There’s a movie out right now getting rave reviews. It’s called Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. And once upon a time in Scottsdale the city used to get rave reviews for its art scene. It had no Valley peer. Two great streets, and others, populated by galleries. A cozy center for performing arts. Even a cultural campus of sorts.
But then other cities awoke. Tempe built a sparkling arts center. As did Mesa. Downtown Phoenix organically started to sprout galleries. Chandler has made headway too.
Simply put Scottsdale’s pre-eminent position is no more. And while we don’t often cite the Phoenix New Times, notorious purveyors of pimps, a recent article is illustrative.
Of their “Top 10” art galleries in the Valley only one hails from Scottsdale, Art One on Marshall Way. We disagree profoundly with the omission of several stellar galleries on Scottsdale’s Main Street but the point remains, and is disconcerting. Others no longer view Scottsdale as the hotbed of artistic haute. This should be unacceptable to the community and its leaders. For the arts and Scottsdale have long been synonymous, adding to the city’s cache, tourism reach and quality of life.
Fortunately, there are at least two opportunities on the horizon to arrest the atrophy.
First, city voters will go to the polls on November 5th to approve or reject three different questions covering 58 infrastructure projects throughout the city. Among them are various improvements to Scottsdale’s cultural facilities at the Civic Center Mall, including the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. The biggest project calls for updates and upgrades to the cultural campus’ beloved open space which hosts many festivals throughout the year. Last year a chunk of the area was shut down for emergency repairs due to the decades-old infrastructure. The work harmed the Scottsdale Culinary Festival and other special events and left the lovely grounds, in the words of city staffers, more Spartan than before. The official believes the public will be shocked when they see the impact of what needed to be done to repair the areas, and that it will take years to slowly recapture the magic without passage of the assistance provided for in the upcoming election.
Second, once on the glide path of being approved by acclimation due to enthusiastic City Council and community support, the proposed Museum Square project just off Main Street, has come under some criticism of late. That has more to do with city staff’s fumbling than the architecturally-significant project’s vision which calls for a new 4-5 star hotel, upscale residences, open space for special events and restaurants adjacent to the Museum of the West. It would replace a defunct city-owned transit station just waiting to be a homeless camp. The sale of the public property would generate some $30 million for taxpayers.
Some believe the project could exacerbate parking problems in the area. We disagree and believe the vigilance of gallery owners combined with the good intent of Museum Square and, hopefully, cooperation from city staff, will resolve those issues.
But the mere presence of more parking in and around the Scottsdale Arts District isn’t going to create the mojo the Phoenix New Times and others believe the area lacks. That’s where Museum Square comes in. We strongly believe more of the proceeds from the Museum Square sale should be used in the immediate area to elevate the arts and to answer the wakeup call.
Earmark a portion of the money for additional parking in the area. Improve the Stagebrush Theater, a small, city-owned performing arts venue next to Museum Square. Expand the Museum of the West, which has become a Smithsonian-affiliate, so it can advantage numerous opportunities before it. Utilize some of the money to collaborate with the Scottsdale Gallery Association, Experience Scottsdale and others to better market and advertise the area. Listen to other ideas and formulate a big bang for the gallery and arts in Scottsdale. These opportunities don’t come often. Advantage it. For one of Scottsdale’s raisons d’être. Don’t do the typical bureaucratic thing and use too much of the sale proceeds for the black hole of government operations.
The next few months will likely determine the fate of Scottsdale arts for decades to come. Pass the bonds. Do Museum Square right so it does for the arts areas what the Waterfront did for the Arizona Canal. Don’t think small. Think big. And help restore Scottsdale’s important repute so that future articles locally and nationally talk of the city’s arts scene on the way up, not down.