Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Gentrification prefers Blands Pt.4 (Dancing with the Czars)



“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” - Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear

Hello Blogiteers!

It has been heavy lately, has it not? I dropped the past blog to mixed and somewhat apathetic reviews, dealt with some annoyingly ongoing health issues, and had somebody I formerly respected stab me in the back to the point that I could do a fairly notable impression as a *Cenobite porcupine. *[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellraiser]

But what are you going to do? My limited faith in Humanity as always remains standing, but my reverence for certain people... not so much. To be quite honest, I've never understood why some
of my fellow humans cave in so easily when faced with an ethical decision that doesn't affect them directly, peripherally, or at all. It seems cowardice is the new bravery these days, much to my chagrin, and this brings me back in a roundabout way to the incessant thing sticking in my craw as of late, that being our so-called arts advocacy group known as Artlink.

Now, I'm not going to bore you with a rehash of my opinion in regards to how Artlink's president Catrina Kahler has allegedly tossed the art community under the bus by metaphorically shacking up with the very people who are helping destroy it, but I will say one opinionated thing nonetheless- it's time for either a palace revolt or a metaphorical firestorm that purifies. For sake of clarity, I have no issues with Catrina as a person- she seems nice, is easy on the eyes, and comes off as the type of woman I could probably really exasperate in a checkout line if I started randomly chatting her up.

In that regard, I'm pretty sure she's not alone, and if I were to be brutally honest, she's possibly overstocked with sympathetic allies in that department.

Regardless, I will point out the fact that Artlink is neither the hero we remember from the good ol' days, or the one we currently require. The situation we find ourselves in demands consistent and more urgently, a truly effective game plan to present this city to the world, something I feel Artlink lacks. And for those of you that need proof of concept for this assertion, look no further than their "artist mixer" that attracted a zero sum of artists, despite there being ready access to cheese cubes gratis, alcohol, and free T-shirts. And lets face it- if you can't attract Artists with complimentary food, cheap booze, and free black T-shirts, I'm forced to question both your popularity among the creatives, and your perception of reality...

Vehemently.

Along those lines, one ex-board member/artist recently confided in me that during their term under Catrina's leadership, they felt more like a curiosity than an active participant. To quote: "I felt like a monkey in a cage." This thought will be touched upon later in this screed, but this, in my humble opinion speaks volumes in regards to the disconnect between Artlink and the artistic community it claims to serve.

However, for me to say that Artlink has done nothing since it's inception would not only be exceedingly untrue, it would also be outstandingly arrogant. Artlink's list of accomplishments is long and wide, and to not give open credit where it's truly due, would be an affront of gargantuan scope- even I will happily laud their (and this is key) past accomplishments. Nonetheless, that was yesterday, what are they doing today?

Well, gleefully getting in bed with the carpetbaggers dismantling the PAS, if one's been paying attention, but I digress. Other than that almost inconsequential tidbit which quite honestly, I'm embarrassed to have to point out, Artlink is running like a fine tuned Yugo. Sure, I could note the fact that I didn't see any advertising for this years' Art Detour, past a few posters on Grand where all the galleries are, because who outside of that corridor needs to be made aware that a free art festival is taking place?

Nobody, that's who. And let's not forget the absence of local media involvement- since publicity for our two-night-a-month art scene seemingly ranks right up there with Artlink organizing their T-shirt drawer, one couldn't possibly deem that Art Detour should fare any better- after all, isn't it the height of true professionalism to post a volunteer call a week before an event you had months to plan?

Nah.. it would be impolite of me to make certain so-called advocates blush under the weight of their alleged mismanagement, downright boorish, if truth be told. And if there's one thing I'm known far and wide for, it's a sense of supreme diplomacy even when facing opposition from faux advocates who outwardly lack not only common sense in regards to promoting our efforts, but allegedly, a sense of ethics as well.

