Blog Archives

Building Community: From Empty Spaces to Meeting Places

[editor’s note: A new feature that we’ll have here on the DVC blog are posts from Steering Committee members. The viewpoints presented in these points are those of the individual and not necessarily those of the Downtown Voices Coalition or the Steering Committee.]

With all the discussion groups, symposiums and conferences given on the subject, it seems the best places to create a strong community might just be the coffee house, dog park or potluck table. My own “Building Community Cinema” series is rooted in seeing a movie, but with a location conducive to an after-film chat and chew.

This column explores the roots of place, and how place can separate or enhance a community.

“Building Community: From Empty Spaces to Meeting Places” by Julian Dobson

How will community be built in the 21st century? If you want to know the lie of the land, sometimes you must literally see how the land lies and what human beings have done to it.

Ancient settlements were connected by trade routes and divided by fault lines: valleys, rivers and hills were means meeting or contested territory. This week I was in Luton, where the barriers and bridges, physical and psychological, were obvious – sometimes painfully so.

But just as physical places can create psychological barriers, they can also help bring them down.

Looking around Luton and listening to the stories of two men whose work is to build bridges between faiths and cultures, I was reminded of the kaleidoscopic complexities of building communities. But sitting with them and chatting and observing the trust between them, I came away optimistic that we can devise meetings of body and mind that can move beyond an ubiquitous blandness into a serious engagement with people’s real selves.

Read the entire article here.

Steve Weiss
Executive Director, No Festival Required
Steering Committee, Downtown Voices Coalition

FilmBar set to open in downtown Phoenix

[Source: Kellie Hwang, The Arizona Republic]

Just you and a roomful of adults, some wine and a great film. It’s the new way to watch movies in the Valley.

The newest 21-and-older theater to hit the scene is FilmBar, in downtown Phoenix. The 4,000 square-foot, single-auditorium art-house theater shows indie flicks, and features a separate bar and lounge.

Kelly Aubey of Phoenix is the man behind the project.

“I’ve lived here on and off since 1971, and as I’m getting older, I’m becoming one of those people that gripes about there being nothing to do in this city,” Aubey said. “I realized that me sitting there griping is part of the problem, and it was imperative I did something.”

FilmBar is the third beer-and-a-movie theater to come to the Valley since Scottsdale’s UltraStar Cinemas opened in November, with beer-and-wine service in six premium auditoriums. In December, iPic Theaters in Scottsdale Quarter followed, offering a flashy experience with signature cocktails, suede theater seats, a lounge and restaurant.

FilmBar, which serves only beer and wine, is decidedly different. It’s in a 1966 building last used as an artist collective.

Although remodeling was extensive, Aubey kept many elements intact to give a retro vibe, including an aqua blue tiled wall on the outside and rugged rock pillars on the exterior.

The retro feel is blended with Moroccan touches.

“I’ve lived in Iran and Paris, and the combination of the two reminds me of Morocco,” Aubey said. “The lounge especially has that skinny-tie, ’60s feel with Moroccan decor . . . I really want the theater to reflect my life and my travels.”

Silver and copper lanterns with punched-out designs, and colorful star-shaped lanterns made from stained glass hang in the lounge, above the bar and in the auditorium. In the lounge, guests can relax on the dark red benches or on circular ottomans with red, black and gold star designs.

The walls are painted moss green and sky blue, and the brick wall behind the bar is stained a rust color, that will eventually loop video.

“The TVs will feature multi-media works from local artists, so people can see the great work that is going on here,” Aubey said. “Around the theater, there will be paintings and tapestries from local artists, too, and I want to encourage people to send their stuff in.”

The bar will be open until 2 a.m. on weekends, even when there are no films showing. The long, rectangular bar is topped with stamped-out, gold metal sheeting and the front is covered in floral embossed red leather.

