Group launches pilot program to bring more public art to Tempe

A group focused on bringing arts into cities valleywide has launched a creative-thinking initiative designed to fuse the arts into the life and surroundings of the residents of south Tempe.

Sculptor Lyle London, left, and Lakes of Tempe founder Arnold Dahlberg were part of a dedication ceremony for a carved egret that welcomes visitors and residents to the long-established community. (Photo courtesy of Lakes Community Association)

By Madeline Johnson

A group focused on bringing arts into cities valleywide has launched a creative-thinking initiative designed to fuse the arts into the life and surroundings of the residents of south Tempe.

The group, part of AZ Creative Communities, plans to use the coming year to plan a pilot program that can be used to integrate the arts into existing parts of the city, specifically in south Tempe where studies show citizens expressing a propensity to feel more connected to the arts in their community.

The concept for the project began in 2015 after the city of Tempe was receiving consistent feedback from south Tempe residents seeking more culture.

“We recognize that there is a need to fill in south Tempe, so we’re working together to come up with what that plan looks like, and connect it to the people,” said Maja Aurora, director of arts engagement for the city.

AZ Creative Communities, which commissions teams to collaborate on arts development, selected four Tempe citizens who are said to be deeply rooted in Tempe’s culture to execute the project for their city.

What makes the project so unique, says Aurora, is the process in which it is funded. Grant funding usually happens after a plan is precisely thought out and ready to be executed, but bringing the project to life in Tempe required a different approach, she said.

The team presented their grant idea with the evidence that showed people of Tempe felt they were lacking a connection to arts and culture. The team plans to use the money and resources to become more knowledgeable about what their city is missing, and the needs of citizens before the project gets to work.

“In this case we’ve flipped it on its head,” Aurora said. “We need to talk about what our community needs and then go through a process of understanding how arts can be incorporated to fill that need, or support that need.”

The project managers are collaborating with Tempe Union High School District and Tempe Arts & Culture Commission to help bring more culture via several different avenues. The team will spend the next year deciding how to incorporate the arts into the city, along with commissioning artists to breathe life into the vision.

Because south Tempe does not offer many traditional locations for art installations, the team is challenged to work creatively to build on the assets Tempe already has.

Though ideas are still in their early stages, according to Aurora, the team has hopes to see arts and culture installations popping up in locations that already have a strong presence in Tempe such as local parks and canal systems.

Madeline Johnson is a sophomore in the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.