The definition of advocate by the way, is as follows: "One who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group." Given those parameters, could somebody please explain to me or anyone for that matter, how Artlink's two last "deals" for Creatives in this city come anywhere close to the concept of true advocacy? This concern is followed by another query split in twain: does it seem like Artlink is truly doing the job it claps itself on the back for, and where is it spending the money it raises from it's soft coercion? I'd say no and I'm not sure, but then again, I'm a cynic who believes in tangible  reality, not hype.

Unless it comes to how awesome Ding Dongs are, and even then, I'm kind of judgmental.

Despite my disparagement, this year's Detour came off as pretty solid, but the success of such cannot be laid at the feet of Artlink, if word on the street is any indicator. In gathering the opinion of some of the gallery owners on Grand, my takeaway was that Artlink's influence upon the scene is akin to that of a deadbeat father- they're there for the BBQ's and the make-up sex, but flee when the metaphorical diaper needs to be changed.

Artlink hasn't created a base for a financially stable art scene, far from it. Any positive change in regards to sales should be given to the galleries whose sheer force of will and endless networking have created the base from which they draw fiscal solidity.

Sadly, [depending on your POV], the biggest draw for Detour this year was a billboard depicting America's Twittering Oompa-Loompa, Fake-President Donald Trump, front and center of an apocalyptic landscape, bordered by atomic clouds and squared-off dollar signs that call up remembrances of Nazi swastikas. Commissioned by local business owner Beatrice Moore, who has stated that it will remain on display for as long as he serves as president, the unbecoming [yet highly accurate] representation has gone viral, drawing both praise and controversy for the nature of it's message.

Isn't it ironic that the ones calling those of liberal bent "snowflakes", psychologically melt the moment someone dares mock their Tangerine Jesus using either humor or more typically, actual facts? Karen Fiorito, the California-based artist who is responsible for the work, has received numerous threats of rape, death and harm to her children since the works installation, because that's how the alt-right handles mature dissension in this, the modern era: threatening violence in their underwear, all while hiding under the internets bed.

Along those lines, a "protest rally" was organized, which garnered the support of nine "Bikers for Trump", none of whom actually showed up. Ooh, that's fierce. You'd think a state that went for the Mango Mussolini could do way better in the cretin department than these delusional twits, but I digress. Best part? Their posting a meet-up space that's was bulldozed years ago just because they liked the name, which was "Patriot's Park". A side note: you'd think people who spend the majority of their free time web-whining would be equally adept at using Google, but as I've often noted before, these Trumplethinskins are as allergic to facts as Superman is to Kryptonite.

According to Fiorito, the work symbolizes: “global destruction, warfare and annihilation of the planet, representing corporate power and greed and how our society has become all about money and corporatism.” The backside of the billboard however, has a very different message- it shows 5 hands representing multi-ethnicity spelling out the word "Unity" in sign language. Fiorito's artistic decision for this aesthetic choice was due to her sense that:  “I wanted to have a positive or a flip side to the billboard,” she says, “I wanted something to be a call to unity and a call for people to come together to resist what’s happening … if we become united, we can defeat anything.”

Now, while I support both the message and the staging of this provocative work, it does raise an almost curmudgeonly grumble; the people who came down here for the sole purpose of shooting selfies with it should have been here for the main event, not the sideshow. While I and I'm sure many other in the scene are grateful for the crowds [and worldwide publicity] it generated, the discovery of our collective efforts afterwards as if almost by accident is a smear that is borne solely on the shoulders of Artlink, and no one else.

Seriously... why isn't the majority of the scene sick and tired of this half-ass, craft-fair marketing, bulls**t yet? Why can't we as a whole find the utmost balance between commerce and creativity?

Speaking of which, can anyone at Artlink explain why (and how) they let the opportunities of the Final Four slip by? In a week that played host to one of sport's biggest events, coupled with the Pride Parade and the free of charge Mc Dowell Music Festival, how hard would it have been to pitch a tent near any one of these events, distribute some flyers, and hand out a couple of those T-shirts Artlink is so proud of? Call me crazy, but wouldn't diverting some of that FREE national publicity towards our local art scene have been a good idea as a means to expand our reach?

