A New Public Art Project is Coming to Downtown Phoenix

A few weeks ago, this site noted that the City of Phoenix had received a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Mayor’s Institute on City Design 25th Anniversary Initiative (MICD25). This week, ArtWorks, the NEA blog, posted an interview with Ruth Osuna, the city’s Cultural Affairs Director about the project:

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The Office of Arts and Culture in Phoenix, Arizona, has completed more than 145 major art projects through its Public Art Program. With support from the NEA, Phoenix will realize Gimme Shelter, a new public art project that will increase the city’s livability by making outdoor areas more amenable to pedestrians. Cultural Affairs Director Ruth Osuna spoke with us in greater detail about the project.

Site plan for Gimme Shelter Shade for Pierce Street Public Art Project. Photo courtesy Phoenix Office of Cultural Affairs

NEA: Please tell us about your project and what you hope it will bring to the residents of Phoenix.

RUTH OSUNA: The project will redesign the street in front of the new Downtown Phoenix Public Market, to enhance the area’s pedestrian comforts. In addition to narrowing the street and widening sidewalks, the effort will add trees, artist-designed shade structures and other essential amenities. We expect the improvements to bolster the street’s emerging identity as a vital new destination, and give people more reasons to come to the market and spend time downtown. In a larger sense, the upgrades will help Phoenix’s revitalization efforts in its urban core as a “Connected Oasis” of shaded sidewalks, plazas, streets and open spaces.

NEA: Why is it important to have arts and culture at the table when planning community revitalization efforts?

OSUNA: It’s difficult to imagine designing and building a community, let alone a city, without tapping the talents of artists and other designers and thinkers. Their works enrich the quality and character of the things we build.

NEA: Given the nature of the city’s project, how would you describe public art?

OSUNA: Phoenix has been a national leader in giving artists a vital role in designing city infrastructure and spaces. Our best projects have both invigorated the design and expanded the function of things like freeway overpasses, pedestrian bridges, parks, canals, streetscapes, and recycling centers. We expect this project to do the same by advancing new thinking about how downtown streets should function and serve both people and cars. We also expect it to spark the invention of smart strategies and designs to help reverse the heat island effect that challenges the basic livability of desert cities.

NEA: How do you think works of public art enhance the civic life of a community?

OSUNA: They help to make cities livable and memorable.

NEA: How important is MICD 25 funding for the success of your project?

OSUNA: The grant has given our design efforts a great boost, and helped to focus public attention on the merits of integrating pedestrian comfort into the design of downtown streets.

Please visit the MICD 25 page on the NEA website to learn more about the grants.

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