Wayne Michael Reich

Writing ∙ Photography ∙ Art


Month: January 2017

Gentrification prefers Blands PT.3 (Seattle’s Worst)

 “It is hard not to see into the future, faced with today’s blind architecture – a thousand times more stupid and more revolting than that of other ages. How bored we shall be inside!” – Andre Breton

Ola, Blogiteers!

How are you? I for one, am slightly depressed on several levels- one of those being the fact that a vulgar and massively unqualified mango Mussolini is in charge of this already great country until either the act of impeachment or the fall of a guillotine replaces him with his equally asinine backup, a faux-Christian zealot who at best, looks like an advertisement for constipation medicine.

Dark times are ahead, and the challenges will be formidable, but I believe in my heart that in the end, we can pull together as a unified nation and make sure that *Drumpf never gets the nuclear codes or access to Twitter ever again.
*[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnpO_RTSNmQ ]

I’m also bummed out by the absolutely horrendous prison rape scene that was this past year, and feeling pretty confident that I’m not alone in regards to this synopsis. If I were to script 2016 as a low-budget horror movie, I’d propose one of the following two scenarios as a plotline: either a psychotic New Year’s Baby (most likely from the Disco Era- I’m looking at you,1977…) has come back to seek revenge for being forced to wear a denim jumpsuit, or there’s a group of Angels sitting around, popping open sealed scrolls, and casually handing them off to white supremacists.

Sure, I did receive a ton of praise and agreement in regards to my POV as noted in my last screed, [which clocked in at 10K+ words] but when it came to following the clarion call to transform those quiet accolades into focused action, the response was “meh” at best.  As is characteristic of the PAS, the greater part sits on it’s collective ass and grouses about our relevant issues, while doing nothing to change the situation.

Sadly, this does not come as a shock- if I had to bake a casserole comprised solely of truly effective advocacy elements within the PAS, I’d barely have enough ingredients to construct a cupcake, and an utterly whiny one at that. Due to this particularly sad state of affairs, I’m seriously taking into consideration the crafting of a new rule regarding Artbitch- if you’re going to ask me to air your concerns within the PAS, than you should also have the veracity to be an ally when the pitchfork brigade arrives on my metaphorical doorstep.

To quote Confucius: “To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice.” And if I were to speak frankly as I possibly could- that quality seems to be exceedingly prevalent these days among several of my so-called colleagues. Speaking of which, I didn’t see many when I decided to attend the “mixer” that Artlink threw a while back at The Grand on Central, a brand-new coffeehouse built within the bones of the gleeful decadence that was once known as Club Amsterdam.

Overall, my walking into a allegorical tigers cage was fairly pleasant, taking into account the fact that my saturnly venomous anti-Artlink screed had been posted the night before. Thank Odin that certain members of their board obviously hadn’t read it- now whether that was due to lack of interest on their part or it’s 10K plus word count, I’m not sure, but I’ll take whatever grace I can get these days.

Plus, there was also the assurance of free cheese cubes, and that alone was worth the risk..

Taken at face value, it was a fairly positive event, where Artlink’s current President Catrina Kahler outlined the organization’s future plans and introduced it’s new logo via free shirts, one of which when graciously offered, I diplomatically refused- principles and all that, you know. Believe me, the fact that my GF Ashley stating that if I acquired any more black t-shirts, she’d leave me for someone with more than two colors in their closet, had nothing to do with it. However, it does explain that whole paisley phase I went through a few months back, so if you missed it, that’s a shame- envision Anthony Michael Hall impersonating Prince, and you’ll be right on track.

As acknowledged, I gleefully attended this soiree, primarily for two reasons- one: I wanted to see what the turnout of artists directly connected with the PAS would be (extremely light), and two: I wanted to have a chat with Mrs. Kahler, if such an opening arose, to discuss the issues I wrote about in my last missive and see if a common and civil ground could be reached. I know, I know… busted sense of optimism and all that- I really need to get that fixed when I get some time off.

Granted, while she and I did get to have a civil chat in the parking lot after the event, it was hardly what I would call progress, as it’s obvious to me at least that Artlink is trying to be something it’ll never be, gambling with people who are clearly working against them, and the dearth of PAS affiliated artists at this “mixer” should have served as a huge red flag to specific insiders that Artlink is not entirely in line with what the PAS needs or wants.

