It looks like Phoenix is trying to copy the Tempe Festival of the Arts.
12/7-9: Phoenix Festival of the Arts at Hance Park
Organizers hope Festival gives boost to Phoenix culture
By Randy Cordova The Republic | azcentral.com Tue Dec 4, 2012 12:00 PM
Phoenix is known for a lot of things — golf, hot weather and killer Mexican restaurants. Joseph Benesh hopes that the Phoenix Festival of the Arts can be added to that list after this weekend.
“I’ve been working in the arts in Phoenix for the last 19 years at some level,” says Benesh, director of the Phoenix Center for the Arts. “What I have seen is that the average Phoenician doesn’t realize just how much art there is in Phoenix.”
Benesh knows what a lot of you are thinking. Namely, “Yes, he’s right.” And, “Hold the phone: There is a Phoenix Center for the Arts?”
“People just aren’t always aware,” says Benesh, whose center doesn’t have the instant name recognition of similar organizations in Scottsdale, Mesa or Chandler. “People find their comfort zone and their routine, and they don’t always go beyond that.”
The new three-day festival should shine a light on both the center and the arts in Phoenix. It is an ambitious event that has been in the making for nearly a year and will feature more than 80 booths and 80 performances. The large number helps fulfill the goal of showcasing the diversity of the Phoenix cultural scene.
In terms of image, “Phoenix doesn’t have much of an arts scene, but perhaps the purpose of the festival is to bring all of its arts together in one place,” Benesh says. “People come down and see art to buy. They see art to watch. They see art they can participate in.
“Hopefully, it breaks that cycle of people thinking there’s nothing to do culturally in Phoenix.”
“Art to buy” is pretty self-explanatory, with juried artists selling wares at various price points. Don Ridley, who heads the ceramics department at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, was involved in screening nearly 100 applicants to narrow the list.
“As far as quality control, you want a good representation of artists there,” Ridley says. “I think it’s really important that this functions so people can see what our local artists can do.”
There also musical performances, poetry readings, dance troupes and theatrical presentations.
“We have organizations small and large represented,” Benesh says. “You will see the Phoenix Art Museum there, and you’ll see Stage 55, a small local art house with a stage.”
Additionally, reflecting the services offered by the Center for the Arts, expect instructional sessions on topics such as fitness.
“We do the broad spectrum at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, in terms of classes, music and theater,” Benesh says. “Since we’re the ones producing this festival, it’s important we represent our constituents, our students and our instructors.”
The festival is an outgrowth of the center’s annual holiday art sale, which normally draws around 500 visitors. Because of the scope and size of the new festival, Benesh hopes to attract upward of 5,000 people.
Judging by early enthusiasm, that number doesn’t sound naively optimistic.
“So far, it’s been a huge response of people saying that it’s about time and thanking us for pulling this together,” he says. “There’s such gratitude from the people, artists and organizations involved. Everybody wants this to work.”
Important financial support came from Lou Grubb and his widow, Evelyn. Grubb, whose commercials for his automobile dealerships made him a household name in the Valley, died this year.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, another important booster, serves as honorary chair for the festival.
“We have a mayor who is extremely supportive of the arts and education,” Benesh says. “I think he has lived up to his word of making this an important part of the fabric of our culture and our economic development. I think we are demonstrating that arts are a major factor.”
Adding to the event’s appeal: It’s free. That was intentional, Benesh says.
“One of the most important things about any arts and cultural experience is that they be accessible to all,” he says. “There are a lot of great programs out there trying to make the bottom line, and that’s normal. But for me, you have to look for creative ways to make it accessible to everyone — that’s a big mission of mine.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-8849. Twitter.com/randy_cordova.
Tempe Center for the Arts
Tempe Cesspool for the Arts