And when it comes to the concept of allegorical expansion, where is (and what is) Artlink's long-term game plan to benefit the PAS? I see a lot of lame-ass self-congratulatory parties taking place, but I don't see any useful forward movement, and that's not what advocacy is supposed to be about, but I digress. Artlink's willing pairing with Baron Development, one of the countless influences that is sublimating our community into ethereal remembrance, serves in my opinion as a shining testament to how insipidly dense the organization has become.

I noted this alliance in a previous blog, wherein Baron Properties and Artlink announced a voucher program that would have allowed residents to purchase art pieces and receive a discount on their rent in return. The original reimbursements started at $250.00, but based on availability, could have gone higher. Incoming residents who used the art vouchers were directed to an online list of participating artists, galleries and art spaces, which included Roosevelt Row spaces such as Eye Lounge and the Phoenix Center for the Arts, and tenants had 60 days from their move in to redeem said voucher with a receipt of their purchases.

All of this announced via an ever so fluffy press release, which heralded a unique and innovative approach to the promotion of our local art scene in conjunction with our ostensible advocacy group.

Except.....  according to one of Illuminate's leasing consultants [a lovely girl by the name of Lauren McCauley] the program was implemented "for only four or five months, I don't remember- it was gone by the time I was hired". Now I don't know about you, but that remarkably short time frame hardly seems like it could have had a calculable financial impact, but that's just my humble opinion- maybe I missed the part where my fellow artists were rolling in their pimped-out Cadillac's, making the gentrified cash rain.

But that's what I love about the current incarnation of our resident faux-arts advocacy group- it never fails to hastily craft a feeble attempt at relevancy whenever it's previous one has crashed and burned like Paul Walker inside a 2005 Carrera GT. I'm sorry. That was heartless. By comparison, I'm fairly confident the majority of artists in this town wouldn't condescend to p*** on Artlink if it were on fire, and the body of work he created is theoretically something that has a much better chance of standing the test of time, given Artlink's meandering in regards to a comprehensive end-game.

But Odin love them, they keep plugging away* like a drunken toddler in the dark, and one can't help but admire that kind of gritty determination, no matter what side of my opinion you choose to land on.
*[Link:
https://artlinkphoenix.com/artlink-announces-call-for-artist-forward-grant-applications/]

From the press release:

"Artlink Inc. is now accepting applications from Arizona-based artists for its inaugural grant program: The Artist Forward Fund (TAFF). The deadline for applications is midnight May 31, 2017 Mountain Standard Time (MST).

The program, originally announced at the 2017 Art d’Core Gala during Art Detour 29, is produced by Artlink in collaboration with a group of prominent professional artists who are serving on the newly formed Artlink Artist Council (AAC): Julie Anand, Joan Baron, Christine Cassano, Bill Dambrova, Peter Deise, Jeff Falk, Isaac Fortoul, Gabriel Fortoul, Frank Gonzales, Annie Lopez, William LeGoullon, Ann Morton, Joe Ray, Patricia Sannit, Randy Slack, Marilyn Szabo.

These established professional artists have worked 10 years or more in exhibiting and/or producing exhibitions that shine a spotlight on Phoenix; represent the diverse cultural identity of our city; and have contributed significant time/energy to either Art Detour/Artlink and/or partner initiatives that strive to elevate the profile of Phoenix’s creative community.

Submitted grant applications will be reviewed by the AAC along with members of Artlink’s Board of
Directors. The selected grant recipient will receive a $500 grant and/or the opportunity for an exhibition facilitated by Artlink. Additionally, members of the AAC will provide mentorship to selected artist(s).

The artist recipient will be someone who demonstrates potential in their practice through risk-taking and pushing their work in dynamic ways. It will be someone who is at a critical juncture in their career when this support would be most impactful.