Whether it is an issue of trust or disinterest, speaking objectively, one could make the valid argument that most artists in this so-called scene view Artlink with varying levels of contempt- a viewpoint somewhat validated by the lack of appearance from the majority of Creatives who keep this art-river flowing.

I noted this in my earlier screed, where I put forth the theory that some of this disdain is based on bruised ego, or a portion of trivial misunderstandings, but the one consistent thread that prevails is Artlink allegedly ignoring art-spaces, galleries, and artists who aren’t forking over dues to the organization- essentially, it’s a pay-to-play Ponzi scheme at best, in my humble opinion.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve always believed that if you claim to stand for something, you actually follow through with it. To clarify what I mean, I’ll kick off my shredding-to-be with Artlinks very own organization description: Artlink keeps the arts integral to the development of our city by connecting artists, business and community. Artlink supports a variety of community-based art events, including complimentary Trolley Tours during the monthly First Friday Art Walk, one of the nation’s largest self-guided art walks; a pop-up gallery program; the Infusion arts initiative; and the annual Juried Exhibition, Art Detour, and Art d’Core Gala.”

I’ve already discussed First Friday, Art Detour, the ego-stroke that is the Juried Exhibition, and Art d’Core Gala, either in passing or at great length in previous scrawlings, so I’ll refrain from going over a carcass picked so clean, the bones shine like silver. As for the Infusion Initiative and local pop-up galleries, those are actually the only solid bricks in walls built upon Jello foundations, so I’ll just give them a big thumbs-up, as I metaphorically sideswipe Artlink’s Trolley of Exclusion program.

As with most things Artlink related, it sounds great on the surface. A trolley that you can board at multiple points around the downtown center, whisks you away to explore all that our exceedingly limited art scene has to offer, and it doesn’t cost you a dime. Even our pro-602 mayor Greg Stanton, has been a guide on one of these trolleys, and it was a blast.

Seriously. The man’s comic timing is spot on.

So how in the name of *Enki, God of the **Abzu, could anyone disparage that? Sigh… it’s like you don’t know me at all.
*[ Enki is a god in Sumerian mythology, later known as Ea in Akkadian and Babylonian mythology. He was originally patron god of the city of Eridu, but later the influence of his cult spread throughout Mesopotamia and to the Canaanites, Hittites and Hurrians. **[ The Abzu {also called engur} was the name for the primeval sea below the void space of the underworld (Kur) and the earth (Ma) above. It may also refer to fresh water from underground aquifers that was given a religious fertilizing quality. Lakes, springs, rivers, wells, and other sources of fresh water were thought to draw their water from the abzu.]

Well to begin with, one must take into consideration the following two points- the first being that things aren’t what they appear to be, and the second is that I tend to find the cracks in the armor, if you know what I mean… call it a gift. While the idea that our local arts advocacy group getting in bed with the enemy [developers] is truly abhorrent- I’m more appalled by the knowledge that they’re also excluding the people they claim to represent as they simultaneously throw them under the bus.

However, I have to admit to my somewhat mild embarrassment, I’m as equally impressed by their ability to do so. Don’t get me wrong, they continue to repulse me like you cannot believe, but I’ve gotta give props where props are due. All they need is a hollow volcano, some jump-suited minions, and a few Asian henchmen wearing steel-brimmed berets, and Artlink could finally cross that subtle threshold as truly proper villains.

Granted, my assessment may be a tad overblown, but if this were a Bond film set in a deli, Artlink would be a *BGL sandwich at best.
*[Blofeld / Goldfinger / Le Chiffre]

From my outsider POV, I can’t believe in Artlink as a true advocate for the arts in Phoenix, given both their recent decisions and seemingly private agenda. Artlink is designated as a 501(c) non-profit organization, and yet it has no problem cozying up to the very people who are killing us, all while soliciting money from the very community that generally doesn’t have any- that being the artists within the scene whom they claim to support.

The susceptible ones who do pay “dues” are tagged with the moniker “articipants”, because when you join the artsy version of the Mouseketeers, a cute nickname is imperative, I guess. Now before you start screaming about how expensive it is to market our scene and to run those trolleys, I’d counter with this query: overall, is that money being truly used to it’s best effect?

