When a wind chilled and lightly salted Minnesotan flies to Phoenix (150 bucks, thank you Spirit Airlines!) for some sunshine therapy, it’s hard to get past Scottsdale. Understandable. It has proximity to both seaweed-wrapped sushi and seaweed-wrapped spa treatments right in the shadow of Camelback Mountain. But make time for downtown Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row because you won’t find art like this in Scottsdale.
The Roosevelt Row Arts District is a walkable arts district just south of I-10. It’s about a 20-block stretch of East Roosevelt St. between N. 7th and N. 16th Avenues studded with galleries, studio spaces, restaurants and most notably–murals. The buildings are a mix of refurbished warehouses, cute bungalows–some reclaimed crack houses–and sleek new condos and metal shipping container units with that just-so patina. The murals and graffiti art started popping up in earnest around 2010 and haven’t stopped since.
You’ll start looking for–and finding–these murals around every corner, behind every alley, on every garage. I count more than 100 of them done by a variety of artists. A decent guide to more than 70 of them is here at “Murals of Phoenix” , just scroll down to the find the locator app. On to some of my favorites.
The attenuated, sunken-faced figure holding a bird is by Tato Caraveo, a Phoenix native and longtime favorite on Roosevelt Row. He was a graffiti artist in the 1990s, got a taste of mural making and has since painted his way across downtown Phoenix. Caraveo points out that Phoenix lacks historic architecture downtown, and honestly, it is a pretty boring downtown building-wise. Caraveo believes that a culture of street art and murals makes for a more eye-pleasing and livable city. Lauren Lee is also a Phoenix native; her sweet trio of birds sets off in a flurry on the side of an apartment building on Roosevelt Ave. “Three Birds” is actually Lee’s second rendition of this work. Her original “Three Birds” was a much-loved, much-photographed mural that was on a building that got torn down in 2015. That residents clamored for them and brought them back, although a bit smaller in scale and on a new building, speaks to what the murals mean to to Phoenix’s identity now.
Maybe the the airiest-looking mural has the most weighted message. “I Have A Name” is a painting of a little boy pouring blackbirds out of a watering can. On the side of the MonOrchid at 2nd and Roosevelt, it’s a tribute to homeless people who have died on the streets of Phoenix. Artist Brian Boner collaborated with the “I Have A Name” homeless project to create this powerful work in 2015.
Maybe it’s inevitable, but birds keep popping up around here. This is, after all, a town named after a bird that gets on up from the ashes. That’s not an act of grace, it’s an act of will. And damned if Phoenix is not afraid to flap its wings and fly on into whatever the future holds for it.
TIPS AND TOOLS: Check out the website “Murals of Phoenix” for some background and to see a map of more than 70 murals. Mark your calendars for First Fridays ArtWalk from 6-10pm, one of the biggest self-guided art walks in the country. Be still my heart, for the Pie Social happens in November, an event that’s a pie competition and a community-building experience all under one crust.