The 60-seat theater features vintage emerald green chairs and a 16-feet by 9-feet screen. In the back row, there are several high-top tables that will have waiter service. Guests can bring their drinks in from the bar, but can’t order from their seats because Aubey doesn’t want patrons to be distracted during the film

Film Bar will show primarily independent films, including many that never make it to Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale or Harkins Valley Art Theatre in Tempe. Aubey hired Steve Weiss, director of No Festival Required Independent Cinema, to be his film partner.

They’re opening with “The Red Chapel,” a 2009 Danish documentary about a group of comedians that travels to North Korea for a cultural exchange, in hopes of bringing humor to a country with one of the world’s most notorious regimes.

“It’s an educational celebration of what’s possible,” Aubey said. “There’s a hidden message in that right now the economy is still difficult here and times are tough, but at the same time we’re having this cultural rebirth downtown.”


What: A new 21-and-older movie theater and bar in Phoenix with wine and beer for sale, a lounge and auditorium that screens indie flicks and Valley films.

When: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. for Thursday opening. Hours are 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday, noon-2 a.m. Saturday, noon-11 p.m. Sunday.

Where: 815 N. 2nd St., Phoenix.

Admission: $8 for a movie ticket, no cover for bar.


Steve Weiss to program downtown Phoenix’s FilmBar

The DVC’s own Steve Weiss, has been hired as film programmer at FilmBar Phoenix.

FilmBar Phoenix is an independent theater opening this November at 815 N. Second St. in downtown Phoenix.  It will be a 21-and-over venue that will serve beer and wine as well as espresso from Cartel Coffee Lab.

Steve Weiss, the director of No Festival Required Independent Cinema has programmed indie screenings for nearly a decade. He has mainly worked with traditional art venues such as the Phoenix Art Museum, Mesa Arts Center, Detroit Film Center and local art-spaces Modified Arts, Paper Heart, Chyro Arts, Space 55 and most recently, the Metro Arts Theater. No Festival Required has received three New Times Best of Phoenix awards.

Steve will continue working with other venues.  He has also obtained a mobile video/sound system that enables him to offer on-site video projection to groups and private parties and realize his dream of bringing truly independent film to outlying Arizona towns.

Enhanced by Zemanta

In case you missed it: Downtown Voices Visioning Conference welcome address

Below is the transcript of Steve Weiss’ welcome address at the opening of the Downtown Voices Coalition’s Visioning Conference on January 15, 2010 at the Matador Mexican Restaurant.

Good evening and welcome to the pre-event for tomorrow’s Downtown Voices Coalition Visioning Conference.

You know, Downtown Voices was formed in a place just like this.  As a matter of fact, if the Matador bar wanted to, they could create a new drink called the DVC.  All you need is a shot of good tequila and a signature on an article of incorporation!

What some may not realize is that Downtown Voices Coalition was the culmination of a chain of events that began with a move to bring a pro football stadium to downtown.  As the art folks and small business owners got wind of the plan, they felt their work to make a new and interesting arts district was going to suffer with a giant stadium plunked in its center.  Though the protests didn’t stop the demolition and razing of the Evans Churchill neighborhood by speculators and the City, it did manage to shine a light on the project, and successfully persuade the city officials to put the idea aside.

For the first time, artists and small business folks started talking to each other.  Then, the Jerde Project, a big box mall development, was floated as another direction for downtown.  Ideas were being discussed for another ASU campus, and suddenly the University began as a player in the fate of the downtown community.  The fledgling organization known as D-PAC, the Downtown Phoenix Arts Coalition, felt now was the time to get the other voices heard, ones that didn’t have political power or an outstretched hand looking for tax incentives and variances.

The result was an event singular in the City’s history: A one-day facilitated discussion at the Icehouse of over 80 downtown stakeholders, to determine what WE as a group wanted for the future of downtown Phoenix.  The resulting report created from the discussion was titled Downtown Voices: Creating a Sustainable Downtown.” It was not only presented to the City of Phoenix, but also found its way into many of the aspects of the newly created Downtown Strategic Plan.

