Blog Archives

Shade, Trees, Sustainability the Focus of Feb. 12 Event

Ed Lebow talk Following the Water and Other TalksMark your calendar: Next Tuesday, Feb. 12, Phoenix Public Art Director Ed Lebow speaks on “Following the Water: The History of Change in the Valley Landscape.”

Where/When: Burton Barr Central Library, 7-8 pm.

Public Art in Downtown Phoenix

Downtown Phoenix is often a pretty frustrating place for an urbanist like myself.  One of the things that offsets the negative urban aspects of our downtown core is its great public art.  Apparently, I’m not the only person to think so.

Earlier this summer, two public art pieces in downtown Phoenix topped Americans for the Arts‘ 2010 list of the 40 best public art works in the United States and Canada: the well-known Her Secret is Patience by Janet Echelman at the Civic Space Park and Habitat by Christy Ten Eyck and Judeen Terrey at the Phoenix Convention Center. A third Phoenix piece, Spirit of Inquiry at the University and Rural light rail station ASU  by Bill Will and Norie Sato,  is easily accessible from downtown Phoenix on light rail

"Her Secret Is Patience" (Source:

The pieces were selected for Americans for the Arts’ 2010 Public Art Year in Review which recognizes 40 of the year’s best public art works in the United States and Canada.  This year’s selections consisted of projects from 29 cities in 15 states and provinces. The works were chosen from more than 300 entries from across Canada and the United States.  Phoenix and Houston were the only two cities to have three pieces recognized.  Five cities had two pieces selected.

"Habitat" (Source:

Two independent public art experts—artists Helen Lessick and Fred Wilson—compiled the list, which reflects the most exemplary, innovative permanent or temporary public art works created or debuted in 2009.  This is the 10th year that Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts, has recognized public art works.

"Spirit of Inquiry" (Source: Valley Metro)

To learn more about public art in and around downtown Phoenix, check out this excelent post by Meghanne Bearden for the Phoenix Community Alliance.

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Artists Wanted for Canal Crossings Public Art Project

[Source: Lilia Menconi, in the New Times’ Jackalope Ranch]

Phoenix much potential.

There’s been a bit of talk in the creative community about the Valley’s canal system (read this Arty Girl blog from last year about the Canalscape project) and now the City of Phoenix Office of Cultural Affairs is accepting applications to enhance the design of major street bridges that cross the Salt River Valley canals in Phoenix.

The potential of this project literally stretches for miles — there are 181 miles of waterways in our city. That’s 56 more miles of canal than Venice, Italy. Suck on that!

The selected artist will work with the Street Transportation Department. The selection panel wants the design to “focus on the bridge’s concrete abutments, and metal railings and address the essential role the canals play in the history and life of Phoenix.”

The project is open to artists living in the U.S. and the deadline is at 5 p.m. Friday, September 3.

Get all the nitty-gritty application details after the jump. Read the rest of this entry

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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Phoenix receives $25,000 for downtown urban design project

The city of Phoenix has received a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Mayor’s Institute on City Design 25th Anniversary Initiative (MICD25).
The funds will be used to redesign a downtown street to improve pedestrian accessibility to the city’s Downtown Phoenix Public Market. An artist/design team will be hired as part of a city of Phoenix Office of Cultural Affairs public art project to redesign one long block of Pierce Street in front of the market from Central Avenue to First Street.
“This project will bolster our efforts to revitalize Phoenix’s unique urban core as a connected oasis of shaded sidewalks, plazas, streets and open spaces,” said Mayor Phil Gordon. “The project, using sustainable materials, also will complement our ongoing downtown development efforts.”
The design team will reconfigure the street by reducing car lanes, widening sidewalks and adding built and living shade, transforming a hot stretch of asphalt and concrete into an oasis making the outdoor area more comfortable for pedestrians.
“The NEA grant to redesign a city block of Pierce Street in front of the Phoenix Public Market will help create a thriving pedestrian corridor downtown,” said Cindy Gentry, executive director of Community Food Connections, the nonprofit group that operates the market. “We are honored and delighted to be a part of the project.”
Phoenix was one of 21 cities selected to receive a grant from a total of $3 million. Projects varied from environmentally sustainable public art projects to development of isolated neighborhoods or neglected waterfronts.
“I am thrilled that the NEA’s vision of Arts Works has led to MICD25 and these innovative projects,” said Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “ I am confident that these projects will make a difference in their communities.”
MICD25 supports creative projects that contribute to the livability of communities and help transform sites into lively, beautiful and sustainable places using arts at its core.
The public art project was developed in partnership with the Phoenix Office of Cultural Affairs and Street Transportation Department, downtown businesses, property owners and community organizations as part of the “Gimme Shelter Urban Shade” project.

Read the full article at the Phoenix Business Journal.

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Talton offers alternative view on downtown Phoenix Civic Space

[Source: John Talton, Rogue Columnist] — Former Arizona Republic columnist Jon Talton still thinks and writes about his old hometown, Phoenix.  Upon returning to his current home from a recent visit and book signing tour in Arizona, Jon wrote the following blog post about the new downtown Phoenix Civic Space (in contrast to this other local blogger’s view):

“…Which brings me to the Floating Diaphragm.  That’s what local wags have dubbed the “public art” project that is the signature of the new park on Central Avenue downtown between ASU and the Y.  At night, it’s stunning.  A floating purple dream.  But, as with the Sandra Day O’Connor Federal Courthouse, this is something designed by someone with no knowledge of local conditions.  After the first big monsoon, look for the diaphragm in your neighborhood — Gilbert would be appropriate, with its sex phobia and sex scandals. 

