Downtown arts thrive in shadow of potential development

Jefferson Todd Photography,[Source: Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic] — In 1989, Phoenix looked more like an urban wasteland than the beating heart of a growing metropolis.  Back then, Art Detour was all too apt a name for a trek into downtown to visit galleries and studios.  An Arizona Republic report called the five-hour self-guided tour, with 18 stops, an “unusual scene”: “Women in sun hats and men in walking shorts ambled along usually empty city streets. Some said they hadn’t been downtown for years.”

Next weekend, the non-profit Artlink Inc. hosts its 20th annual event in a very different city — although the Detour tag still fits, thanks to a proliferation of construction zones ranging from high-rise hotels to light rail.  The current building boom is the latest stage in a two-decade-long process of revitalization, one that the art community has nurtured and simultaneously has been threatened by.  The pattern is familiar: Artists move into blighted urban areas to rent affordable spaces where they can live, create, and show their work.  The art attracts visitors, who in turn attract cafes and other small businesses. Property values rise, developers take notice, and soon the artists are priced out of a community they helped create.

It’s a perennial paradox, but it’s one that gallery owners and public officials are working to reconcile as they make plans for a diverse downtown where art has a permanent place.  “We have the best relationship now than we’ve had in the past 20 years with the city of Phoenix,” says artist and activist Beatrice Moore, who owns a studio on Grand Avenue and rents several spaces to other artists.

No one would know better.  Moore organized the first Art Detour in March 1989 as a coming-out party for the budding art scene in the warehouse district.  A month later she was spearheading a protest of city plans to develop a basketball arena that would level her studio on South Second Street, as well as Madison Studios, home to 10 art spaces.  She lost that fight to the future home of the Phoenix Suns, America West Arena (now renamed after US Airways).  After she set up shop farther west, real-estate speculation in the district persuaded her to move again in the mid-’90s, this time to Grand.  There she repeated her role as pioneer of urban revitalization. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

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