Art projects, events abound; Leaders, agencies partner to bring projects, programs to communities

WHAM Art Association Executive Director Connie Whitlock, right, fills in negative space while WHAM member Wayne Fodl paints in the ribbons of comedy and tragedy masks as part of an initiative by the city of Peoria to revitalize Old Town Peoria, March 21, at the intersection of 83rd Drive and Washington Avenue. Expect more painted intersections in the coming month. [Jacob Stanek/Independent Newsmedia]

By Matt Roy and Phillip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia

Like myriad colorful wildflowers now blooming across the state, a veritable bouquet of arts projects and events are sprouting up throughout the West Valley this spring.

Leaders and agencies are partnering on a variety of efforts, including public art installations, festivals and a student art contest.

Peoria officials are working to bring artists and community members together to design and paint five intersection projects.

The first project has been completed and features the creation of artists Connie Whitlock — executive director of the WHAM Community Arts Center in Surprise — and Margaret Lieu — a Peoria Unified teacher who also serves on the city of Surprise Arts & Cultural Advisory Commission.

They worked together with high school students at the Peoria Flex Academy and Peoria Accelerated High School to paint the intersection at 83rd Drive and Washington Avenue with a design featuring the masks of comedy and tragedy in homage to the nearby Peoria Center for the Performing Arts.

“The goal is to engage the community in working together to create something that they can enjoy and to create a sense of pride for the community,” said Peoria Arts and Events Manager Marylou Stephens.

Installation of the artistic projects will continue with plans for four more intersection paintings through May.

Each will feature the work of local artists and some traffic restrictions may apply:

  • April 12-14, 84th Avenue and Jefferson Street; artists Charith and Michael Denson and Arnold Guerrero
  • April 27-28, 84th Avenue and Washington Street; artists Martha Wolfe and Heather Young
  • April 28-May 2, 83rd Avenue and Washington Street; artist Melissa Zimmer
  • April 28-May 2, 83rd Avenue and Jefferson Street; artists Lance Linderman and Timmy Ham

Once these projects are completed, the city plans to host a community celebration to showcase the new art.

The project is a part of the city’s placemaking initiative intended to activate areas in Peoria that uplift and connect people. It is described as an aesthetic effort to attract businesses, residents and outsiders alike.

Ms. Stephens said some of the placemaking initiatives are part of the overall Old Town revitalization plan, which has included free performances, such as the Music on the Plaza series, monthly Food Trucks at the Distillery, as well as the Peoria Arts & Cultural Festival.

“The recent addition of a musical instrument park in Osuna Park is another example of placemaking that supports fun and interactive arts and cultural experiences,” she said. “Street painting has caught attention nationwide as a way to enhance the visuals of an area and bring the community together around a fun and engaging art project.

Peoria officials are also participating in IN FLUX, a temporary art program, along with five other area cities including Glendale, Chandler, Scottsdale, Tempe and Phoenix.

The program gives emerging artists a chance to create in a public arena while being guided by their respective city arts coordinators. The creations will be installed for one year and then the process will start again with new artists.

Artist Eliza Weber was selected to create a ceramic sculpture, entitled Cotton Bale, which commemorates Peoria’s local past. This sculpture will be installed Thursday, April 11 outside the library at 8463 W. Monroe St., Peoria.

Artist Bobby Zokaites was selected to create a painted metal sculpture, entitled Yucca Oraxlie, a whimsical Dr. Seuss-inspired creation. His sculpture will be installed outside the Sunrise Mountain Library, 21109 N. 98th Ave., Peoria.

Northwest Valley Connect

Not far from Old Town Peoria, Northwest Valley Connect, a non-profit transit services organization serving area seniors, recently installed a large wall mural at the group’s headquarters, 9445 N. 99th Ave., Peoria.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was hosted there on April 3 to unveil the project, which was designed by local artist Heather Young, whose intersection design – created in collaboration with Martha Wolfe – will be installed April 27-28 at 84th Avenue and Washington Street in Peoria.

Ms. Young donated her time for the NVC mural, which features the organization’s logo over a brightly colored map of the West Valley, according to NVC Board Chairwoman Bonnie Boyce-Wilson.

She said the mural project was funded in part by a $3,500 grant from the city of Peoria Arts Council and completed following an 18-month process.

“We went over and did a presentation to them and they’ve been very supportive of NVC,” Ms. Boyce-Wilson said. “We heard they were doing these grants, so we applied and sent in the application and got approved.”

Part of the mural design includes the outline of a transit bus drawn with individual painted handprints, added to the wall mural by students from Ombudsman Charter Northwest, she said.

“We had kids come over from a charter school and they put on gloves and put paint handprints on that outline,” Ms. Boyce-Wilson said.

As part of an ongoing community effort, attendees at NVC’s Motors and Meals event, hosted in Sun City West in November 2018, painted colorful designs on truck tires, which were installed to serve as planters along the base of the mural with the charter school students’ help.

WHAM expansion

Ms. Whitlock said her organization is discussing options with city officials to expand their arts programs into Peoria.

“WHAM intends to move into a building in Peoria this year to expand services there,” Ms. Whitlock said. “This would include arts classes, a clay studio for the public, classes for vets, those with special needs and teens. Won’t be looking to put a gallery there, but we’re looking to bring more arts education into Old Town Peoria.”

Learn more about WHAM classes and events, as well as volunteer opportunities, at www.wham-art-org.

Arts contest, festival

Ms. Whitlock’s organization is also partnering with U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-District 8) to host the annual United States House of Representatives Congressional Art Competition for Arizona District 8, which encompasses parts of Glendale, Peoria, Surprise, Litchfield Park, Goodyear, Waddell, New River and the Sun Cities.

Entries are due by Tuesday, April 16 and the contest is open to students in grades 9-12 who live in District 8. Students from 22 area schools are already participating, Mr. Whitlock said.

The first-place entry from District 8 will have their art displayed at the U.S. Capitol for one year, while the second-place entry will be displayed at Ms. Lesko’s Congressional office.

Visit to learn more about the contest.

WHAM has also partnered with the Dysart Unified School District to host a gallery of contest entries and an award reception 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. April 24-27 at the Valley Vista High School Performing Arts Center, 15550 N. Parkview Place, Surprise.

A week prior, the school district hosts its annual Festival of the Arts 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, April 20 also at Vista High School.

The free event will include music, dance and theater performances, an art show, mural project, chalk exhibit, arts & crafts fair and food trucks.

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