“We’re excited about helping artists in such a direct way,” said Catrina Kahler, Artlink Board President. “This is not only financial support, but mentorship from professional artists who have been living and working in the area for years. They are excited to share what they have learned and we are looking forward to seeing the results of this innovative collaboration.”"

Gotta give Catrina credit... she does know how to present a puff-job like nobody else, and as always, it just gets my claws a-tingling. Seriously. I'm so happily vibrating over here you could use me as a tuning fork, and I'm completely tone deaf. Not in the range of Nickelback, mind you, but pretty darn close. So why should I have a problem with this, when on paper, it looks like such a positive? Even I, the great and unholy cynic couldn't possibly see any problems with this, now could I? 

Sigh... it's as if you don't know me at all.

To move things along, let's get the inevitable nitpicking out of the way first. As stated above, this newest in a long line of sugared placebos was acknowledged a while back at the pretentiously monikered Art d’Core Gala, which used to be known as the Artists' Ball until somebody thought that renaming it after something Phoenix doesn't actually have- that being a viable core to it's art scene, was the best way to give it legitimacy among the art cognoscenti.

We can't create a stable financial base to support what we do, but we sure can party down with the mayor, and that's what counts as a win these days, it seems. At this point, Artlinks' ability to pat it's own back for the most mediocre of it's efforts, has almost certainly given at least one of it's symbolic arms the length needed to give a reach-around from space. I for one, would rather work with the mayor, versus go dancing with him- that's not meant as a slam against Greg, I've voted for him twice, and the last I checked, that had nothing to do with how well he does the Charleston, but I digress.

Getting back to my carping, the discrepancy between the party announcement [March 16th] and posting it on their website [May 1st] just shows the casualness that Artlink exudes in it's response to what it's mission allegedly is. As a fellow Creative noted on one of my FaceBook pages:

"In regard to Art d'Core Gala and those kind of art affairs... Those who attend and participate are those who support the development ("love the expansion of ASU (my alma mater- my mommie) finally downtown is becoming a 'real' city (now that the basement dwellers and deplorables have been driven out) and the players involved (the social movers and shakers) like members of the CDC..(our own personal police informants) and people with questionable ethics like politicians, lawyers and the rich... along with desperate wannabes there to rub shoulders with those who they hope will pay for their lack of actual talent, in exchange for legitimacy, and there you have it.

Problem is.. I don't know what any of that has to do with Art. After all Art is who you are, not what you create.. what you create is a expression of who you are. If what you create is a lack of personal integrity, that is not art."

My point is this: not everyone within the PAS went to or agrees with, this back-patting charade, and not everyone in the PAS is up to date in regards to what's up with the limited opportunities available, so getting this information online ASAP should have been a priority. Factor in that the deadline comes just 30 days after it was, and hopefully one can see why once again, half-ass is Artlinks go-to cruising speed. I know it's a bitchy grey area, but if you gloss over the cogs that comprise the machine, what are you like when it comes to the ongoing maintenance of it?

Personally, I think the retired without fanfare and utterly riotous failure that was the Baron "deal" serves as a stark case in point, but I tend to deal with the absolute, not the theoretical. As to the artists involved with this program, I'm not going to have too much in the way of snark to fling, due to either respect for who they are and what they represent, or because I have an inter-personal relation ship with them. Not too much, but some. It is me after all.

To somewhat smooth over any hackles that may get raised in regards to this grouping, I'd go one step further and state with full conviction that any flaws to be blamed within this proposal most likely will rest at the feet of the suits, not the smocks, as I can't really see anybody in this pool of talent being that short-sighted.
While I appreciate what this gifted group is trying to achieve, it would be foolish to overlook the level of distrust that Artlink has among my fellow Creatives, and that's something I'm neither going to forgive or forget, given the past.

To further expand upon the earlier words of a former artist who served on the board:
"I felt like a monkey in a cage most of the time... like I was trotted out when they needed to prove they knew artists, and when I resigned, the regular dinner invitations stopped completely. [In quite the sarcastic tone...] I'm sure those two aren't related, right?"