On that day, when we all met and talked, new relationships were formed.

Artists, business owners, developers and, yes, even city officials began to realize that the ultimate goal of the downtown stakeholders were actually very similar.

However, as the dust began to settle from the good work done, development projects in once untouched and unwanted areas began to rise.  We as stakeholders learned how zoning by variance and self-imposed hardships could dramatically change the development rulebook.

A key group of stakeholders, coming from different backgrounds yet tied together with similar concerns, realized it would be beneficial to speak with one voice, the voice of what became the Downtown Voices Coalition.  We met with a lawyer at the old Ramada Inn downtown bar, and with a toast, began our first mission and organization.

Negotiating a better project for The Summit at Copper Square became our first test, and as we created our organization’s bylaws and elected officers, we found direction from that initial Downtown Voices document.

It was a boom time, and it seemed many times we were playing Whack-A-Mole, that great carnival game where hitting one pop-up mole only made another rise.  We found ourselves as a group both welcomed and disparaged.  The tactics of “Agitate, Negotiate and, when all else fails, Litigate” brought us through a series of events with many successes and some sad losses.

A Tibetan Buddhist Lama, whom when asked at a conference the definition Buddhism, replied “Divine Common Sense.”

It is regular old common sense that drives our group, and something else just as tangible.  Dr. Howard Cutler has worked with His Holiness the Dalai Lama to write three books, The Art of Happiness, The Art of Happiness at Work, and The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World. In each book, the over-arching view expressed that people as a common goal ultimately desire happiness above all else.

As I’ve worked with this group of fellow DVC members, I’ve come to realize that each member seeks the same thing: Happiness in their lives and in their community.  There isn’t one member of DVC who wouldn’t want happiness above all other things.  The desire is a better place to live, a better place to create sustainable businesses, and a genuine dedication to staying here and making it a great city for all of us.

An example of how different this sentiment can be expressed was in one particular issue, when a proposed out of scale development’s lawyer declared in front of City Council that he’d “never dealt with people who didn’t want to raise their property values.”

The truth is, we represent people who aren’t moving toward the next buck or the next city, to which it’s more important to raise living values than financial values.

Since 2004, new blood with new ideas have entered the downtown picture.  Individuals are drawn to the small-town feel of the 5th Largest City in the Nation, great small businesses have enhanced neighborhoods, partners have been found in thoughtful development, and the ASU Downtown campus is showing signs of like-minded goals for that sustainable, cool, and enhanced downtown where we all will happily live, work, and recreate.

In these circumstances of a down-turned economy, it seems appropriate to take a breath, reflect a bit on the past, but, most important, look forward.

  • What is the City that we hope for?
  • What have we achieved and what can we improve?
  • How can we get more voices to speak as Downtown Voices so that together we can create that happiness we all desire?

These are tomorrow’s questions, and the facilitated discussion we begin at 10 am at the A.E. England building at OUR Downtown Civic Space will help to provide some answers.

Tonight we reflect, remember old battles, good friends, vocal and silent partners.  Tomorrow we begin anew and renewed, with new ideas and voices, to create a better Phoenix.

I toast the future.  To the city of Phoenix!

Viewpoint: Downtown Phoenix’s Jackson Street lost its artists long ago

[The following “letter to the editor” was written by Steve Weiss, Steering Committee Chair of Downtown Voices Coalition, in response to the Arizona Republic’s June 10, 2009 editorial on the Jackson Street Entertainment District.  Since the letter hasn’t been printed in the Republic, we’re reprinting it here.]

There are many issues to debate regarding the proposed Jackson Street Entertainment District: the loss of historic preservation on the last surviving contiguous areas of the Warehouse District, the impact on residents South of Jackson Street, or even whether a created Entertainment District can achieve the financial and sales tax success the developers and city officials hope for.  The debate can rage back and forth on these issues.