In all the time I’ve been in the scene [since 1991] I’ve yet to see this promotion that Artlink claims it does. A few posters downtown and some social media shares hardly constitute a marketing blitz, and a bland tv news spot every six months or so barely dents the surface either, given the fact that the majority of this so called coverage consists of marginalizing our efforts as either quirky or cute. I cannot even begin to tell you the number of Phoenicians that I’ve had conversations with who have no idea that we or our art-related efforts such as Chaos Theory exist.

It’s pretty obvious the carpet-bagging developers didn’t know (or care) when they slithered in, but what makes their insidious infiltration even worse is the willing help they’re receiving from Artlink regarding the act of dismantling our scene, brick by brick. And if I might, let me point out that while some developers are promoting the Roosevelt Art District, they’re not doing it to push our local culture, they’re doing it to pimp condos.

And in relation to the trolley service, can anyone explain to me how exactly ignoring a huge swath of the scene helps us as a whole? Hell, allegedly there are paid articipants who aren’t even on the map they helped pay for, and skipping over those galleries who aren’t members isn’t really the best approach to cementing your reputation as the go-to advocacy group. If you’re going to have the chutzpah to state:Artlink keeps the arts integral to the development of our city by connecting artists, business and community”, shouldn’t that metaphorical umbrella cover everyone?

I get it. This s**t requires a currency flow. A lot of it. But why should artists be the source of that revenue? With all due respect, how can Artlinks board-members sleep at night knowing that artists and galleries are being bypassed unless one pays the vig of soft extortion money? Considering the level of business experience sitting on the Artlink board, is it truly wrong of me to ask why there’s seemingly no plan in place to raise funds from entities whose interest lies in helping us rather than harming us?

Believe it or not, while I may be coming off as anti-development, I’m not one of those people screaming for things to remain the same, not by a long shot. If anything, I want to see a thoughtful restructuring of the scene, that being one where we get the respect and success we deserve, while simultaneously helping to establish Phoenix as the destination for Art, not it’s pit stop on the way to somewhere else.

To further this vision of a stable and more importantly, lucrative arts district, I’d like to propose the following: an advocacy group that truly promotes the arts and it’s creators in Phoenix, rather than one that cozies up to developers whose only interest in our scene revolves around either removing us or exploiting us for their marketing. A concern that unlike Artlink, ACTUALLY DOES SOMETHING TO PROMOTE US EFFECTIVELY.

Sorry for “shouting”, but my tank at this point is topped off, and I’d like to surmise I’m not the only one who feels that way. I may be however, the only one being so publicly vocal about as of late, and that’s just disheartening.

Even more so is the fact that I have no idea of how to go about launching such a venture, and when it comes to the minutiae of such, I’m equally useless. Kind of like Trump trying his hardest to exercise impulse-control, but without the “yuge” narcissism. Seriously, who would be in charge of bringing the refreshments? Would it be the responsibility of one person, or should it be a shared by the group kind of thing? Do we have to worry about them being gluten-free, or can we just tell that one annoying twit that he can bring his own snacks if he doesn’t like it?

And don’t even get me started on who fills out the name badge stickers- we’ll be here for days.

This is definitely one time I could use some guidance, if not a kick-ass strike team. Hell, at this point I’d even accept advice from Peter Bugg- not because I think he’s brilliant, or a visionary of advocacy, its more the comfort of knowing that whatever counsel he provided would be on loan from somebody way more insightful, and that’s what I need right now- a way to make my ethereal construct a concrete reality for positive change.

The question that nags is this: if I managed to throw this party, would anybody come? And more importantly- would they be willing do the work that’s necessary to make it a success? I’d like to say “yes”, but I’ve been around too long, and my naturally inherent cynicism isn’t so easily shed given my intimate knowledge of the dysfunctional morass that presents itself as our so-called art scene.

While the artistic community does have some serious firebrands, it also suffers from an excess of human speed bumps as well- people who claim that they want change and stability, yet won’t get off their ass to do anything about it when asked. No matter which side wins, they’ll be first in line to divvy up the spoils they didn’t earn, and that just pisses me off.

To roughly paraphrase Will Smith AKA: The Fresh Prince: “If you weren’t part of my struggle, you don’t get to share in my success.” and quite honestly, after 20+ years of lessening to my artistic peeps grouse, [myself included] that’s pretty much my new mantra. The scene is changing, our galleries are closing, and the artists, once again, are getting squeezed out and replaced with the blandness of gentrification.

