanning has a knack for spotting talent early. Ditto for her visual art space, which serves as an incubator of sorts for emerging artists. (Modified no longer hosts music.)

And speaking of space, the multi-tasking took on a whole new meaning last year when Lanning turned Modified Arts' physical space into Local First Arizona's office. She bought tables and computers that are easily stored on weekends to bring Modified back to a gallery space. On a recent Wednesday morning, a handful of Local First Arizona staffers kept busy at keyboards in the main gallery, surrounded by — among other things — a display of bras and panties hung from the ceiling, part of a show by Chelsea Pace called "Asking for It: The Consent Project."

Talk about adaptive reuse.

Lanning's out-of-the-box approach extends beyond her own walls, to City Hall and the Arizona Legislature, where she's lobbied effectively for measures and laws designed to make it less onerous to run an independent business. Today, Local First Arizona is the largest local business coalition in the country, with 2,450 members, three offices (the Modified space is one), and 13 employees. Lanning and her members have championed urban "infill" — whether it's taken the form of adaptive reuse of old buildings or growing crops in the middle of town. The farming is popular with younger people, Lanning says, adding that other areas — like procurement reform — are not taking off the way she'd hoped.

And while more people are creating art, she sees fewer willing to offer up the infrastructure necessary to support a vibrant scene.

"I'm seeing the energy around a willingness to share and perform. But the arts don't function unless you have the grunt labor."

Don't get her wrong; Lanning's proud of the work that's been done. But there's so much more. "I want a city that is very diverse, very celebratory of arts and culture," she says. "I want a city that has a lot of community pride."

On the to-do list: affordable housing for all, quality public transit, and socioeconomic diversity "in every sense." Lanning wants people outside Phoenix to stop thinking of the city only as a leisure destination, all golf courses and spas, and start seeing it as the city she grew up alongside.

"It's a tall order," she admits.

If anyone can make it happen, it's Kimber Lanning. — Amy Silverman