This insight concerning Artlinks inner machinations not only once again underscores the alleged need to appear artist friendly, it also opens a discussion on the suggested proclivity of a specific person using people they've deemed influential as steps on the way up to a higher plane of shoulder-rubbing, AKA "coat-tailing" within the PAS. Whether this is true or not, I simply do not know, but the stories circulating around the scene have tended to echo each other nonetheless, and since Catrina has basically dodged all attempts to have a clearly defined discussion in regards to issues I've raised, [as described earlier in this series] I really can't make a purely clean judgment call as a rule.

So take it as it lays. It wouldn't be out of character within the PAS, and I'm pretty much done with extending the welcome mat, if truth be told, given the fact she's questioned both my honesty and motives overall. My adulterous ex-fiancé has better odds at getting back on my good side, and that's only because she'd do that thing I really like... cooking. If the stories about Catrina are accurate, she'd cater the dinner, and then brag about how many hours she spent peeling the shrimp.

If you know her, I'm sure you know for certain. If you know what I mean. Allegedly, of course.

Getting back to the board, [hereafter referred to it's proper name, the AAC] the talent is honestly stunning. I'm a huge fan of most of the assembled artists, save for one person who had a wackadoo moment and threatened me over the phone several years ago, but that's water under the bridge, as the common saying goes, and I feel no need to reopen that particular box of idiocy, no matter how tempting or overdue it might be.

I'll just take great satisfaction knowing they'll die alone and eaten by the feral cats they've adopted, and leave it at that. My current adulting level: June Cleaver. See? I can grow as a person. It's just not as interesting.

However, I still think this alliance will either fail or fadeout within a year, not because of the given personalities involved, but due mostly to Catrina's already noted dearth of leadership and the unforeseen challenges ahead. Now that my minor finickiness is abated, lets get to my favorite part of why I write- the moment when I start dissecting a metaphorical cow with a literary chainsaw, and turn the surroundings into an organic Pollack painting.

First, let's start with the "prizes" Artlink is offering: a $500.00 grant, the guarantee of a long-term mentorship "from professional artists who have been living and working in the area for years, and/or the opportunity for an exhibition facilitated by Artlink."

Now, if these were under the guidance of a consistently proficient advocacy group, I'd probably be a tad bit less skeptical of it's overall effect in regards to the career of whatever artist receives it. In order to explain my cynicism as to these offerings, I'm going to approach them individually, so as to keep the distinctive issues between them clear.

1) Five hundred bucks ain't worth what it used to be, now is it?

When I was born way back in January of 1969, 500 dollars was *equivalent to the buying power of 3,400.45 today. (2017) In 1991, when I started my art career in Phoenix, that amount had dropped to $902.21. [*http://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/inflation.php?amount=500&year=1969]

These days? It's un-amazingly, just 500 bucks, and in the grand sense of things, that isn't squat, especially where being a Creative is concerned. While free money is always nice, there's a certain limit as to where it actually makes a quantifiable difference in one's life, and it isn't around the five Benjis mark, that's for sure. Most artists live on a shoestring- the odds are pretty good that money won't go to artistic endeavors, so much as basic necessities, and I'm pretty comfortable in my mindset concerning this.

This isn't "financial support", this is misdirection parsed out for the sake of appearance only. When in the past has Artlink ever seemed to care about financially supporting artists? If they did, they definitely would have made a much better deal than the one they cut with RED Development as noted in an earlier piece I wrote, and they sure as frak wouldn't have let their train-wreck covenant with Baron be quietly phased out, either, now would they? Just sayin'. I find that it strikes strange that there's so many business people on the board, and yet none of them seemingly know how to successfully market such an attractive commodity.

