$100K grant to fund art in Phoenix's blighted areas

July 19, 2012
The Arizona Republic
Emily Gersema

A collaboration that involves Phoenix, a downtown arts and business group and Arizona State University Art Museum has won a $100,000 national arts grant to fund events and a food-and-art festival that will put vacant, blighted properties to use and support the local arts economy.

The grant is one of an estimated 80 "Our Town" grants the National Endowment for the Arts awarded this year to cities throughout the country.

Roosevelt Row Community Development Corp., the downtown arts and business non-profit group involved in the two-year project, has some experience with activating vacant lots.

The organization made agreements with owners of some of the blighted lots along Roosevelt Street for artists to display their work. The group also spearheaded a temporary, Intel Corp.-funded project, "Valley of the Sunflowers," to grow sunflowers on city-owned vacant lots. The sunflower seeds were harvested this year for biofuel to fuel a car crafted by students at the downtown Bioscience High School, the science- and math-focused high school of the Phoenix Union High School District.

The national arts grant enables the Roosevelt Row CDC to work with the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture and ASU Art Museum to put more vacant lots throughout the Metro light-rail corridor in Phoenix to good use and eradicate blight.

The grant funds a new project "Cultural Connections," which city officials said will be a series of free public art and music events and temporary art displays over the course of two years on vacant lots.

The light rail along Central Avenue from Camelback Road to Jefferson Street passes through several of Phoenix's arts districts, including near the Phoenix Art Museum, Heard Museum and past the Roosevelt Row arts district on Roosevelt Street, between Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street.

City officials said the project will help the local arts and business economy by drawing visitors to the area in addition to First Friday art walks and Third Friday art displays and music performances. Collaborators from the city, Roosevelt Row CDC and ASU Art Musuem are planning 24 events for a year starting in September.

"We've just started working on pulling in, curating artists' ideas," said Cindy Dach, acting director of Roosevelt Row CDC. "We're going to schedule events around the art that is proposed."

The Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture will invite artists to submit ideas for works they could display. The ASU Art Museum and Roosevelt Row CDC also plan to sponsor "Feast on the Street" in the spring, which involves setting up a half-mile-long dining table that would bring together chefs, artists, foodies and health advocates. The event will highlight the "locavore" food movement -- buying food from area farms to reduce pollution and use of oil, and to support small local farms, area chefs and businesses.

Dach said "Feast on the Street" will involve Clare Patey, an artist who is curator of the original art and food festival "Feast on the Bridge," held annually on London's Southwark Bridge.

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