Daily Archives: August 23, 2009

Media start-ups zero in on central Phoenix audiences

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — Central Phoenix is home to three new media start-ups.  The ventures are in the early stages, but they plan to put an ultra-local stamp on Valley radio, television and Internet news.

Radio Phoenix is an alternative to local stations, which are increasingly turning away from local music and local issues, said Kaja Brown, the fledging station’s general manager.  “We are a community station that wants to speak to what it means to be Phoenician,” Brown said.  About 1,500 to 1,800 people tune in to Radio Phoenix each month, Brown said.

Although the Radio Phoenix uses some non-local programs to fill in airtime, it plans to gradually add more homegrown shows.  One of them is Joanne Foster’s “Valley Views,” a news show that is taped Mondays and replayed throughout the week.  “I am a news junkie,” said Foster, who has interviewed outreach groups for the unemployed, state lawmaker Meg Burton Cahill and a refugee organizations on her show.  Like many Radio Phoenix volunteers, the 47-year-old has dabbled in media careers.  Foster is a former insurance adjuster who has done voice-over work in the past.  “I think that it’s important for people to find out what going on in their community,” she added.  “People are disconnected.”

Radio Phoenix may also eventually hit FM airwaves.  The organization applied for two Federal Communications Commission frequencies.  That process can be long and it’s unclear when the FCC will make a decision, Brown said.

CenPho TV. Meanwhile CenPho TV, wants to capture central Phoenix life on camera.  Jacqui Johnson and partner Dave Brookhouser are the force behind the weekly video podcast. The segment covers news, upcoming events and highlights local music.  The pair started the project in November.  “We want to inform people about what’s going on and what they can do about it,” Johnson, 35 said.

Johnson, who moved from Tucson to Phoenix four years ago, fell in love with central Phoenix neighborhoods and was hungry for more news about proposed developments, local businesses and music.  That curiosity, and Brookhouser’s idea for a podcast, led to the birth of CenPho TV.  CenPho TV started out as just personal project.  But now Johnson and Brookhouser have 2,000 followers on the Internet, Johnson said.  Johnson and Brookhouser both have day jobs – Johnson is a an accountant and Brookhouser is an information technology guy, she said.  A lot of their free time is spent creating the segment, but Johnson would love to figure out a way to do it full time, she said.  “I would like it to evolve,” she said.

Light-rail news. A Valley company received a $95,000 grant this summer to start a news Web site that will focus on neighborhoods near the light-rail line.  In December, a $1.4 billion light-rail system opened in the Valley.  The 20-mile route links central Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.  The Web site could be up as soon as November, said the content manager Adam Klawonn.  The Web site was once tentatively called Daily Phoenix, but it’s likely that it will have some other name now, he said.  “I chose that area because there is a lot going on there and there is a lot going on around light rail,” said Klawonn, who is an editor at Phoenix Magazine and who helps produce the Zonie Report, an Arizona news Web site.

The site is still in the planning stages.  Readers will probably find news, information and promotions available at each light-rail stop, Klawonn said.  The journalism grant comes from the Knight Foundation, an organization that spearheaded a $25 million News Challenge.  The challenge is an international contest that funds digital news experiments.  [Note: Read the full article at Media start-ups zero in on central Phoenix audiences.]

7 healthy signs for the metro Phoenix arts scene

[Source: Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic] — There’s no point in soft-pedaling it: The great financial panic of 2008-09 sent Valley arts organizations into a tailspin.  Cautious consumers sat on their wallets instead of opening them up at the box office, and big corporations had less cash to send trickling down to the non-profits.  So performing companies canceled shows, slashed production budgets and cut staff.  MyArtsCommunity.org, a high-profile campaign to raise donations, fell flat.  The latest bad news comes from the West Valley, where the Heard Museum plans to shutter its satellite gallery and the West Valley Art Museum has closed its doors while scrambling to raise $150,000 to keep it afloat.