From the call: "Artlink is supported by City of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, Downtown Phoenix Inc., Arizona Commission on the Arts, Phoenix Art Museum, The Arizona Republic, Dunn Transportation, Roosevelt Row CDC, Warehouse District, Central Arts District and Historic Grand Avenue", and yet despite all that shared involvement, still requires a submission fee to: "support the administration of all Artlink efforts in supporting local artists. This includes a variety of year-round opportunities to promote, exhibit and sell your work." but rest assured, "as we grow, we will continue to look for more opportunities."

How encouraging. Even when they have what could be considered a good idea, they still can't do it right, and therein lies a fundamental problem. If this group was in charge of selling toilet paper to the populace, we'd all still be using leaves, and if their product was Big Macs, everyone in this city would look like 1986 Elle Mc Pherson.  

After having spoken to two of the artists that sit on the AAC, it seems that the flaws inherent within this grant idea cannot be laid at the feet of the creative facet, but at the short-sighted and so-called leadership of Artlink, per typical modus operandi. Several ideas were allegedly cooked up by the smocks that know far better than the suits what is ACTUALLY needed in the way of assistance to the artistic community, but according to my sources, those were either ignored or jettisoned by the ones who know the very least of which they speak.

Or as I call it, a typical Wednesday for Catrina and her cabal of second-handers.

If you remember, I wrote about Artlink's annual juried exhibition/clusterf**k a while back, wherein they somehow managed to get Baron Development to pony up 10k in prizes, for art that was overall, top quality, but hardly groundbreaking or risk-taking. I'm not going to regurgitate the intricacies, but the show was weak in it's presentation, and it's choice of venue [The Heard] was out of place for an advocacy group that claims to fully support the PAS. However, I am truly happy that somebody who strikes me as relatively non-material took home the Grand Prize of 5k, and that leads me to a rather pointed series of questions:

Instead of throwing yet another self-congratulatory circle jerk, why didn't Artlink use that money to it's supreme potential? Can you imagine the ripple effect of ten 1k grants? Or five 2k ones? Maybe an outreach of 2 5k's, or even better, one 10k grant- that right there, would make a difference worth noting. I for one, could squeeze juice out of ten grand better than *Xenia Onatopp practicing her technique on a Canadian Admiral, and I'm completely addicted to buying books, which can get rather costly after a while.
*[ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenia_Onatopp]

Seriously. Am I only one who's thought of this? If so, then we're all in really deep trouble, because if I'm the smartest snark in the room, then you need to do two things right now: cash in your assets, and party like it's 1999, because the end times are nigh, and the Horsemen are-a coming to play all the hits. If Artlink wants to pretend to help artists using the obvious smoke-and-mirrors distraction of self-serving and inadequate endowments, then it definitely needs to get it's act together and cough up some effective underwriting to do it.

But then again, I also believe in extraterrestrials, so its difficult to see which will show up in this scene first... my odds are on the visitors with the unnerving *cookbook.
*[
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk01eeKMD_I ]

My simple suggestion to Artlink: next time you feel the need to waste precious capital on yet another dance party, put that money back into the hands of the demographic you pretend to advocate for, and just have a BBQ at Catrinas house- you know...  the one you only get invited to if you have use as a stair-step or socially relevant prop?

This of course, now naturally leads to the second issue at hand- the so-called 'mentorship" being offered in lieu of any truly effectual and constructive funding.

2) Mentorship, like producing a watchable DC superhero movie, is harder than it sounds.

The concept of Mentorship is regarded as the guidance provided by an experienced person in either a specific trade or within an institution, be it a business or educational concern, and in relation to where the arts are concerned. it is also an exceedingly crucial component, and I state this based on my own personal experience. One needs to choose their mentors by way of the same vigilance that mentors use to select their apprentices- that with a sense of focused caution. For the relationship to work, there must be a profound level of trust and respect on both sides, and it cannot waver.

