Sunday, October 10, 2010

Scottsdale group aims to transform vacant spaces into art venues

The group that oversees Scottsdale's public-art program is transforming the city's vacant retail spaces into a window of opportunity for landlords and artists.

Scottsdale Public Art is soliciting ideas from Valley artists to outfit vacant windows, shops and breezeways of the Scottsdale downtown arts district. The landlords are donating the space. The idea is to turn what otherwise might be an eyesore into an attraction until space can be leased by a permanent tenant.

Scottsdale joins a variety of bigger cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles in making empty commercial space - another aspect of the recession's fallout - more eye-catching. Some advocates see it as a way to make a space more appealing to potential tenants.

Public Art's new program also complements deals already brokered by Scottsdale landlords and artists.

Earlier this year, Bentley Calverley, owner of Bentley Gallery on Marshall Way, negotiated cheaper rents with landlords for several pop-up gallery owners in Scottsdale. When a higher-paying tenant comes along, the pop-up gallery must move. One of the pop-up gallery tenants has vacated for a higher-paying tenant since the program began six months ago.

Landlord Dewey Schade is participating in both the pop-up galleries and Public Art's temporary art installations.

"Since the pop-ups are in a gallery setting, (future tenants) can envision what the setting can be. It's much better than showing an empty space," he said. "My sign is still on the door, only now more people will want to see the shop."

Scottsdale's program is called IN FLUX. Four to seven artists with a budget of no more than $5,000 each will begin to roll out their art starting next month. Their work will be visible through mid-January. The total budget, covering the artists' fees and material and the outreach and development cost, is $25,000 and is allocated by Public Art, which receives a portion of its funding from the city.

IN FLUX project manager Kirstin Van Cleef said she wants the program to leave behind a "how-to" for other landlords and tenants.

"This project should be viewed as an incubator for the concept of planning and launching art in empty spaces and active storefronts," Van Cleef said. "That's why I'm working on a 'tool kit' so that other people can take and use the concept. And I'm getting so much interest."

Tempe artist Melissa Martinez is creating the first work. A volunteer steering panel is choosing other artists. The public will vote on at least one artist's vision in mid-October.

Martinez, 34, is crafting flowers that are 8 feet tall and made of hot-pink vinyl and fur and snakeskin under balls of floating pollen.

"This is a win-win for everyone," she said. "I love making large things, and really a gallery doesn't have a market for that. So the benefit of this project is that someone is paying me to do it, but, too, this is a way for me to start at the bottom with some smaller public-art projects and people can gain some confidence in my ability to pull it off."

Transforming vacant shops into exhibition space isn't new to the Valley. Phoenix's Artlink, a non-profit downtown Phoenix arts organization, has facilitated temporary art in empty spaces for more than 20 years.

Calling it the "mystery gallery," the organization pairs landlords and artists for a weekend exhibit during Art Detour, a three-day walking tour of the downtown Phoenix art scene. As more efforts such as these take hold, it likely will become easier to find commercial-property owners willing to participate, said Sloane Burwell, Artlink president.

"I still think more people should be willing to do it," Burwell said.

As part of IN FLUX, Scottsdale Public Art is partnering with Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe, which is sponsoring a similar project, to publicize each other's work.

The museum's "Open for Business" features more than a dozen artists working with tenants of occupied shops in staging work in Tempe. In that program, artists attempt to address the purpose of each business.

"It's about building relationships and networking," said John Spiak, ASU art-museum curator.

The two groups collaborated on a walking map of the Scottsdale and Tempe sites. The maps will be available at the cities' chambers of commerce, arts and city organizations, and businesses.

Other city arts organizations in the Valley are watching Scottsdale. The Peoria Arts Commission has floated the idea but has taken no definite action.

by Sonja Haller The Arizona Republic Sept. 26, 2010 09:34 PM




Scottsdale group aims to transform vacant spaces into art venues

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