Beige is the new black, it seems, and apathy the native tongue.

Now I’m not suggesting that all or most of the PAS are willing participants in the ongoing marginalizing if not outright destruction of our scene, but there are also quite the number who haven’t figured out why it’s so important for us as a community to draw a line in the sand, dig our heels in, and make these scumbag developers earn every inch they’re hoping to turn into a Chipotle.

Maybe, just maybe, if we make them bleed enough, the loss of everything that’s been built can be impeded. However- all of this is pure conjecture unless we get organized, get focused, and get to work. So I’m issuing a challenge: we need to promote who we are, what we do, and why we’re so vital to this city’s future. We need to let the world know we’re here, we’re talented, and we’re just as good, if not better, than the already established art centers.

But in order for this to happen, we need a true advocacy group that represents all of us, and one that doesn’t depend on taking dues from the very demographic that really doesn’t have the scratch. One without politics, one without soft corruption, and one that does what it says it does. In other words, one that isn’t based on the model of Artlink.

We’ve already paid our dues, to no reward. Now is the time for a new approach. As I noted earlier, I have no idea how to go about this, but I’m certain several of my readers do, and your input is needed ASAP. If you’re sick of an under-promoted, two night a month, marginalized and unprofitable scene, now is the time to come together and do something about it.

Let’s get organized. Let’s focus. Let’s freaking win. The 602 rocks. And it’s time to show it to everybody within distance and reach.

Now that I’ve unleashed the ferrets of destiny, let’s discuss another subject, that being the ongoing parceling of our city to developers from somewhere else, it seems that despite the deafening outcry from both the PAS and the Mayors office, the building that formerly housed the funkiness that was Circle Records is to be demolished to make room for… you guessed it, another obviously necessary high-end development.

To be fair, the building has sat empty for more than a few years, but even still, how hard would it be to incorporate some of it’s character into the current plan without the developer using the alleged (yet credible) threat of total destruction as a means to unethically acquire a GIPLET? Yep… nothing says “we want to be a vital part of your community” like well… going out and blithely holding hostage that which makes the community unique so you can pad your coffers.

Considering how many people now come downtown for the express purpose of photographing our public art alone, you’d think that somebody in Empire’s head office would’ve seen the PR value of incorporating the building into their project on some level, rather than risking the possibility of offending the surrounding community it has to eventually conduct business in.

Does anyone else get the feeling that if you tied strings around the necks of some of Empire’s executives, that you could theoretically use their heads as balloons? Sorry. That was rude of me. For all I know, they could be very nice people who are just trying to do their job in the way thebest know how. Granted, that would be as unethical and smugly arrogant as humanly possible,

but at least they have the semblance of a work ethic.

And despite their recent announcement to rent out ten units to Artists, I’d point out that this wasn’t an option that many were seemingly aware of when this project was first announced. I’d cynically suggest once again that PR cynicism won out over actual community concern, but what do I know, as I’m not one of those people who regards begrudging crumbs tossed our way as a victory at any level. It’s reminiscent of being invited to a wealthy kids birthday party where you only serve as a means for the host to prove he knows ordinary people- your presence is required, but essentially irrelevant in the end.

In fact, I think that once they finish building their little project over the corpse of what was once a visually striking piece of history, we should welcome them to the PAS utilizing our talents and creativity in the way we best know how. Since they’re threatening to destroy some irreplaceable character, all for the sake of yet another undeserved tax break, I say we return the favor in spades- after all, as Artists it’s our innate responsibility to use our abilities to creatively shape the world as we see fit, and I’d hate to think that we would ever be lax in our aesthetic duties.

Besides, is there a better way to say “welcome to our community” than with the gift of art? I say nay. Nay, I say. So here’s a metaphorical idea, not to be taken as an actual suggestion of seriousness, mind you- it’s presented more as a delightful “what if” type of scenario. We’re slated to lose an architectural icon, right? Wouldn’t it be karmic if we could symbolically honor that void by using those talents that these developers apparently have no respect for. Once they finish building that perfect little slice of overpriced utopia they’re so hell-bent on fabricating, I think it’d be hilarious if someone took on the task of decorating it… on a daily basis.