The other two necessities are time and patience, something most Creatives are not really known for having in abundance, but that are imperative for any association to be truly successful, and that's where I see the hairline cracks forming in this initiatives armor. To be a fairly effective mentor, one needs to carve out and dedicate a significant chunk of one's life to the cause. As much as I hold sincere respect for the artists involved, (save for the one who'll be eaten by cats, of course) I happen to harbor severe reservations as to if they're truly aware how much time this aspect will consume in regards to their lives.

Once again, I'm NOT bagging on the artists in regards to their dedication or passion for this project, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that given the fact most artists typically work a day gig on top of their "real job", finding time to be a life-coach for an inexperienced minion running underfoot is gonna be a real bitch, no matter how much energy you approach it with. This leads to another query I have: if  the role of mentorship rests on the shoulders of the group entire, how will they share custody of their artsy Padawan? I can see it now:

"You get them Monday, I get them Tuesday, the rest of you can have them on Wednesday and every other Friday, and we all draw straws on who gets to take them out for Dick Blicks and Pinkberry on the weekend."

Yep. There's no possible way that this plan could have any massive hiccups. Like most of Artlink's other endeavors as of late, I'm sure this one will run smoother than Teflon on glass. After all, just because their past track record of merging inefficient marketing while throwing artists under the bus, proves otherwise, that's no reason to be a negative Nancy now does it? Of course not. Even a monkey with a broken typewriter will eventually draft an Academy Award screenplay given enough time, so this feeling of unbridled optimism that come this same time next year, we'll all be watching Exit Through the Gift Shop Pt.2, is *clearly in order.
*[Sarcasm highly intended.]

Or more likely, we'll be standing outside where the gift shop used to stand, staring through the cracked windows of yet another failed venture. If the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions, I'd opine that Artlink has pretty much built a 12-lane super highway by now, and that all the traffic on it is being routed through one lane, while they decide where to place the electronic billboard heralding their lack of accomplishment.

3) Did anyone else notice there's more vagaries in this Artists' Call than a French New Wave film?
 
I won't speak for anyone save myself, but I'm a person who really likes specifics. Specific specifics, specifically. I despise platitudes, saccharine treacle masquerading as Peter Pan advice, and I, if truth be told, loathe the phrase "trust me", with the heat of a thousand suns- especially when there's no base to stand secure on. Why do I feel the need to state this?

Well, due to the wording and consistent lack of details that Artlink seems so fond of using in it's
supposed artist calls, I find it's vague promises of things that may be to come a tad bit vexing. In the case of the prior deal with RED Development, it was the cheerfully indistinct "details to follow" in relation to the compensation for the artists work being reproduced as limited edition prints, and in this newest instance, it's the phrase "and/or".

From the call yet again: "The selected grant recipient will receive a $500 grant and/or the opportunity for an exhibition facilitated by Artlink. Additionally, members of the AAC will provide mentorship to selected artist(s). The artist recipient will be someone who demonstrates potential in their practice through risk-taking and pushing their work in dynamic ways. It will be someone who is at a critical juncture in their career when this support would be most impactful."

"Artlink will schedule the exhibition based on discussions and calendars of both the artist and the venue providing the space."
This is puzzlingly followed by the reiteration in the FAQ section of a previously established point, that being: "
The criteria is up to the Artlink Artist Council in determining which artist “demonstrates potential in their practice through risk-taking and pushing their work in dynamic ways.”

Two things: is there any reason why an exhibition is listed if there's a probable chance it won't actually be granted, and what purpose does a replication of the judging criteria announcement serve? Is it to help clarify Artlinks stance, or to serve as a bulwark against future criticism of their not providing any actual details in the first place?

Seriously... what defines "risk-taking", and what entails the "dynamic" pushing of one's work? Who will set that standard within the assembled group of Creatives, and how will the differences of opinion be eventually settled? It's almost as if Catrina and her rubber-stamping scheme monkeys attended a Tupperware party and while they forgot to take notes, they still want credit for skimming the less pertinent points of the brochure nonetheless.

