26 Blocks

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26 Blocks is an exhibit highlighting 26 blocks of downtown Phoenix in a unique way.

JOSE CARDENAS: Inside the Renaissance Hotel is an art exhibit that will help you discover Phoenix in a whole new light. Producer Shanna Fischer and photographer Kyle Mounce take you on a tour of 26 blocks.

SHANNA FISCHER: On the lower level of the renaissance hotel, exhibit that is a road map of Phoenix's history and its future.

JOEY ROBERT 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.

SHANNA 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: Loving this, aren't you? That's the way. Good.

SHANNA FISCHER: Wayne Rainey and Megan Finnerty were assigned the block occupied by the renaissance hotel. He knew he wanted to photograph Rhonda beston the bartender.

WAYNE RAINEY: I don't think it took us any time to come to the decision it would be Rhonda. Symbolic of the history, and she participated into it as well.

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

RHONDA BESTON: Downtown has changed. When I first started working here, still the stores, Newberry's and Woolworth. Businesses were moving out of the city. In the last 10 years, ASU, the light rail, downtown Phoenix is becoming a big city now. You're proud to be down here because there is things, the theater, restaurants, bars to go to. So, it has changed. Unbelievable.

SHANNA FISCHER: For Rainey the challenge proved to be where to photograph Rhonda.

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

SHANNA FISCHER: 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.

SHANNA FISCHER: For Finnerty, writing about Rhonda was like writing a master thesis. She used to be on the night life and event beat at the newspaper.

MEGAN FINNERTY: How do we combat loneliness in the culture? That is like Rhonda's full-time job. She is not really just a person that makes drinks, but full-time job to make people feel welcome when they are far from home or don't know anybody in town. I can't think of a more important job. Okay, baby brain surgeon, but other than that.

SHANNA 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 and also a way to make people think.

JOEY ROBERT PARKS: To show different perspectives. They this to think of a way to celebrate the city, right, celebrate the city as a whole.

SHANNA FISCHER: Parks also brought on sculptor Rafael Navarro. Small blocks of wood --

RAFEAEL NAVARRO: From that I had to look at the writing, the photography and come up with an idea. A lot of times details on the -- I used the details.

SHANNA FISCHER: The details captured by all of the creative is the glue that holds the exhibit together. An exhibit that is a labor of love and 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.

JOSE CARDENAS: 26 blocks is on the lower level of the renaissance hotel. Joey Robert parks is looking to bring 26 blocks to other cities. The exhibition is free.

Bengie Molina

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