Community art flourishes throughout Arizona

New opening in Renaissance Hotel in Glendale, AZ.  (Photo by: Sebastian Parks / 26 Blocks)
New opening in Renaissance Hotel in Glendale, AZ.             (Photo by: Sebastian Parks / 26 Blocks)

Community art has found a home in Arizona and two programs in particular have gained the attention of tourists around the world.

26 Blocks, located in downtown Phoenix, is a visual exhibit created in 2010. Now with new additions already in process, it continues to become more established within Phoenix and throughout Arizona as well.

The original exhibit included 26 photographers, and 26 writers who were separated into 26 teams and given 26 random city blocks all over Phoenix. Each group was given a month to produce one photograph as well as 500 words or less describing the photograph.

The full exhibit was open to the public in 2010, and turned into such a sensation that sponsors helped create a free iPad application. The exhibit allows people to see photographs of the blocks as well as the pieces that were written, without having to travel all over the city.

Equally amazing, is the First Friday ArtWalk in Flagstaff. Described as the best and biggest art event in Flagstaff, the show continues to grow and expand its popularity.

ArtWalk happens the first Friday of every month. Each gallery in Flagstaff decides what art to include in the walk. Every month is different, sometimes including live music and performances.

The walk includes a printed map that is made by the Flagstaff Art Council, which helps manage the walk. Each month around 10,000 copies are made. In addition, this map is also available online. This allows people with smartphones to access the interactive map downtown, as well as going paperless for the walk.

These community collaborating art ideas did not just magically become widespread and admired over night. These took a lot of time and effort to put together.

Joey Robert Parks, founder, and creative director of 26 Blocks, developed the idea five years ago without knowing the extent of its continuing success.

“It is more than I would have ever imagined it to be,” Parks said. “I thought the exhibit would be open for a month, and it was open for 14-15 months.”

With the new additions to the exhibit, Parks explains how different it is from the exhibit five years ago. 26 Blocks was formed from Parks’ desire for collaboration among these photographers and writers as well as the wish to encourage creativity in Phoenix in the time of a recession.

Parks ideas really came all together as he started telling his friends. People offered to be a part of his creation solely because they loved his idea, even within a recession, with no thought of pay or compensation.

Just like 26 Blocks, The Flagstaff ArtWalk was not imagined to be as largely established as it is now. The event has been around since 1998 and has been growing ever since. In 2008 the Flagstaff Arts Council stepped in as the event became too large for the down town artist gallery to do on their own.

The ArtWalk and 26 blocks share a lot in common, including the idea that both have bright futures.

John Tannous, executive director of Flagstaff’s Art Council, explains the positives to having the ArtWalk every month.

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“Revenue is important to focus on,” Tannous said. “We hear not just from art galleries, but from bars and other businesses as well telling us that the Friday of every month is consistently their busiest time.”

Bringing in tourists from all over and also having locals promotes the ArtWalk helps Flagstaff flourish as a community, he said.

Parks wants his work to continue flourishing in Phoenix. He wants to find a public place where the 26 Blocks exhibit can be accessed for this new opening.

“For me now, everybody has different views and perspectives about their downtown,” Parks said. “It’s understandably rare that you have something downtown that everyone really digs. 26 Blocks shows a possible solution to this”.

 In producing 26 different stories, the creators gave a chance for the public to cherish and inspire these pieces.

Parks explained how the director of operations at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Phoenix could not believe he was just hearing of this exhibit. Parks said how he was in the process of trying to get it out of storage and into a permanent location. The director suggested the hotel. A year was then spent planning the addition to the 26 Blocks inside the Renaissance Hotel. Now the exhibit is up and running.

Parks wants to continue to show the growth of downtown. In addition to the new location, he brought in an illustrator to create postcards of all the blocks that were created in 2010. The purpose of creating these postcards is to show how much these blocks have changed since they were created in 2010, and how they look now, five years later.

“It’s been hard,” Parks said. “We only have six postcards right now, and every month we are doing five more.”

When all the postcards are done, it will be put into one giant postcard map of Phoenix that will be its own piece of artwork.

Supporters of 26 Blocks are planning for the long term.

“I want to do a 2020 addition, and I want to add music as well as graphic designers doing posters,” Parks said. “Though 2020 is already planned, the big challenge is that 26 Blocks is one part of a full part that I am telling.”

 Katie Berge is a reporter for Arizona Sonora New, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Contact her at Katieberge@email.arizona.edu.

 Click here for high-resolution photos.

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