With the 2009-10 season revving up this month, anxiety about ticket sales and charitable giving remains high.  But the show must go on, and there are hundreds of dedicated individuals, in the spotlight and behind the scenes, who are working to make sure that the crisis doesn’t spin into an arts apocalypse.  To counter the gloom and doom, here are seven reasons to be optimistic about the state of the arts:

  1. Up-and-coming companies: Arizona Opera and Ballet Arizona remain strong, but they are no longer the only game in town.  The upstart Phoenix Opera has brought in top-notch singers for two years of traditionalist stagings, while Novaballet, entering its second season, is committed to cutting-edge choreography that brings dance into the 21st century.
  2. New works: For theaters, the temptation might be to rely on familiar titles to fill seats.  Yes, there’s a bit of that in the coming season.  But in addition to the return of “The Phantom of the Opera,” ASU Gammage is bringing in-the-now Broadway hits “In the Heights” and “August: Osage County” (last year’s Tony winners for best musical and best play, respectively).  Actors Theatre has four Arizona premieres on the bill, while Arizona Theatre Company will be staging a new adaptation of “The Kite Runner” and commissioning a world-premiere comedy, “The Second City Does Arizona.”
  3. Investments in venues: The building boom that gave us new performing-arts venues in Mesa, Tempe and Peoria isn’t over.  The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and the Herberger Theater Center are undergoing extensive renovations, while future projects, including an expansion at Phoenix Theatre, are in the works.  The economic downturn is sure to slow the pace of big capital projects, but the momentum hasn’t been lost.
  4. Fresh blood: The Scottsdale center’s rebuilt theater comes with a new artistic director, Jeffrey Babcock, who promises to reach out to a broader audience with splashy events, such as its first Festival of Latin Jazz & Culture.  New leadership always presents an opportunity to rethink ways of doing things, which means we could soon be seeing innovative programming at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, ASU Art Museum and Heard Museum: All are on the lookout to fill director positions this year.
  5. Experienced leaders: Shaking things up can be good, but there’s also something to be said for a steady hand on the tiller.  That’s what many major companies have: savvy executives with track records for success.  At the Phoenix Art Museum, Jim Ballinger has been in charge since 1972, growing it into a multimillion-dollar company that attracts well over 200,000 visitors a year and overseeing two major expansions.  On the artistic side are such leaders as Ballet Arizona’s Ib Andersen, a Balanchine protege who in 10 years has elevated the company to one of the most respected ballets in the country.
  6. International networking: The arts community forms a web that crosses all borders, and some of the greatest performers in the world are Arizona-bound this season.  There’s the incomparable cellist Yo-Yo Ma, of course, at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, which also will host top dance troupes, including the pioneering Paul Taylor and Martha Graham companies.  Then there’s the conducting world’s biggest superstar, the charismatic Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, who will bring the Los Angeles Philharmonic to Phoenix’s Symphony Hall for a performance that’s sure to be a highlight of the season.
  7. Grass roots: Even if the unthinkable happened and every major company in the Valley were forced to close, that would not be the end of the arts.  There will always be actors and singers and dancers, and art lovers who want to see them.  In good times and in bad, every generation breeds a crop of optimistic entrepreneurs who aren’t satisfied with how everybody else does things.  Just one example is Chyro Arts Venue, which opened last year in south Scottsdale and offers provocative, independent-minded theater without the benefit of a six-figure budget.  Many such companies come and go, but some will thrive and move to the next level, becoming the Nearly Naked Theatres and Center Dance Ensembles of tomorrow. The future is always unwritten.  [Note: Read the full article at 7 healthy signs for the metro Phoenix arts scene.]

Recession hits Arizona arts groups

[Source: Salvatore Caputo, Jewish News of Greater Phoenix] — Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s decision in April to cancel the last show of its 2008-2009 season was one of the most visible signs of the effects of the current American recession on Arizona arts organizations, but it was not the only one.  “I’m very concerned,” said Rabbi Albert Plotkin, when discussing how the economy has affected the Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum in Scottsdale.  He is the director of the museum named after his late wife and housed at Congregation Beth Israel, where he is rabbi emeritus.  “(The museum) has been deeply affected.  We couldn’t even go out to ask for more donations because it would have been a futile venture.”

