Public art tells Arizona’s unique stories

Updated: Jun. 11, 2022 at 11:23 PM MST
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PHOENIX (Arizona Highways TV) -- Pick a city or a town in Arizona and you’ll find incredible works of art without ever stepping foot in a gallery or museum. Creative displays of expression in bronze, metal, or paint dot our Arizona highways. Each piece is the artist’s response to a time or a place.

“When I walk down the streets of Tubac, I remember the friendships built over the services I’ve provided, whether it’s a piece of true fine art or it’s functional signage or it’s a working gate,” said David Voisard of Voisard Studios. “And that’s part of the fabric that I feel in Tubac, that my wife feels in Tubac, and it’s why we live here with our dogs.”

Like many towns along Old Route 66, Winslow, Arizona, nearly disappeared. Then, along came a little band called The Eagles, and “standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona” became more pop culture than a pop culture reference. In fact, it became a kitschy thing to do.

Standin' on the Corner Park in Winslow, Arizona
Standin' on the Corner Park in Winslow, Arizona(Arizona Highways TV)

Standin’ on the Corner Park is a tribute to the song “Take it Easy.” The two-story mural and bronze sculptures celebrate music and art while providing fans of the song and Route 66 a rocking place to connect, share, and create a few memories.

Here in Phoenix, it is hard to turn a corner and not find buildings and walls awash in vibrant color -- urban canvases that reflect the feelings, thoughts, and cultural heritage of the artists that painted them.

“Lots of people want their art hanging up in a gallery, but I would think having your art on a wall where everyone can see it as they drive by, because not a lot of people walk into galleries,” Robin Sewell said while chatting with artist Angel Diaz in front of one of his murals. “This has gotta be pretty big.”

He says his culture is his main inspiration. “If I’m going to do something out in the public, I tend to want to do my culture or our culture because it’s not about me at that point,” Diaz explained. “It’s about everybody.”

Phoenix is recognized as one of the top cities in the country for public art. The artistic spirit of the city is easy to access during Artlink’s First Fridays art walks. Many of the art spaces, galleries, collectives, and cultural performing arts venues have outdoor works on display for the public to enjoy both day and night.

Smaller cities and towns across Arizona are also using public art for placemaking and Main Street revitalization.

“For over 25 years, Main Street has been in the downtown in Casa Grande, creating an environment down here that’s welcoming and inviting to the people that come and visit,” said Rina Rien of Casa Grande Mainstreet.

“We want new businesses down here,” Kim McWherter of Downtown Live said. “We want an entertainment district, and we’re in the center of an amazing area.

“It was one of the first things we did down here to kind of get the art thing going,” Casa Grande artist Mark White said. “The Art in the Alley event that was held here in the past people learned to appreciate it. All this stuff that you see down here was primarily done by volunteers.

“The Casa Grande Art Museum is really unique in that it is a kind of intimate atmosphere,” Leah Kiser of the Casa Grande Art Association explained. “We wanted to get rid of the chain-link fence around the building and make it even more inviting.”

Some public works of art are so elaborate it can take years before it ever finds its public resting space. The bronze foundry in Prescott is responsible for many works of art on display in the Grand Canyon State.

“This is part of what we want to show at Bronzesmith,” Ed Reilly of Bronzesmith Fine Art Foundry and Gallery said. “We want to show how much work goes into it. One of the comments people make all the time is they had no idea that it was that complicated.”

“What’s really important -- and we talk about this all the time in the art business -- is site-specific work,” Reilly continued. “Where is this sculpture going to go? How is it gonna look like in that environment? There are pocket parks smaller sculptures would look great in, in a little courtyard setting. And then there are pieces that are monumental in size and it’s amazing how small this piece will look once it’s out in nature and without some space around it.”

Cultivating a unique community identity, celebrating our history, diversity, and heritage. Defining spaces to gather and ignite. Creating a dialog and challenging your senses and perception. This is what public art is all about.

And it’s there for you just off an Arizona highway.