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With the stroke of a paintbrush and the flame of a blow torch, First Street is looking more colorful and welcoming than ever.
Amidst the Super Bowl activities that drew a million visitors to Downtown Phoenix Jan. 29 – Feb. 1; there was a smaller movement happening that may have longterm impact along First Street in Downtown Phoenix.
A grassroots effort carried out by various community members, artists and organizations installed new planters; placed new Arts District way-finding signage; and organized activities celebrating Phoenix arts and culture with the intention of promoting First Street as the “pedestrian corridor” into the Roosevelt Row Arts District.
Peter Rasmussen, a member of the Arts, Culture and Public Life subcommittee for Phoenix Community Alliance (PCA), said the idea to activate First Street began in a subcommittee meeting in September as a way to highlight the culture and vitality of the Arts District during Super Bowl weekend.
As months went by, it then morphed into activating the street as “a yellow-brick road to the Arts District,” he said.
Acting as somewhat of a manager for the project, Rasmussen said that each person involved came forward with their own idea and then implemented it without a lot of micromanagement.
Personally, Rasmussen helped bring activities to the open-air market at the Phoenix Public Market with a musical group from Phoenix Center for the Arts and an arts workshop hosted by Arizona School for the Arts.
The City of Phoenix Streets Department activated First Street last year with painted streets and pots, and expanding upon that, the group created an even greater connection between the Downtown Core and Roosevelt Row. Once the Downtown Phoenix Inc. Streetscape Team had the planters and signage prepped and placed for painting, Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation (CDC) stepped in, commissioning local artists to paint the planters to activate First Street as well as drive visitors to more activations along Roosevelt Street.
Nicole Underwood, director of operations for Roosevelt Row CDC, said this was a way to have something visual and recognizable to attract visitors to the Arts District.
“The artists who we worked with are artists who already have a strong visual presence in the area,” she said. These are local artists like Andy Brown, Tato Caraveo, Angel Diaz, Thomas “Breeze” Marcus, JB Snyder, Roy Wasson Valle and Yai, who each painted planters along First Street and also have murals scattered around Roosevelt Row.
Underwood said the new signage and planters show “a lot of support of the arts district. There’s no line or clash of cultures, but a blend of neighborhoods.”
The names of area bars, restaurants and galleries are now displayed in bright hues of blue, yellow, orange and green on metal signs designed by brand consultant Caleb Barclay and created by Ruben Gonzales of 11th Monk3y Industries.
The two met through Seed Spot, and Barclay said he wanted Gonzales to make the signs, because he’s a local manufacturer and has great work.
“Naturally, he was a good fit for this project,” he said.
Gonzales was a crucial part to making the signs into a reality, according to Barclay. After receiving donations from community leaders, he was able to purchase the materials for the signs while Gonzales donated his time, working through the night to get them finished in time for Super Bowl.
Barclay stressed that there were many people who contributed to the activations and that it formed as a result of a community effort.
The signs were placed into the planters painted by the artists, starting at Van Buren Street and continuing north until Roosevelt Street.
Rasmussen said the best part of the experience was seeing everyone get excited about what First Street could be. He also said that there’s now a larger conversation taking place about how Phoenix Community Alliance can help shape urban design with the city.