But there is one glaring fact that disputes your editorial, where you say “Even now the area is drawing artists’ studios and clubs.”

The artists were forced out of Jackson Street long ago, first by the America West Arena (now US Airways Center) and then by Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field).  What was once an area inhabited by live/work studios and galleries seeking large spaces with cheap rent is now priced for speculation or geared towards the ethereal sports fan.  The one exception is the eternally struggling Icehouse, way West of the proposed development.  No city help seems forthcoming to the last true artspace on Jackson.

As in all big cities, the gentrification of the downtown, first made cool by the artists, will be left to those who can afford “attainable” housing or “themed” entertainment.  A House of Blues club is no match for the authenticity of The Rhythm Room, as an example.

If the developers who seek to make Jackson Street interesting once again are wise enough, they will create incentives for affordable (not just attainable) live/work artist spaces and the kind of hospitable and distinct food, music and art venues that thrive in the less structured and less pricey environments of Grand Avenue and Roosevelt Street.  Look to those streets to find the remaining downtown artists and artspaces.

Steve Weiss
Steering Committee Chair, Downtown Voices Coalition

Enjoy a sneak peek of the new ASU College of Nursing & Health Innovation


Mark Kranz of SmithGroup, project architect, explaining the building to tour-goers (Photo source: Steve Weiss)

Last Monday, members of the Downtown Voices Coalition Steering Committee and City of Phoenix staff were given a tour of the new ASU College of Nursing and Health Innovation building in downtown Phoenix. Click here for a “behind the scenes” look at the building’s interior, courtesy of photographer Steve Weiss.

Farmers markets in metro Phoenix keep cool


Steve Weiss presents Cindy Gentry of Community Food Connections a contribution of some "cool cash" on behalf of the Downtown Voices Coalition.

[Source: Diana Balazs, Arizona Republic] — Valley farmers markets have come up with cool ways to keep their ventures open during the long hot summer.  They start early, drape shade cloth over aisles, and [some] set up misting systems…

The 4-year-old downtown Phoenix Public Market run by Community Food Connections operates throughout the year, rain or shine, said Cindy Gentry, Community Food Connections director.  The market is open from 4 to 8 p.m.  Wednesdays and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays at the southeastern corner of Central Avenue and McKinley Street.  “We have produce year-round.  Our goal is to increase access to healthy foods and to keep farmers on the land,” Gentry said.

She said customers do not mind the heat and enjoy buying locally produced goods.  “There is a sense of community and creativity and openness.  I always feel like what we’re trying to do is set the table and invite people in,” she said.

Shade cloths cover the aisles, and portable coolers are used to offset the heat.  “We figure out ways.  Some of them aren’t the most graceful or the most beautiful.  We like to say our produce is always fresh, but maybe our farmer’s aren’t,” Gentry joked.  For a list of farmers markets throughout the Valley, click here.   [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

3 must-see Phoenix galleries on First Friday, Nov. 7

[Source: Richard Ruelas, Arizona Republic] — Check out this guide to downtown Phoenix’s First Friday art scene:

The Alwun House.   This downtown-arts pioneer opened in 1971, 18 years before the first Art Detour (big brother to First Fridays).  A mile or so east of Roosevelt Row, it’s an unabashedly hippieish gallery in a historical house, complete with outdoor stages for live entertainment as well as resident pets (doves, rabbits and a sweetheart of a Doberman). Details: The Alwun House, 1204 E. Roosevelt St., 602-253-7887, website.

Bentley Projects.  This cavernous brick building once was a linen laundry, and the owners didn’t plaster over that historical character in creating this high-end gallery packed with large-scale works by nationally known artists.  This isn’t for bargain shoppers; instead, it’s the kind of gallery that rich collectors fly out to in order to buy pieces priced in the five- to six-figure range. However, it’s a friendly place with enough diverse, quality work to compare favorably with an art museum. Call first to make sure it’s open. Details: Bentley Projects, 215 E. Grant St., 602-340-9200, website.