I'd also highlight that there will never be a time in any artists career where they wouldn't view free money or a sponsored show as impactful, but I digress, since it's such an obvious point that it shouldn't have to be made in the first place. As for the theoretical exhibition, will it be all new work, or a retrospective of career thus far? Will it be a large or intimate show? What venues will be considered- established galleries, or the bottom tier of alternative spaces, such as coffee shops?

When one factors in the ongoing scarcity of places to successfully show ones work at, [IE: make actual sales] where is there an Artlink friendly gallery that fits all the ass-kissing requirements that Artlink demands, and has the level of professional presentation that this scene so severely lacks?

Who knows- maybe they'll just book the Heard again, and unlike before, just go completely full-ass with the incompetence throttle this time. See? I can give credit where credit is due, despite all evidence to the contrary. So what is there to do in regards to this, you ask? To be brutally honest, it would be hypocritical of me as an artist to demand that my fellow artists pass up free money that could in theory, support creative endeavors, albeit on an obviously minor level- despite what some of my critics think, I'm a big believer in grabbing opportunities if they present themselves.

Having said that, I'm also a colossal proponent for not making deals with the Devil for inconsequential gains- Artlinks advocacy on the behalf of the PAS is at best, akin to Marie Antoinette telling peasants to go suck cake. What is currently being offered are metaphorical crumbs that have fallen off the table, and we're supposed to not only be grateful for this arrogant condescension, we're also expected to fund it as well, something I find to be particularly infuriating.

I've previously mentioned the fact that despite being underwritten by a host of entities, Artlink still inflicts a form of soft coercion on the art community in the form of membership fees. If you're not a member, you, your work, and your gallery doesn't get promoted, period. Yep... nothing screams "successful advocacy model" than hitting up the cash-strapped demographic you're supposed to protect and promote under the threat of exclusion, am I right? In essence, you're out there on your own, and it's something that allegedly happens to paid members as well, if the stories of being passed over by the trolley service happen to be accurate.

So where do we go from here? Do we continue with the tried and true way of failure, or do we start anew and try a more logical approach, one that applies the reservoirs of social and cultural marketing to it's fullest and makes use of the vast talent pool waiting to be tapped here?

Guess which way I'm leaning. Artlink has had it's day, has had it's say, and has had it's way for far longer than it required, or more importantly- it has deserved. It's time for a true leader- whether that's personified as an individual or a group is still up for debate and eventual consensus, but I think most would agree with my POV that the need for forceful and effective leadership dedicated to every member of the Arts community, and not just those who swear allegiance under the threat of being purposefully overlooked, is crucial.

And as an aside, it also rings true that it's way past the time when this towns art-czars should have been unseated- their history and actions thus far have proven that they only look out for themselves and their interests, and not for us as a whole, so I think the proverbial running them out on a rail is not only required, it's something all the disparate factions of the PAS could bond over, if handled right. The resultant cookout alone would be worth the price of our collective effort, as I know more than a few artists who make a mean potato salad, and that right there, is what true camaraderie is all about.

But what of Artlink? Well, I'm okay with either them getting their act together or getting their ass handed to them. But if the plan I'll be laying out within the next few screeds pans out, it may turn into a and/or type of situation, to use one of their sayings, and I'm good with that too. But that still leaves the question of what happens to Catrina, does it not?

Why yes- yes it does. But don't you worry, my loyal blogiteers- she'll still get to dance with the mayor... she'll just have to do it on her own damn dime for once.

And when we come back... I meet the newest Art-Barbie that Roosevelt Row has to offer, lay the basic framework for a new advocacy group, and take a look at the exciting world of Artlinks finances, to see where and how they allegedly misspend their money. And there'll be Snark as well, but you already knew that.

“Any leader who feels the pain and fights for you, support him or you lose- but if that leader doesn't feel the pain and fight for you, don't support him, fight for yourself, be a leader and fight for others.” - Saminu Kanti

Wednesday, January 25, 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 plot-line: 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 else 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 they best 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.

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.
*[Link:  http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/tear-down-town-6434066]

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 can't 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