The park — we’ll see.  Phoenix is not good at civic spaces.  It’s unclear if it will have enough shade and grass to be inviting year-round.  And nobody can stop the creeping gravelization of the once-oasis central city.  City Hall sets a terrible example.  The old Willo House has been spiffed up as Hob Nobs.  But it’s surrounded by gravel and a couple of fake palm trees — who wouldn’t want to be around that 140-dgree heat surface on a summer day? And there are more of them — the natives and long-timers agree the falls and springs have shrunk to a week or two, and winter is getting shorter (and it lacks the frosts that once kept the mosquito population in check).  The central city needs lots of shade trees and grass, to offset the heat island effect.  It is a much better water investment than new golf courses or more sprawl.  Nobody’s listening.  Almost: The Park Central Starbucks has made its outdoor space even more lush, shady, and comfy. 

Back to the diaphragm.  It’s definitely better than the “public art” you whiz by at Sky Harbor because it focuses a civic space, the kind of walkable, gathering places great cities have and Phoenix mostly lacks.  Some art at the light-rail stations is quite well done.  But, there’s a deadening sameness.  My friend, the Famous Architect, likes to rib me, “Not everything old is good.”  True enough. But not everything new is good, either.  I’d love to see some classical statues and artwork downtown to, say, commemorate the heroic pioneer farmers, the heroic, displaced indigenous peoples, the heroic Mexican-Americans, the heroic African-Americans from this once very Southern town and the heroic Chinese-Americans.  Just two or three would offer some contrast and variety, and, I suspect, unsophisticated oaf that I am, elevate and inspire more souls who communed with them.  It would also give the lie, in visual form, to the newcomer lie that “there’s no history here.” 

Another wish I won’t get.  [Note: To read the full blog posting, click here.]

Fans, critics hold breath as unique downtown Phoenix art is installed

The completed project. Lights will be added to increase the viewing times for the piece.

"Her Secret is Patience" is up... finally (Photo: Michael Schennum, Arizona Republic)

[Source: Connie Cone Sexton, Arizona Republic] — The third time really was the charm.   Despite a little rain and the weight of two previous attempts to finish the installation, crews on Saturday were able to attach — and leave up — hundreds of pounds of netting to the art piece adorning a downtown Phoenix park.  Whether the charm of Saturday will hold remains to be seen.   But naysayers and backers of the $2.4 million project finally have a chance to reflect on the piece, which hovers above Central Avenue near Van Buren Street.

This week might hold optimum viewing opportunities.   The floating net transforms with changes in the wind and sunlight. The National Weather Service predicts we’ll see gusts up to 30 mph on Tuesday.  Critics of the piece have wondered whether the wind might whip the netting off. Fans have said a little bluster could provide a good show.

The 100-foot-tall, 100-foot-wide sculpture, titled “Her Secret is Patience,” was completed in time for Thursday’s dedication of the 2.77-acre Downtown Civic Space park.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Oops! Ill-fitting fabric delays downtown Phoenix artwork

[Source: Connie Cone Sexton, Arizona Republic] — Installation of netting for the public-art sculpture in the downtown Phoenix Civic Space hit a snag Tuesday when crews realized the fabric wouldn’t fit perfectly onto the existing steel rings.  By afternoon, City of Phoenix officials decided to send the netting back to the manufacturer in Washington state for modifications.  Installation is expected to be delayed one to two weeks but will not add to the cost of the $2.4 million project, said Ed Lebow, a public art program manager for Phoenix.  “It was a simple mistake in interpreting the plans,” he said.

The sculpture, “Her Secret is Patience,” by Boston-area artist Janet Echelman, is part of a Phoenix park site under construction at Taylor Street and Central Avenue.  The design of the art is to evoke a cactus flower.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Phoenix Civic Space artist talks about her “Sky Bloom” project

Janet Echelman

Janet Echelman

[Source: Stephanie Dembowski, Special for the Republic] — “Her secret is patience” is the title of the unfinished art piece suspended in the air across the street from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication/PBS Eight building on Central and Taylor downtown.  The artist, Janet Echelman, spoke to students and guests about the piece as a part of the Journalism “Cronkite Week” last week alongside Paul Deeb, who designed the 78-foot light sculpture in the school’s stairwell.

“Patience” is actually no secret at all, as the $2.4 million project started in spring of 2007 and has seen little activity in recent months.  Echleman said she was “asked not to speak about the piece until it was unveiled.”  She said that could be as soon as January.  The 100-foot-wide, 100-foot-tall Sky Bloom sparked both praise and curiosity when the Phoenix City Council approved the public art for the Downtown Civic Space Park.  Three steel towers and two steel rings will support the sculpture.  But the sculpture’s netting, designed to resemble a saguaro flower, has yet to be installed.  And for observers — pro and con — the netting is what generated the hoopla in the first place.  Some said it looked like a jellyfish; some, like a mushroom.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

ASU grad student conducting survey on Phoenix public art

With public art being in the news lately — with lots of follow-up blogging and letters to the editor — Melinda Alexander, a PhD student in the School of Geographical Sciences at Arizona State University, is conducting a survey of the public’s perception of transportation-related art in Phoenix.

The online survey takes less than 15 minutes to complete.  Participation is voluntary.  You can skip questions if you wish.  If you choose not to participate or to withdraw from the study at any time, there is no penalty.  Your responses will be anonymous.  The results of this study may be used in reports, presentations, or publications but your name will not be known.  Completing the questionnaire will be considered your consent to participate.  Care to complete?  Click here to begin!