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How Arizona, land of extreme politics and heat, became a public art mecca

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Wednesday, August 30, 2023 - 11:14am
Updated: Wednesday, August 30, 2023 - 5:54pm

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When you think of cities that are full of great art, you probably think of Paris, New York City, Los Angeles or Mexico City. However, when it comes to public art, the Phoenix metro area is actually a leader.

Grand at Papago by Marky Lucking in Tempe, AZ.
Aaron Rothman
Grand at Papago by Marky Lucking in Tempe, AZ.

From Phoenix to Mesa to Tempe to Sky Harbor Airport, cities in our region have invested heavily in public art — and it shows. Here, you’ll find metalwork creating shadow play over transit stations, mosaics brightening up irrigation standpipes, dancing sculptures amid the foot traffic of downtown Phoenix, and even a massive Paolo Soleri-designed sundial bridge looming over a Scottsdale canal.

How did a place known nationally mostly for its searing summer heat and divisive politics come to be a mecca of public art?

To find out, The Show sat down with Rebecca Blume Rothman, the manager of public art for the City of Tempe, and longtime public artist and architect Matt Salenger, whose firm, coLAB studio has created some of the many innovative public arts projects here in the Valley. 

Matt Salenger and Rebecca Rothman
Lauren Gilger/KJZZ
Matt Salenger and Rebecca Rothman

The conversation began with answering what is public art and what's it for?

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