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A look back on the arts in 2023 — and how we invest in their future for 2024

This year is coming to a rapid end. The Show is taking a look back on how 2023 played out and took a closer look at the year in the arts.

It was a comeback year for the arts in Arizona in many ways, though, Catrina Kahler says the ongoing impacts of the pandemic are still being felt.

Kahler is the CEO of Artlink, a nonprofit that connects artists, business and community, and she told The Show the word of the year in the Phoenix arts scene is collaboration.

When it comes to the big arts institutions in town — from the Phoenix Art Museum to the Phoenix Symphony — she said, 2023 has been all about the influx of new leaders who seem to really want to put down roots in our community and build.

When it comes to the rest of the arts community in the Valley, which is vast, she says it was all about working together.

Full interview

CATRINA KAHLER: You know, I think in the most positive sense, I mean, if looking back helped us think differently, I think the most positive outcome of the pandemic was the openness to work together and to collaborate or at the very least, even if it didn't reach a level of real collaboration, it was the idea that a group show is stronger, you know, a a group activity has not just the power of bringing an audience together.

I mean, just the actual like, you know that that the logistics of putting on a show, right? More people are going to come to a show when there are more people involved in presenting work, right? But the the partnerships and the relationships that come out of these activities are also very powerful.

And so I think there's, there's an openness for people coming together and being, being in a group show and collaborative events, et cetera, et cetera.

I mean, that makes sense on a local level, like really collaborating is, is a good way to go. This goes for businesses as well though now, even more so than it maybe did in the past.

KAHLER: Absolutely. For years, we've been talking about how we want people to recognize that this, there's so much talent here in this community and really kind of prime the pump, you know, get people excited that there's something to be found here and supported and you know, what we found over time, slowly but surely it's less, you know, it takes less convincing.

I think that talent is becoming more visible and when that happens, it's inevitably, sorry to bring in the business side of it, it's more marketable, too. And so from a business and artists relationship, I mean, there are layers to this, right? There's the big business wanting to work with artists to commission work, things like that. And then there are the smaller businesses where literally, I mean, it could be retailers that this is literally their business model to sell interesting things.

I mean, the, you know, For the People, Dialog team, they're all about that, of Practical Art. I mean, MADE [Art Boutique], I mean, you can't, you can't mention or talk about or celebrate the arts and culture community without including art-supporting businesses.

It's really critically important for the small business and these creative businesses to support artists especially here where there are so few galleries.

Yeah, let's talk about galleries, right? Because there used to be more and we've seen so many come and go. And in terms of like concentrating them, you used to see a lot on Roosevelt Row, that's not really true anymore. Is it, is it about creating these arts districts like Grand Avenue maybe being the next one or something like that in order to create sort of a an ecosystem of galleries?

KAHLER: My personal view of galleries has changed over the years, not the, not the viability of a gallery or the significance or how I mean, truly significant it is to have strong galleries in any arts and culture community.

I mean, obviously a shout out Lisa Suti and Bentley Calverley that have been, you know, flagships in Roosevelt Row. Modified Arts is still there. I mean, FOUND:RE Hotel, I mean a nontraditional gallery, but they operate as a gallery, you know, throughout the first floor of their hotel, you know, the galleries are still present.

But when we, for so long, Lauren, it's, it's funny for so long when we've talked about galleries, it's, you know, we've lamented the idea that there aren't that many. And what's funny if you compare downtown Phoenix to other downtowns and other cities you start to see, you know, more differences than just the fact that there are fewer galleries. I mean, where are the bakeries? Do we have a salumi? I mean, I mean, do we have a, you know, a wine shop in every corner?

I mean, we have the coffee shops, but it's like, you know, when it comes to a business having an actual space to sell a good, and in this case, art, it takes a volume of population that is focused on that product. And in no way, and I'm not trying to like talk about art as a product. That's not what I'm saying. It's just that as we're talking about the success of galleries, what are we as a community doing to tune the population in to the idea that they should be buying art.

Is it chicken and egg here, like can you build it and they will come in order to create this kind of culture here? This is entirely what you do. I know, I mean, when you're talking about a developing like young city like Phoenix, like where do you begin? And can you lead people there?

KAHLER: I think the young city, I mean, Phoenix being described as a young city is a really key thing. We, we can, we can never overlook that. There's been this focus on how Phoenix is a transient community and, you know, people move here and you know, but they are their favorite things and their spending and their legacy and the philanthropy is out of town. And that's changing more and more, which is a really good thing. That's like step one, right? What we're really saying when we say that is that people are living here and they're investing in where they live. Yay.

So, so OK, that's OK if that's like level one, you know what is level two look like? And it's, and that's where with this some of this change that we're talking about. As Phoenix grows, I mean, Phoenix is growing and there's an influx of new residents coming in, you know, every month and every year, what are we tuning them into?

And so if those of us who are really like, invested in, in the arts and culture community and really want the city and the population of the city to be proud of this community, it's not just a one-way conversation, it's not just the artists are talented, the arts and culture community is strong. We need to go out into the community and convert some hearts.

How do you do it?

KAHLER: We have to think like they think, right. That's right. I mean, it's very tricky if there are people here most of the time they're working, they're working at either small or large businesses. These businesses are, are level one partners of ours. We want to get in front of these businesses and help educate them on the talent that's here. People sometimes think that we talk with business representatives because that's who we'd prefer to hang out with. And the fact of the matter is that's our target audience

Because that's where the people are.

KAHLER: That's where the people are.

So what are you looking forward to in 2024?

KAHLER: When I think about 2024, I'm looking forward to a bit more clarity. I think the past couple of years for all of the obvious reasons, it's been in more of an emergence from the the we'll say cocoon of the, of the pandemic, right? Where we, we came, we came out of this phase and we started to get our legs under us again, we started to figure out how to work together again. We started to focus on our businesses and organizations.

And so as we go into 2024, there's this time where we can think a bit more clearly and intentionally about putting new habits to good use and to also recognize some of the changes that have been quietly happening behind the scenes when people are recalibrating and trying to figure things out.

It's done quietly, and the results of that, right, it's the, it's the bloom of the flower after the seed has been planted. That's what I'm hoping to see in 2024.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.