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Community art exhibit brings fresh views on neighborhoods

February 11, 2013

Neighborhoods are more than just trees, trails and rails. They are living, breathing entities that call communities to gather and connect around shared experiences.

This is the essence of Neighborhood Stories: A Community Art Exhibition, now open in the University Center on Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix campus. Organized by the College of Public Programs’ “Action, Advocacy, Arts” series, the new public art exhibit showcases the work of 40 visual artists along bustling hallways filled with students, faculty members, staff and visitors.

“Neighborhoods offer a powerful conduit for people of all ages and from all walks of life,” said Carrie Tovar, art program coordinator with the College of Public Programs. “Through this exhibit, we’re able to view and experience that connection in a variety of ways,” she said.

“We are pleased to bring this community project to the Downtown Phoenix campus and larger community, placing art created by working professionals alongside emerging and youth artists,” Tovar added.

The exhibition, which runs through June 22, is displayed on the first, second and third floors of the University Center, 411 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, and features 57 works of art submitted for the exhibit in response to a community-wide call to artists.

“We invited artists of all ages to create paintings, drawings, and works of mixed media that explore their own backyards, the things they see every day, and the world they hope for,” Tovar said.

The exhibit is a celebration of the history, character and nuances of the places we call home as depicted in artist Oscar Garcia, Jr.’s piece, “The Old Man and the Pigeons.” In elegant earth tones, Garcia’s “old man” is a neighborhood icon, seated alone on a park bench, enjoying a cool beverage and feeding the pigeons as the world passes by.

Artist Steve Malakowsky and photographer Anna Dufek, with Hope thru Art, have been placing art on fences in neighborhoods that are often ignored due to poverty, addiction, gangs and prostitution. In their piece, “Hope” Malakowsky and Dufek have documented their work in transforming uninviting chain-link fences into outdoor galleries adorned with compelling photographs, poetry and words of inspiration.

The artists said the response to their “disposable” neighborhood art has been so positive that they plan to take it all over the U.S. in 2013.

In her piece, “Mi Vida”, Joelstine Gonzaga, a student at Skyline Prep High School, provides a meditation on graffiti and the people of color in her neighborhood in shades of purple, green and blue.

“I used a good deal of color in my piece to represent the differences in my community,” said Gonzaga, who was one of five young artists from Chandler’s Skyline Prep who contributed artwork for display in the exhibit, along with their teacher, Kelly Cordalis.

Cordalis said he wanted to submit his students’ art as an opportunity for them to feel pride in an accomplishment.

“Our school is trying to build a culture of excellence in academics, arts and athletics; the art exhibit was the perfect way to help us move toward achieving this goal,” Cordalis said.

“It was also cool that it was a call to artists instead of an art contest,” he added. “I prefer not to have students compete at art, because I believe art is about personal expression and doesn’t necessarily have winners and losers.”

The Action, Advocacy, Arts Gallery provides community organizations and individuals the opportunity to share valuable stories through the visual arts with more than 8,000 people. Neighborhood Stories is part of a larger and ongoing community exhibition featured throughout the University Center building.

The gallery is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except for holidays. Guided tours may be arranged by contacting Tovar at