But in what form? Well, there’s yarn-bombing, wheat-paste, sticker art, etching, and the good old stand-by: spray paint. In a truly just world, that sucker would be so consistently graffed up that 1/3 of their annual maintenance budget would be them just trying to keep it clean. Not out of any form of maliciousness, mind you, it would simply be our way of sharing our unique gifts with a company that needs to learn to appreciate where they are and who really runs the show.

Sure, we may not be a completely cohesive voting block (yet) but we still can throw one hell of a spanner in the works if need be. Gah. So sick of these developer dim-wits who see a vibrant community and think: “Wow… this place is awesome! All it really needs to be perfect is a gluten-free Starbucks and a cruelty-free Baby Gap!”

Fortunately, as I write this, there are several forces at play trying desperately to countermand this particular asinine act of greed wrapped in the bacon of stupidity, and as the situation develops, I’ll try my best to keep you all up to date. But moving forward, here’s why this particular building shouldn’t have been yet another statistic in Phoenix’s seemingly never-ending drive to do half-ass at full throttle- it’s distinctive, and we’re quickly running out of the Phoenix-specific architecture that could define us nationwide.

What do I mean by this? My answer is relatively simple- unlike the majority of other large-scale urban centers, Phoenix really doesn’t possess iconic architecture in the same way that those cities do. Yes, we have some Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and some other noted architects well represented here if I were to be fair, but when it comes to naming a downtown specific icon amongst the ongoing maw of development, most people come up way short in the designation game.

At best, you’ve probably thought of the following: Luhr’s Tower, the Orpheum Theatre, and the Westward Ho, made famous by it’s brief inclusion in Hitchcock’s “Psycho“, and that’s a problem.

I’m not suggesting we erect a building shaped like a sombrero or a giant cactus, but it would be nice to see a development that could become iconic. Whether you believe it to be equitable or not, cities are generally represented by their architecture, and in that department, we look more like a badly constructed clone of Los Angeles, rather than the unique personality we are.

Think about Chicago, or New York concerning the same question, and you most likely came up with no less than ten, if not more, specifically distinctive totems to the architectural gods.

From a realistic pov, this does make some sort of perverted sense- we’re not land-locked in the same way as NYC is, allowing the far easier path of demolition versus the much more complicated process of rehabilitation, nor do we seemingly have the same amount of constraint placed upon what does (or doesn’t) constitute a preservation worthy structure. Granted, I’m most likely off in that particular assessment, but there does seem to be more of a “tear-down town” mentality at work in our particular burg, an observation noted by the Phoenix New Times in an identically titled article* way back in 2006, when it and I were still on speaking terms.
*[Link:  http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/tear-down-town-6434066]

I’m also quoted in the article, being described as “a former New Yorker who’s made a name for himself photographing the vestiges of Phoenix’s fast-dying architectural history”– which is probably why I contributed several photographs to the print version, free of charge. Tell me I’m pretty, and I will follow you home. Not kidding.

So here I am a few mere years later, watching my city get parceled out like pizza slices at a kids birthday party, and all I can think is “wow… this Peter Piperesque abomination sucks- no flavor, no style, and bargain-basement pepperoni at best.”

Don’t get me wrong, a part of me is happy to see Phoenix get some long-overdue and much-needed personal attention, but the larger part is highly concerned that my city is sleeping with someone who feels she isn’t hip enough to show off to their out of town friends. And I say this as a former New Yorker who penned a love note (of sorts)  hand-delivered as a *collaboration with local Filmmaker Douglas Proce
*[ Link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQkijwuuwj0 ]

In it, I wax rhapsodic about what this city is and isn’t, and deliver a dark deep secret, which you’ll have to go watch to discover. Sorry, but I’m painfully aware of the value of marketing and it’s reach, so you’ll just have to take some time and enjoy me in the cinematic flesh.

(Playing Angry Birds on my phone while I wait…)
Oh good, you’re back. As I was saying…

While I do view the touted renaissance occurring in this city as a sign of positivity in general, I do have a list of concerns- I was here back when the ballpark came in and decimated what was at that time, the gritty base of the PAS. It was supposed to revitalize the city, just like the debacle known as Patriots Park was guaranteed [and failed] to do, and while that ugly as sin architectural behemoth that passes for a shopping and entertainment complex off of Jefferson has brought some focus into the downtown area, it also serves as a prime example of what not to do with concrete and glass.

