Her Secret Is Patience
DPJ is launching a new placemaking editorial series in partnership with the Phoenix Metro Chapter of the AIA (American Institute of Architects). Together we will explore places in our city, look closer at what makes them special, and perhaps challenge those who want to contribute to our built environment to approach downtown development in a more thoughtful way.
Some consider me to be overly optimistic.
Over the years, in countless conversations critical of Phoenix, I have advocated positivity. I do this, perhaps, because I arrived in Phoenix devoid of expectation. I was happily naïve. I relocated to the valley in the 70s. I was 22. The metro population was barely 1.5 million. Suburbia was well on its way but not yet a sea of…
“houses made of tickytack and they all looked just the same.”
It was before the great musician Don Henley warned us about over development and the low standards of 20th Century westward migration: “Some rich men came and raped the land, / Nobody caught ‘em. / Put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus, people bought ‘em.”
Or Joni Mitchell’s prophetic lyrics, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Yes, the glory days of post war 50s Phoenix were still evident in the early 70s. Specifically, mid-August, 1973. Of course, it was HOT. But I didn’t care. Palm trees, spectacular sunsets, saguaros, swimming pool lifestyle, the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright, the utopian ideals of Paolo Soleri, and the promise of Modernism by bad boy Beadle made the Valley a magical place for an inexperienced Oklahoma kid holding a new degree in architecture. Easily, unavoidably, I fell in love.
Phoenix and I matured together. However, to open-minded intellectuals, Phoenix remained the big city with “no there, there”—in a perpetual search for identity.
I could not accept the cynicism. How could they not see we were just on the cusp of a great transition. We had visionary leaders such as Mayor Terry Goddard and then ASU Dean of Architecture, John Meunier, who were too smart and motivated to miss the potential of this unique desert urban center.
Admittedly, I sometimes wondered, “how wide is this damn cusp? Just one more decade…!”
Nevertheless, when I was successful enough to consider moving my home office to commercial space, I first searched downtown Phoenix and found interesting, special, treasured spaces. Although I could not afford it, I dreamed of my studio in the rooftop penthouse of the old Hanny’s department store. Also, there was this tiny house which is still on the top of the San Carlos Hotel. I discovered the incredible ball room in the historic Security Building which would later become the home of ASU’s Phoenix Urban Research Laboratory.
I eventually located Jones Studio uptown (above) in a beautiful courtyard building designed by my hero, Al Beadle. That was over 30 years ago!
Suddenly, it was the 21st Century, and I realized it had been a long time since I had thought about being trapped in a cusp.
So, several years ago (seems like last week) I found myself in the area of Glendale and Central on a perfect Saturday morning. Traffic was light, so I decided to drive South and route myself through downtown, just for fun.
Through the tree-lined valley of Central, between Glendale and Bethany Home, I continued south past the Heard, the pink Phoenix Tower, the beautiful Phoenix Art Museum, light rail, people, the library, Roosevelt, and more people. By the time I cruised past “Her Secret Is Patience” I was rejoicing. At some point, without me, the cusp had been crossed and I lived in an amazingly beautiful city. Phoenix had become a city that is self-aware, forward thinking, obviously proud and, thanks to another fellow optimist, Mayor Greg Stanton, a city representing a strong first line of defense against shortsighted state politicians.
To all past and present cynics…I told you so!
Downtown is more than a grid system of streets and square miles. It is experienced in the sights, sounds, feel and tastes that are unique to the place. In this short series, DPJ contributor, Colin Columna hones in on the five senses as his guide to explore what makes downtown Phoenix unique.
The Phoenix Public Art Program was launched in 1986 through a visionary ordinance that allocates one percent of the Phoenix Capital Improvement Program to enhancing the design of public buildings, infrastructure and spaces. The program has been uniquely successful because Phoenix is a relatively new city. Unlike older urban communities, Phoenix has available open space in which to plan and build its future and a citizenry with hands-on involvement in that growth. In the last 28 years, the program has created more than 180 art installation projects throughout the city in neighborhood parks, on bridges, along canals, on public streets, in recycling centers, at airports and in civic gathering places. By bringing together artists, residents, architects, engineers and landscape designers to integrate art into the infrastructure of our communities, the program adds to the dialogue of how we relate to our urban environment.
A good starting point for discovering public art in Phoenix is at The Gallery @ City Hall on Washington St. and Third Ave. Currently on view in the gallery is Art Under Foot: Handmade Floors at the PHX Sky Train. The exhibit highlights the dynamic collaboration between the four artists and the many skilled craftspeople involved in creating the commissioned terrazzo floors at the PHX Sky Train stations. Included in the exhibit are artists’ original drawings, computerized models, hands-on displays, and a short video describing the 40,000 hours of labor required to complete the project. The exhibit makes visible how the process works, how artists are involved from the beginning, and how the art is integral to the overall project.
“Public art,” states Ed Lebow, Phoenix Public Art Program Director, “and the Phoenix Public Art Program in particular, allows us the opportunity ask the impertinent question ‘What if?’ to the blank concrete stares of most urban settings. What if we imagine new ideas for the purpose of public spaces? How can we enhance the experience of traveling through these urban places? Is it possible that an installation can improve a community’s quality of life?”
