Culture News

Here's the Story Behind Douglas Miles' New Mural at Bentley Projects in Phoenix

There’s a long wall running along the south side of Bentley Projects in the Phoenix warehouse district. Topped by barbed wire, it once looked like a stark separation point between the neighborhood it borders and the arts and event venues operated by Bentley Calverley.

But now, Calverley says, it feels more like a bridge.

That’s because Douglas Miles, an artist raised in Phoenix who now calls the San Carlos Apache reservations just east of Globe his home, just painted a new mural on that wall. Created as part of Paint Phx 2016, a street art festival held March 4 to 6, it’s titled Let’s Get Free.

Miles worked for several days on the mural, finishing on Tuesday, March 8. His son, Douglas Miles, Jr., helped with color fills and details – as did Monica Wapaha and Danielle Mercado. It’s located next to another Paint Phx mural, created by Noelle Martinez, and the artists worked together to assure a seamless transition from one piece to the next.

Let’s Get Free features several characters based on Apache and Native American culture, with what Miles calls Native American features. Compared to European facial features, Miles says, they have “a harder, more angular look.”

Miles considers the piece part mural, part art installation. Existing barbed wire atop the wall prompts reflections on internment camps, he says, and views of the city skyline conjure memories of the ways modern development has encroached on native culture.

The artist added more Apache characters to rusty metal panels running atop a portion of the wall. “It’s a tribute to Apache and native people in the region and the state,” he says of the mural.

The mural’s central figure is Geronimo, the 19th-century Apache who fought incursions by both white settlers and Mexicans in a region that became Arizona and New Mexico. But there’s also Our Lady of Apache, the artist’s take on classic Our Lady of Guadalupe iconography.

In part, Miles says, the mural is a reminder of the city’s roots in native culture – including the vast canal system created by indigenous people. “Native people give this city its real flavor,” he says. The piece is meant as a poetic mix of art and politics, reflecting Miles’ belief that “artists move the culture forward.”

But he also thinks of the mural as a gift to the community it borders, saying its residents have seen plenty of airport and freeway construction. “I like the fact that the whole piece faces an older Phoenix community that’s withstood gentrification,” Miles says. “It’s almost like a last holdout.”

Calverley agrees that having the mural embedded in the community matters. But putting a mural on the long wall bordering Bentley Projects hadn’t really occurred to her until she learned about Paint Phx at a recent arts and culture meeting for the City.

Calverley reached out to Greg Esser, an artist who is active with the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation, and Esser helped her connect with Paint Phx organizer Thomas “Breeze” Marcus. Marcus put her in touch with Miles.

Now that it’s completed, she’s eager for people in the neighborhood to see it. “The mural is a good bridge,” she says, "between the gallery and the community.”