Seriously. I would bribe Thor himself to smash that grey lifeless box flatter than Kirsten Stewarts acting ability if I could simply remember his cell number. It only serves to prove yet again that when it comes to doing something completely half-ass, Phoenix drives the throttle through the symbolic floorboards and into the street below. I’ve always maintained that in order to build a community, it must have the following elements involved- grocery stores within walking distance, places to go, places to eat, places to take the family, places to chill, and places to be an adult when the time calls for it. Bars, cafes, bookstores and the like- the strip clubs can come later.

Sorry, Dad… I’m just watching out for the kids.

And traversing this metaphorical land shouldn’t require a car and a water truck due to shade structures being an almost alien concept- all the figurative bases should be covered and planned first before a shovel hits dirt, yet another glaringly obvious misstep in regards to the majority of these so-called “developments”. The creation of history is a one time experience. You’d better get it right coming out of the gate, a lesson Phoenix has not only yet to learn, it has yet to read.

Pardon my inherent skepticism, but how hard would it be to simply take what works from other metropolitan centers and jettison what doesn’t? It’s not like we’re buying wholesale from IKEA, we have multiple choices as to how our cultural and architectural identity is being assembled, no matter what these predatory developers order.

And therein lies the root of the problem- it’s not the masses dictating these changes to our city, it’s the faceless corporations putting people over profit, uniformity before uniqueness, and mirthlessly entombing our rapidly vanishing culture under cloned concrete- the process helped, I assume cynically, by some strategically placed* (and pre-greased) local politicos willing to look the other way so they can line their pockets as they fatten their re-election war chests.
*[Allegedly, of course.]

Some clarity as to where I’m going with this is probably in order, so here it is: if we’re going to present our city as an up and coming contender, shouldn’t we offer it up as something that’s truly original, not just another variance on a theme that already exists? In regards to the newest buildings I’ve seen springing up like errant weeds, the overall aesthetic that strikes is of a Walgreens having had sex with a scrap yard, and then abandoning the resulting child at a WalMart.

Take a long hard look around- there is nothing of us as a community in these structures, and the majority of the new development has as much to do with the nature of Phoenix as Twilight has to do with fine cinema. Metal-clad. No effective shade structures. Boxy. Ugly. Over-priced. And in the middle of a huge service desert. Essentially, a pastiche of styles laid haphazardly, is what we’ve been sold, and this city has bought it, hook, line and sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

And don’t even get me started on how little free parking exists anymore in the area in and outside of downtown. In fact, the parking garage that backs up to the coffee-shop where I’m currently writing this from, has a strictly enforced two hour time limit, and that is a royal pain in the ass, no matter what angle you look at it from.

What a sales pitch for our city:

Come to beautiful, redeveloped downtown Phoenix- enjoy our newest attractions (bars and a few restaurants, mostly) and then go home after dinner, because the galleries aren’t open save for two nights a month, along with the fact that there’s nothing to really check out if you’re not into theatre, and oh yes, unlike other established metropolitan areas, we don’t possess a walk-able district full of shopping, cafes, or other pursuits that constitute a true city center- you know, the kind that keeps people downtown and spending their money?

 In closing, good luck finding parking that doesn’t treat your wallet like a shower scene from a 70’s blaxploitation prison movie, and try to have a good time.”

Yessir. Cannot possibly see any other outcome for this concept than it working out fabulously, can you? Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact we’re coming up on the map, but it has to be done with the key element of common sense and community incorporated into the development, lest we repeat the numerous mistakes of the past. What is truly needed in the arts district is a zone where there exists combined living and work spaces that the artists can actually afford, along with the implementation of an actual community versus a pre-manufactured one.

In the long run, it’s mediocrity that’ll bring down this era of rebirth, as everyone seems to be struggling to find a balance between the commercial and the creative, and if that isn’t troubling, it should be. One of the foremost hooks that a lot of these developers use in their advertising is the proximity to the PAS, and that in itself, is a tad bit disingenuous, if one looks at it with a cynical eye.

As rents rise, it forces out the creative community by way of financial gentrification, which in turn, eliminates the reason most people moved there in the first place. You cant have an arts district if the artists cant afford to live/work there, now can you? Of course not. But the majority of what’s being built doesn’t see the inherent value in incorporating art as a matter of first recourse.

