By Madeline Bates
The first impression of downtown Phoenix is different for everyone From convention-goers to business owners, students and snowbirds, downtown Phoenix has colors that set it apart from other major cities.
Public art has become a trophy of Phoenix’s downtown district as DTPHX Inc. — an organization designed to improve downtown Phoenix — has commissioned several different murals to become city landmarks in hopes of adding joy and value to the property.
R.J. Price, Chief Growth Officer for DTPHX is committed to using public art as a vessel for improving the city experience.
“If you want your building to fit into the environment, you should include public art into your plans,” Price said in regards to urban developments.
According to Realtor.com, public art has the potential to increase property value by over 20%.
This cites the evident growth of New York City’s Highline, a neighborhood with a reclaimed and abandoned railroad track, that saw over 1.3 million people in the first year public art was added to the area.
But Price claims that this is what makes Phoenix special.
“When you’re a city that doesn’t have the same density as New York, San Francisco or Chicago you need to plan for experiential elements,” Price said.
He has become committed to the “sidewalk experience” that has helped major cities–especially Phoenix–look cleaner and more colorful.
While art can improve a city's look, graffiti and vandalism are almost always inevitable.
Earlier this year, a south-facing window of the Walter Cronkite School in downtown Phoenix was tagged with several messages including ‘1488’ across a window image of a photo exhibit from the war in Ukraine.
Adam Wolfe from ASU Police confirmed that the perpetrator was a student and that the tag was meant to be neo-Natzi hate speech.
“1488,” refers to the 14 Words of David Lane, a white supremacist leader who died while imprisoned in 2007, as well as “Heil Hitler” as ‘H’ is the 8th letter of the alphabet. Other parts of the tag included the name of the photographer being showcased in the exhibit and other markings that could not be identified.
The marking was discovered in the early morning and the suspect was arrested that evening.
“People who do graffiti are usually pretty proud of it,” Wolfe said. “They are not hard to track down.”
This is only true in some cases as Phoenix spent over two years looking for a graffiti tagger who went by the alias of “Meyoe.”
Toby Manuelito was arrested as a suspect with over 314 graffiti incidents across the city of Phoenix according to AZ Family.
To combat vandalism issues such as this, DTPHX has assembled the “Clean + Green Team,” a city-funded group employed to many types of improvement projects from removing graffiti and weeds, to replanting trees and other greenery downtown.
It was reported that Manuelito caused over $38,000 in damage between January 2020 and April 2023. This included damage to public art that helped members of the community feel a connection to the art’s message.
Tiesha Harrison, a Phoenix artist is the owner and founder of “I AM Undefined Art” which has a creative emphasis on inspiration and healing.
Since losing her sister to domestic violence in 2019, Harrison has worked with other survivors to use art as a method of expression.
“What people are doing here has meaning,” Harrison said when talking about the Phoenix art scene.
She prides herself in being a “change agent” when it comes to expressing grief and struggles with mental health.
Harrison has worked with inmates, students, and members of other marginalized groups to help them use art as a way of telling their story, in hopes that hers will inspire them to break away from traditional therapeutic methods.
Leading all to inspire, perform, create and change.
Tiesha Harrison–I AM Undefined Art
Adam Wolfe–PIO ASU PD
R.J. Price–Chief Growth Officer, DTPX Inc.