Arizona Artbeat: 26 Blocks Photography Exhibit

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We’ll take you to a photography exhibit that has an out-of-the-box approach in portraying 26 randomly selected Phoenix city blocks.

TED SIMONS: Tonight's edition of Arizona Artbeat highlights an exhibit at the Renaissance Hotel that allows for a look at Phoenix in a whole new light. Producer Shana Fischer and photographer Kyle Mounce take us on a tour of 26 Blocks.

SHANA FISCHER: On the lower level of the Renaissance Hotel is an exhibit that's a road map of Phoenix's history and its future.

JOEY PARKS: 26 blocks is a collaborative art project. It's 26 writers, 26 photographers all teamed up into 26 teams and put on 26 city blocks.

SHANA FISCHER: The end result is an unflinching look at the city that has grown for good or bad into what it is today. The photographs and accompanying essays focus on 26 random blocks in downtown Phoenix. The photographers and writers collaborated on what to shoot and what to write to best represent their block.

WAYNE RAINEY: You're loving this aren't you?

SHANA FISCHER: Wayne owns a downtown art gallery and Megan were assigned the block that was occupied by the Renaissance Hotel. Rainey wanted to photograph the bartender.

WAYNE RAINEY: I don't think it took us any time at all to come to the decision that it would be Ronda. I mean, she not only is symbolic of the history here but she participated in it as well and she really created a lot of it.

SHANA FISCHER: And Ronda does have a long history with the hotel. Her first day on the job was July 3rd, 1975. Back then, the Renaissance was known as the Adams.

RHONDA BESTON: Oh, downtown has changed. When I first started working here in 1975, there was still the stores, Newberry's and Woolworth's and through those years, it started kind of going down and businesses were moving out of the city. And now in the last 10 years with ASU and with light rail, downtown Phoenix is becoming a big city now. You're proud to be down here because there's things, the theater, restaurants, bars to go to so it's changed, unbelievable.

SHANA FISCHER: For Rainey, the challenge proved to be where to photograph Ronda.

WAYNE RAINEY: We thought about shooting her in the environment where she's most comfortable, which is behind the bar but that just seemed too... I don't know it seemed a little bit too plain. It seemed not to pack any of the metaphorical punch we were looking for. So we just looked around the block a bit and eventually, we ended up on the roof.

RHONDA BESTON: It was incredible. I mean, you could see for miles and miles and I was like oh, my god! Here I am, 40 years I'm on top of the hotel. It doesn't get any better than that.

SHANA FISCHER: For Finnerty, writing about Ronda was like writing a master's thesis. She used to be on the night life and events beat at the newspaper.

MEGAN FINNERTY: One of my big curiosities is how do we combat loneliness in our culture? That's her full-time job. She's not a person who makes drinks. She makes people feel welcome and ergo less lonely even if they're far from home or they don't know anyone in town. I can't think of a more important job, okay baby brain surgeon but other than that.

SHANA FISCHER: 26 Blocks is the brain child of ghost writer Joey Robert Parks. He wanted to find a way to draw people to the burgeoning metropolis, but in a way that also made people think.

JOEY PARKS: The whole idea of the project was to show different perspectives and so they had to think of a way to celebrate the city, right? Celebrate creatives and the city as a whole.

SHANA FICHSER: Parks also brought on a sculptor Raphael Navaro. He took small blocks of wood and created tableaus to go with the photos and essays.

RAPHAEL NAVARO: It was kind of difficult because some were empty lots so from that I had to look at the writing or the photography and come up with an idea. A lot of times there were details on the architecture so I used those details on the sculptures.

SHANA FISCHER: The details captured by all the creatives is the glue that holds the exhibit together, an exhibit that is a labor of love, an ode to the city they call home, a city you'll never look at the same way again.

MEGAN FINNERTY: This is a window into a reality or a part of the city's reality that you don't have access to until this art project opens that door for you.

TED SIMONS: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thanks for joining us. You have a great evening.

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you. "Artbeat Nation" is made possible in part by the Flynn foundation, supporting the advancement of arts and culture in Arizona.

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