To be honest, there are a few projects that have, but even then, it’s still skewed towards the wrong side of things, as proven by this article from my old pals over at the *Phoenix New Times.
*[Link: http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/arts/such-styles-to-paint-murals-at-new-proxy-333-development-in-downtown-phoenix-8234987 ]

The article is actually about two friends of mine who have been commissioned to do interior murals for some upcoming downtown developments, (yay, local art!) but the truly interesting part for me is the comments of one Bryan Fasulo, a regional property manager for the Pinnacle Living project, who within the article, states:

“This is a product type never built in Phoenix before. We imported it from Seattle.”

What they’ve also apparently imported is overpriced rent, as the article goes on to subsequently say the following:

“It’s a reference to the development’s 10 two-story work/live units with frontage windows, designed for artists or others who want a combined studio or office and living space. These 700 square-foot live/work loft units have one bedroom and one bathroom, and run $1,750 per month. But Proxy 333 also includes more traditional units – including studios, and several types of one- and two-bedroom spaces.

The most basic studio, with a single bathroom, has 422 square feet and runs $1,025 per month. The largest unit, a two-bedroom and two-bathroom space measuring 878 square feet, runs $2,100 per month.”

Gee, thanks Seattle! If there’s one thing Phoenix artists have been lacking, its rent that’s an average of three times what they’ve been used to paying for studio space! But hey, at least they’ll be able to brag about the Seattle vibe that permeates their overpriced box, right?

Now, I know more than a few of you reading this think I’m being a cynical Charlotte for the sake of just having something to complain about, and typically, you might be able to make an impassioned argument for that pov, so as a counterbalance, I offer this comment of super positivity from Dan Tilton, the founder of [what else?] Tilton Development:

 “We’re excited about being located in a more historic area and arts district. It’s important to us that we incorporate the Roosevelt art district feel.”

On the surface, that sounds well… almost like a good thing, doesn’t it? I mean, they’re going to incorporate local art, promote the arts district, and give local artists a high-end showcase of sorts, which in a larger sense. is awesome- if one is only looking at the surface, that is. For one thing, how is this Seattle import “located” in the Arts District exactly? While it’s not a few miles away from the district, it’s hardly a stones throw either, and taking into consideration that said project is being built on a previously vacant dirt lot, the term “historic” seems a tad bit of a stretch, even by the atypical low standards of marketing.

Take particular note of the not so subtle reference to our burgeoning creative center, that being where Tilton glibly praises ” the Roosevelt art district feel“, versus the Roosevelt Art Community itself, which in my humble opinion, sounds more like a manipulative PR sound-bite, rather than a declaration of support for the community that made the area truly commercially viable in the first place. PHOENIX Magazine featured an excellent *piece in regards to some of these issues back in March of 2016, (wherein I’m actually quoted playing devils advocate) regarding the balance between culture and the coin, but the truth of the matter is that I’m a great deal more cynical than the article suggests.
*[Link: http://www.phoenixmag.com/hot-topics/row-on-the-row.html ]

Shocking, that.

In my simple opinion, I’m seeing income before individuals, cynicism before cultivation, and arrogant design before architectural logic. Speaking frankly, this city’s architecture should reflect our disinclined involvement as one of Hell’s time-share locations, a place where four months out of the year, you can bake a Beef Wellington within the confines of your car- something these Seattle imports keep ignoring.

Need proof? The installation of giant metal heat radiating golf tees of Death at Third and Roosevelt should convince you. That is, providing you don’t burst into flame first. And to call attention to a more pertinent issue, who precisely is the demographic they’re marketing to? It sure as hell isn’t your typical Phoenix-based artist. For the amount of money they’re charging for rent, you could easily go buy a house.With a garage. And a yard. Possibly a dog. One named His Royal Fluffyness Commander Wagtail, by way of example.

Not to mention neighbors who while nice overall, haven’t really gone out of their way to invite you back to the annual block party BBQ since that unfortunate “drunken accident” with the pickle relish some time ago. The point I’m trying to make is this- from a tenants POV, you’re not really getting much. Sure, you’ll be in direct proximity to the Phoenix Art Museum [jealous!!], but the service desert will be an issue for some time, and due to the disturbingly rapid gentrification of the arts district, I have grave doubts that it’ll remain a salient marketing point for the next five years.

Hell, Roosevelt Row (minus 5th street) is so insipidly bland now, I’m wondering how long it will be before it buys a beige suit and goes to work as an insurance adjuster.
[Please send your hate email to the usual address, thank you.]

