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Arts & Culture Featured Fara Illich March 25, 2010

Some friends of mine, founders of Holy Piñata, shared the following discovery with me and in turn I felt it was appropriate to share it with you. Let’s just say it involves a famous native Arizonan artist, a historic building and a large bar tab.
Please enjoy the following…
This past summer, Holy Piñata stumbled upon an unbelievable gem inside an unassuming building in the heart of Downtown Phoenix. It’s something we’ve been meaning to share since our discovery. And granted, it’s not exactly like we recovered the Ark or found a mint condition AT-AT still in its box, but it’s pretty awesome nonetheless. Most importantly, this finding represents something of a coup for Phoenix and the significance of the city’s Downtown, its history, and its sense of place: key commodities for an area in danger of reinventing itself into oblivion. So enough with the buildup — here’s how it went down.
Ever-curious about a perpetually vacant building on the corner of Roosevelt St. and Third St. (an edifice, incidentally, smack in the middle of Holy Piñata headquarters and a few of our watering holes of choice), Danny and I booked an appointment with the landlords to check out the innards of a place we had long admired exclusively from the outside. Upon entering that dim brick building that hot afternoon, our eyeballs just about fell out of our skulls. Pristinely displayed along the building’s interior eastern wall is an enormous mural (10 feet by 40 feet, let’s say) by renowned artist Ted DeGrazia. The piece features a dozen or so indigenous people in varying poses in DeGrazia’s signature seafoam green and rusty brown palette.
Needless to say, it was pretty wild to see a museum-worthy work of art amid small piles of rubbish and cheap dinette chairs. And sure, it’s not like DeGrazia is a household name, but for those who grew up in Arizona, his ghostly depictions of Southwestern life are as much entwined with our conception of the Union’s 48th state as chimichangas, Soleri bells, or Wallace and Ladmo. According to the building’s owners, meanwhile, DeGrazia painted the mural as compensation for an outstanding bar tab back when the place served as a tavern. You can’t make that stuff up.
And aside from being, arguably, Arizona’s most famous artist (and one of America’s most reproduced illustrators), DeGrazia was a pretty cool character to boot. An original Italian cowboy (born in Morenci, Ariz., to old country parents), DeGrazia burned 100 of his own paintings in 1976 to protest inheritance taxes.
OK fine, so what? What’s this mural got to do with me? Well, it’s hoped that our community — the Holy Piñata community – can throw its weight into seeing that this work of art gets preserved or recognized in some fashion. This building, after all (still prominently featuring a For Rent sign), could get snatched up tomorrow. Who knows — the new tenants, unaware or uncaring — could paint over the mural, bust out the wall, sand blast it. And with that, say goodbye to a one-of-kind piece by an acclaimed and very deceased artist. (On the flipside, the Subway menu board will look just smashing.) At the least, we’d like to generate awareness of the cultural and historical significance of DeGrazia’s presence in Downtown Phoenix. It requires absolutely no money to save this mural, no real effort either — just awareness. If there are any lawyers out there, interior designers, artists, preservationists, or anyone who cares about Phoenix history, we encourage you to get the word out, and possibly put in a call or an e-mail to the Phoenix Historic Preservation Office. You can contact that agency here — http://phoenix.gov/HISTORIC/index.html. Or feel free to inform the folks at DeGrazia’s Gallery In the Sun in Tucson — http://degrazia.org/Splash.aspx
Finally, we’d like to add this isn’t some battle between landlords and the community befitting an after-school special. By every measure the key holders of this property appreciated the mural. We just can’t speak for their motivation to preserve it, particularly in this economy. Hopefully they’ll stipulate in their lease that the mural mustn’t be altered or destroyed. We certainly hope so.