The answers involve many steps, and many hands, from artist conception to art installation. “The nature of commissioned work is site specific,” Lebow explains. “A place designated for the art piece to be conceptually integrated, to be one of the components of the fully realized project.” Within those parameters, or restrictions, “intensive problem solving occurs. Each project is completed through a collaboration of thinkers.”
The placement of artworks in neighborhoods and public spaces, and as functional elements within those environments – walkways, gateways and bridges – challenges a cardinal rule of art engagement: Don’t touch. “The joy of art is very tactile,” counters Lebow. “Each work is created by the touch of artists: molded, painted, built. They are artworks, but first they are works created by hand. I don’t believe they are something removed or special, but a part of life,” he explains.
Trained as a potter in college, Lebow confesses he “fell off the wheel” to explore other endeavors, but his personal and physical relationship with created works is evident. As a potter applies glaze, he describes the Taylor Streetscape as layers of experience. “The sidewalks are expanded and embedded with artwork to encourage strolling. So touch may be the first sense engaged. Trees are a vital part of the design and set in wide basins, capturing and reflecting water during rainy seasons. Pedestrians hear the sound and feel the cool breeze through their branches. Or they smell the plants as they respond to changes in atmosphere.” In this way, the art lives in the community.
Since its inception, the program has garnered numerous awards for design excellence, including two Design for Transportation Awards from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Endowment for the and, several Valley Forward Association Environmental Excellence Awards. Most recently, the Americans for the Arts Public Art Network Year in Review named two Phoenix projects, Ground Cover and Desert Spring, among the nation’s top 37 public arts projects.
“As we build our city,” Lebow says, “public art allows us to create a balance of the aesthetic and the practical…and an environment to keep our senses engaged.”
The Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture manages the city’s public art program, administers a grants program, supports arts learning, provides information and assistance to artists and cultural organizations, and oversees the city’s cultural planning efforts.
One way to start your own downtown Phoenix Public Art Tour is to visit The Gallery @ City Hall, or download a self-guided map to the public art located throughout downtown Phoenix.
If You Go
Where: The Gallery @City Hall, 200 West Washington Street (ground floor)
When: 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, Monday through Friday.
Cost: The Gallery is free and open to the public. In addition to the exhibition, self-guided public art maps are available in the gallery and online.
(From the Wire includes press releases received from reliable sources that help tell the story of the many happenings in Greater Downtown Phoenix. Yep, they are ripped from our inbox.)
A documentary on the urban park development movement titled “Olmsted and America’s Urban Parks” will be the subject of a free, public screening at Civic Space Park’s A.E. England Building, 424 N. Central Ave. (map), on Jan. 12 at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 5:30.
The documentary explores the park architecture of Frederick Law Olmsted and the evolution and history of urban park development in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. The event will also feature the TED talk short video by artist Janet Echelman about her work, including Civic Space Park’s signature art piece, “Her Secret Is Patience.”
Viewers also will be able to meet one of the filmmakers of the Olmsted documentary, Rebecca Messner, and participate in a short presentation and discussion on local and national Red Field to Green Fields initiative to convert economically depressed “red” private property (residential, commercial and industrial) into public park property “green.”
The screening is a presentation of No Festival Required’s Building Community Cinema series with the support of the Speedwell Foundation, the City Parks Alliance, Arizona State University, Butler Housing Company, Phoenix Community Alliance, Phoenix Parks Foundation and the City of Phoenix.
The engineering that went into the landmark sculpture at the new Downtown Civic Space Park will be featured at a forum at 6 p.m. Friday, June 5 at Burton Barr Central Library, 1221 N. Central Ave.
The free event will include presentations by the engineers who designed the sculpture’s unique steel and net structure. A union of art and engineering, the sculpture’s steel supports in 2008 received the Excellence in Structural Engineering Award from the Arizona Structural Engineers Association. The award preceded the sculpture’s installation in March.
Artist Janet Echelman designed the piece, titled “Her secret is patience,” to move in the wind and capture changing desert light. The kinetic sculpture is made from specially designed flexible netting suspended 38 feet above the ground on a framework of steel rings, cables and poles. The piece rises to an overall height of about 100 feet and spans 100 feet at the top. Specialized lighting gives the work an extraordinary glowing presence at night.
The upcoming forum will answer questions about how the sculpture was designed, what natural forces had to be considered in creating and engineering the artwork and what problems were overcome to design, build and install it.
The forum will include presentations by Kyle Peyton, who led the CAID Industries team that engineered and fabricated the sculpture, and Allan Ortega of M-3 Engineering, which designed the artwork’s award-winning steel and cable supports. Ian Keough of Buro Happold, which developed the netting’s complex architecture, will discuss the natural forces of gravity and wind that the net’s distinctive geometry of mesh and knotting were designed to withstand and the digital modeling that was created to produce the artwork.
The event is open to the public but RSVP’s are requested. Call 602-495-0185 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The discussion is sponsored by the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture Public Art Program. For more information about the public art program, visit phoenix.gov/arts or call 602-262-4637 or 602-534-5500.
Looks like the Civic Space is going to be a success, as hundreds of students, residents and curious visitors stopped by to celebrate the grand opening on April 16. There were giveaways, contests and a concert for the lucky attendees.
Phil Gordon spoke to the audience amid applause and support from the midday crowd.
See below for images.
Pictures courtesy of Evan Wyloge.