To be perfectly clear- I AM NOT ANTI-DEVELOPMENT. I am however, very much pro-community, and there seems to be a dearth of logic in that department where Phoenix’s rebirth is concerned. I say again, would it be truly that hard to find an architect who could design a truly unique urban metropolis for us that doesn’t utilize the aesthetic of a Los Angeles cookie cutter?

Think of the possibilities of an architectural renaissance that was ideologically dedicated to our city and it’s uniqueness. Practical shade structures versus modernist twattle that serves no master other than the decorative, the incorporation of construction materials that release their heat during the day, so that at night, we can actually go outside, versus having to hide from the Gehry-inspired fryscrapers every developer seems keen on erecting in our fair city.

And along those lines, oh great and wholly incompetent city-planning sages who thought the now moved giant flower pots / unintended trash cans along Roosevelt were a good idea- why didn’t you erect some goddamn shade-structures down that griddle strip with perhaps some indigenous low water plants instead?

Let me guess… not  “Seattle” enough, right?

F**k everywhere else that you’re trying to turn Phoenix into, and while I’m at it- f**k your stance that this city needs a Los Angeles facelift. If ever I feel the need to engage in pretentiousness with plasticene people, I’ve already got Scottsdale as a go-to. See, this is the stuff that keeps me up at night muttering to myself, which in turn, makes my neighbors think that perhaps making eye contact with me is not the brightest of ideas.`

And when it comes to said concepts of inspiration, maybe someone can explain to me why it is that for a city which claims to love both the Arts and it’s creators, there’s seemingly no plan in place to help preserve that which allows this conjoined duo to thrive in place. At the risk of sounding like a petulant child calling dibs, shouldn’t the fact that we were here first have some sort of significance?

I’d say “yes”, but let’s face it- the diminutive possibility that in regards to my overview, I may be a tad biased, is almost an established certainty. The actual reality is more likely that the die has been cast, the foundations are set, and that the virtuous will either crumble into dust or be crudely malformed into monuments highlighting the ugliness of rampant hubris and inadequate design.

The somewhat overrated author Ayn Rand coined a term for such actions by people of limited creativity, that being “second-handers” whose description from the novel “The Fountainhead” states: “That, precisely, is the deadliness of second-handers. They have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They’re concerned only with people. They don’t ask: ‘Is this true?’ They ask: ‘Is this what others think is true?’ Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but to give the impression of doing. Not creation, but show. Not ability, but friendship. Not merit, but pull.

What would happen to the world without those who do, think, work, produce? Those are the egotists. You don’t think through another’s brain and you don’t work through another’s hands.

When you suspend your faculty of independent judgment, you suspend consciousness. To stop consciousness is to stop life.”

So given the fact we’re battling the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of misdirected progress, does that mean we should sit back and accept what may become our inevitable fate? The rejoin to this question can be answered in one of two ways, in the form of either a long or short retort.

Short: No. Long: Oh, Hell no. The only truly noble causes worth fighting for are the lost ones, as the rest are generally overstocked with help, and the perception of being lost is solely dependent on where one is standing at that particular moment- no more, no less. You don’t burn down your house if the kitchen is dirty, so why should we stop fighting to preserve what we both built and believe in?

But as I’ve noted throughout the many years and with my many words- I’m a cynic. I put great stock in Humanity, not so much (if at all) in the individual people who comprise it as a whole.

Will the Creatives in this town finally stop squabbling over crumbs and purposeful distractions to come together and finally start shaping their destiny, or will they continue to let ineffectual entities like Artlink keep them underappreciated and marginalized, their efforts up to be exploited by the lowest bidder? Will the city of Phoenix ever establish a clearly defined Arts District that’s actually affordable for both the Arts and it’s Creators, devoid of the gentrification insipidness, or will they just keep parceling it out like so many gift bags at a church bazaar?

This gives rise to my final thought- will we ever get an architect that can create something that stands as a beacon to our city and it’s uniqueness, or will we just settle for yet another ill-fitting sweater because we’re the middle child when it comes to city planning? “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.” once said Thomas Edison- “The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Does Phoenix have the ability to take a cue from the etymology of it’s name, or will it just be still and burn?

More importantly, will it’s citizens?

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”- Jane Jacobs, The Death of Great American Cities