Garfield Galleria.  You can spend an entire evening and not see everything at this single building bursting with more than two dozen galleries and studios.  This is real something-for-everyone territory, whether you’re looking for fine art, homey crafts, student work, risque alternative art or flashy jewelry.  Details: Garfield Galleria, 316 W. McDowell Road, 602-349-3049, website.

[Editor’s Note: Here’s one more!  “Lost Vegas: Color Photography 1985-2007 by Steve Weiss/Candid Landscapes” opens First Friday, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.  Details: The Lodge, 1231 SW Grand Ave. (corner 13th Ave. and Grand), 602-265-9524, website.]

The city of Phoenix runs free shuttles that stop at gallery areas, including Grand Avenue and Roosevelt Row.  If you’re not a good urban parker or just don’t want the hassle of finding a street spot, drop your car off at Burton Barr Central Library, 1221 N. Central Ave., and hop onboard.  Once you explore one area, wave down a shuttle to take you back to the library. Then hop on a different shuttle to head to another area.  For a shuttle map and more information about First Fridays, call 602-256-7539 or visit their website.

Some downtown Phoenix businesses feel misled by ASU’s enrollment numbers

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — When taxpayers were asked to pay $220 million to build a downtown college campus, Phoenix and ASU officials dangled an enticing carrot.  The Arizona State University campus would bring thousands of students to struggling downtown shops, they said.  Voters OK’d the bond money, and the students came.  But the enrollment numbers – about 6,200 in 2006, 6,600 in 2007, and 8,400 in 2008 – don’t tell the full story.  An Arizona Republic review of ASU documents shows that each year, roughly half of those students didn’t take any classes downtown.  This year, for instance, fewer than 5,000 attend classes downtown. The rest attend classes at other ASU campuses or elsewhere.  ASU says that it is not trying to mislead.  The formula it uses to determine enrollment is meant to give an accurate university-wide headcount to meet state funding rules.  But the discrepancy between the downtown enrollment figure and the actual number of students taking at least one class in Phoenix has left some business owners disappointed.

If students aren’t regularly spending time on campus, it’s less likely they will eat, shop and play in the neighborhood, they say.  “Certainly the push from ASU and the city has been that the campus will activate downtown and help businesses,” said Steve Weiss, a downtown activist and business owner.  The on-campus number “definitely has an impact on how small businesses should direct their energy and promotion to students.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Downtown Voices statement on Phoenix light rail evening hours

At a recent Mayor’s breakfast meeting, the scheduled times of operation of light rail were announced.  The trains, as it was reported at this meeting, will shut down between 12 midnight and 4:45 a.m. except for “special events.”

If downtown Phoenix is ever going to become what its proponents have stressed it should be, a “24/7 vibrant downtown” then not having light rail run 24 hours a day is a detriment to achieving this goal.  The reasons are many:

  • Closing time for nightlife and entertainment is generally 2 a.m., with many other locations doing “after-hours” past the traditional bar closing times.
  • Restaurant and bar workers don’t finish at midnight, and they are the ones who would use late-night public transportation.
  • Taking people who stay out late night and use light rail as their “designated driver” would reduce DUI arrests and accidents caused by impaired drivers.
  • It is the measure of a city’s vitality and growth when it recognizes that a true “24/7” downtown doesn’t close at 12 midnight.

This doesn’t mean the train needs to run every 20 minutes.  If trains could just run a once an hour schedule, riders would at least know there is a way with some patience to avoid driving.  

Funding could be partnered with many different entities, including the hospitality and beverage industry and various anti-DUI organizations.

Downtown Voices Coalition, by a unanimous vote of its steering committee, asks the Mayor, City Council, and interested parties to find a solution for running light rail on a 24 hour schedule.

Thank you.


Steve Weiss, Chair, Steering Committee, Downtown Voices Coalition