Donors are a substantial part of the mix for many arts and cultural organizations, and when the crisis in the financial markets erupted in fall 2008, many donors’ investment portfolios were severely affected.  Arts organizations contacted by Jewish News all said that donations were down in the current recession.  In addition, most of them had seen drops in public funding, subscriptions and attendance.  “The biggest thing that has happened to us (as a result of the recession) is the just-about 50 percent cut from the city and state,” said Janet Arnold, AJTC’s producing director.  “Those were our largest contributors, and we don’t know how we’re going to replace that…”

A series of surveys by the Arizona Commission on the Arts has shown that the recession has forced layoffs, programming cuts and reductions in operating budgets across a broad spectrum of arts organizations in the state.  The commission has been conducting the survey “to keep track of how (the organizations are) being affected by the recession” on roughly a quarterly basis this year, said Casey Blake, the commission’s communications and research director.  The most recent was in May, with another due to be taken next month, she said.

The May survey was sent to more than 300 organizations.  Among the 160 that responded, 60 percent said they have reduced their operating budget for the current year by as much as 80 percent.  Of organizations with annual operations of $250,000 or more, 40 percent had laid off staff in the preceding six months, while 50 percent froze hiring and 25 percent put staff furloughs in place. [Note: Read the full article at Recession hits Arizona arts groups.]

Arizona tops nation in construction job loss

[Source: Phoenix Business Journal] — Construction employment in Arizona dropped 2.8 percent in July, and is down 28 percent since last year, the largest year-to-year hit among states, according to a report issued Friday by the Associated General Contractors.  Total construction employment in Arizona stood at 136,700 in July, down by 53,000 jobs since July 2008.  Nevada took the second largest hit with a year-over-year loss of 25.1 percent.  Louisiana, among only two states with gains, stepped up the most with a 3.6 percent increase in construction jobs.

“There aren’t a lot of places construction workers can turn to avoid the steep layoffs sweeping the construction industry right now,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the group’s CEO.  “Sadly, construction workers are feeling the full impact of declining state spending, a near halt in office and retail construction and stimulus spending that – with too many programs – has yet to materialize.”  [Note: Read the full article at Arizona tops nation in construction job loss.]

Phoenix among top 10 U.S. cities to start a business says “Entrepreneur” magazine

[Source: Phoenix Business Journal] — The August issue of Entrepreneur magazine features its editors’ take on the 10 best cities in which to start a business, and Phoenix makes the grade.  “There’s something that statistics just can’t capture about the entrepreneurial spirit of a town,” Entrepreneur writes in the opening to its feature.  “The do-it-yourself ethic may spring from a ruined economy. In others, small-business booms were carefully engineered by long-term government policies, or developed as a by-product of rapid growth.

“Whatever the case, you’ll know it when you step into an entrepreneurial city: There’s an openness and energy that permeates the whole culture, an infectious enthusiasm throughout the small-business community, and a faith that any problem can be overcome through dedication and smart decisions. Here are 10 cities we think embody the entrepreneurial spirit.”

Phoenix is No. 5 on the list, highlighted as “The Expander,” with notes that the city is a great place for a new business to get started.  The article points to the developing tech sector as a promise for the future.  The magazine also features John Shaffer, founder of Rhino Sports, a local company that creates sports surfaces for various types of play. [Note: Read the full article at Phoenix among top 10 U.S. cities to start a business says “Entrepreneur” magazine.]

Phoenix ranks next-to-last in health, education job growth

[Source: G. Scott Thomas, Phoenix Business Journal] — Not all parts of the national economy are struggling.  Hiring continues in the fields of education and health services, which have added nearly a quarter-million jobs in the nation’s 100 biggest labor markets since the middle of last year.  But the Phoenix area ranked next-to-last among all the metros, losing 1,600 education and health jobs over the same time period.

The New York City area has been the biggest gainer, according to a Business Journal analysis of midyear employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The area gained 34,200 education and health jobs between June 2008 and the same month this year The 100 markets, taken as a group, have added 232,600 jobs in the fields of education and health since mid-2008, a gain of 1.8 percent.  Richmond, Va., registered the sharpest gain in percentage terms, with a one-year increase of 10.0 percent in education and health-services employment.  It’s followed by gains of 6.6 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth and 6.4 percent in Indianapolis.

Upswings in the two fields have been broadly based.  Eighty-seven of the top 100 markets boosted their totals of education and health jobs between 2008 and 2009.  Five were unchanged, and eight suffered losses.  [Note: Read the full article at Phoenix ranks next-to-last in health, education job growth.]