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Meet the Artist Behind Downtown's Center City Awards 2020: Joan Waters

by Fara Illich
Arts & Culture Community Featured Music & Events Fara Illich December 1, 2020

Joan Waters working in her studio. (Photo: Brian Klein)

Receiving a hand-made award, especially one crafted by a renowned sculpture artist, has a certain honor in it.

“It’s much more just an ordinary trophy-award kind of object,” said Joan Waters, local artist and designer of the Center City Awards. “I felt my work would add meaning and intensify the symbolism of winning.”

Each year, Phoenix Community Alliance (PCA) honors individuals from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors making outstanding contributions in the community, and advancing the quality of life in Central Phoenix.

For the 2020 artist-designed award, three finalists were chosen — Elijah Bourque, Joan Waters and Bobby Zokaites. Joan Waters was selected through a public Artlink Inc. call-to-artists.

“It’s so exciting to have the entire artist community involved in this process,” said Catrina Kahler, president and CEO of Artlink Inc. “Because it reminds them that city leaders, like the leaders of PCA, are keeping the arts and culture community in mind.”

Made of cut, hammered and welded steel, the award is designed to reflect the values of the award recipients – individuals who are tirelessly devoting their time, talent and resources to the betterment of Central Phoenix. Within the carefully-crafted shapes and colorful patinas, symbolism is woven into every element.

The three pillars represent PCA’s core values — advocating, activating and building.

In terms of transforming it into an organic, “alive” material, Waters said she also drew inspiration from the native Palo Verde tree.

“For somebody’s who’s going to go into this organization and do the work – you become the roots,” Waters said. “You’re setting aside time and effort to work towards the betterment of the whole community. It’s building these strong network connections.”

Presented since 1993, and formerly known as the “Center City Starr Awards” (named after long-time PCA President Barry Starr), the Center City Awards were reimagined in 2020 to include both a Champion Award and Newcomer Award annually.

Former recipients include the likes of Greg Esser (2013), artist and founder of the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation, Michael Crow (2010), president of Arizona State University, Sheryl Sculley (1999), former assistant City manager, and Jerry Colangelo (1995), former owner of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury.

The 2020 recipients will be announced in the coming weeks.

“It’s really exciting to see positive energetic change,” Waters said. “People are excited about creating an urban lifestyle that is invigorating and interesting and full of all kinds of connections. I think art is one of the things that reminds us that we’re all creative.”