Funding could bolster arts programs across Arizona

Arts project sprouting up in West Valley


Thanks to some grant funding and the work of a local arts group, a new West Valley affordable housing complex will get some colorful artwork over the next month.

The Heritage — a 100-unit apartment complex in the Original Town Site neighborhood of Surprise developed by the Housing Authority of Maricopa County and general contracting firm Gorman & Company — was first announced at a meeting in November 2017.

Nearly 27 months later, with residents nearly ready to move in, Connie Whitlock and her WHAM arts organization are working on a colorful tile mosaic mural, which will be installed in an interior courtyard.

She said part of the mural will spell out the name of the community, while incorporating a variety or decorative and thematic elements.

“I’ve been working on it since last summer at WHAM, with me and another artist working together, and we’re developing this public art project with funding from Gorman and the Housing Authority,” Ms. Whitlock said. “What we have agreed on is a tile mural project that will spell out the word ‘heritage’ and each letter is themed.”

The letter H, she said, will feature imagery evoking ancient civilizations of the Southwest; the I will represent desert fauna and the letter R will depict Mexican cuisine, as examples.

At five-feet tall and three-feet wide, the assembled letters will span across nearly 28 feet; while a second tile mural with a decorative collage will encompass a 3-foot by 15-feet rectangle to be installed just below.

Each tile has been hand-painted by area residents, along with the artists, making the project a diverse collaboration, Ms. Whitlock said.

“We’ve had people from the community come out from September through the end of November painting tiles,” she said. “And then we had a whole bunch of local people painting tiles at the Fiesta Grande in October. People have also come to WHAM to paint tiles.”

Of the estimated 1,000 individual tiles needed for the project, all but about 70 remain to be completed. Installation is tentatively planned for the end of March, according to Ms. Whitlock.

Surprise Councilman Ken Remley — who represents District 4, which includes the OTS — also praised the inclusive approach adopted by Ms. Whitlock for the project.

“At the Fiesta Grande event, they had things set up and all kinds of people were painting tiles to be added into this work of art that’s going onto the building,” Mr. Remley said. “What it reflects is we’re trying to be sensitive to the heritage of the area, these are the roots of Surprise.”

The first cohort of residents will begin occupying the apartments over the next few weeks, but an official ribbon cutting ceremony currently in planning will take place in March or early April, he said.

The Heritage is already fully booked with a rapidly growing wait list for future residents, Mr. Remley added.

“There’s a lot of folks asking about being able to get one of those and they’re finding out they have to get on a waiting list because all the units are already called for” he said. “For those on the wait list, priority will be shown to residents of Surprise.”

Past & future funding

Arts groups across the Valley, like the Surprise-based WHAM, rely a funding from various sources to bring their visions to life.

Just last year, WHAM continued its collaboration with a local high school, thanks to funding from the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

Another hand-painted mosaic mural project, spearheaded by Surprise resident Margaret Lieu and Ms. Whitlock, has sprouted into something of an artistic garden for students at Peoria Accelerated High School, where Ms. Lieu teaches.

She praised the arts commission at the start of the school year, when continued grants allowed her students to start a new phase in their ever-growing student-made campus beautification project.

“The idea behind the grant is to continue an arts program,” Ms. Lieu told Daily Independent in July. “This is a two-year planned grant and, as long as we fulfilled what was needed in the first one, we were likely to get the second one. We’re supposed to eventually be able to compare the two years of the program and demonstrate growth.”

The second-year grant, approved by the arts commission as part of its Strengthening Schools Through Arts Partnership Grant program, provided approximately $13,700 last year, which was spent on materials, artists’ fees, administration and evaluation of the grant program, Ms. Lieu explained.

For programs like hers and Ms. Whitlocks, more good news may be on the way, since Ariz. Gov. Doug Ducey has pledged to inject $2 million in new funding for arts organization statewide as part of his 2020 budget proposal.

Officials at the arts commission say they’re eager for the help.

“The Arizona Commission on the Arts is pleased to report that the Governor’s proposed balanced budget for FY2021 includes $2 million to fund grants in support of arts and arts education programs across the state,” the nonprofit advocacy group stated at their website. “The board and staff of the arts commission are grateful to Governor Ducey for his support of the arts and those who contribute so much to the beauty, vitality and identity of Arizona communities.”

The commission directed grant funding to dozens of organizations across Arizona last year.

Of the group’s eight grant programs, two — the Festival Grant and the Community Investment Grant — have application deadlines upcoming in March.

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