Phoenix writer explores impact of community art in ASU lecture

September 10, 2015

Phoenix native Joey Robert Parks believes in his hometown.

“I believe Phoenix will become one of the world’s greatest cities in which to invest, innovate and live,” said Parks, the writer and social entrepreneur whose community art project “26 Blocks” will serve as the launch point for an ASU panel discussion at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Sept. 17. The event kicks off the Arizona State University College of Letters and Sciences’ annual Humanities Lecture Series and is co-sponsored by ASU’s Project Humanities, "26 Blocks," and the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel. 26 Blocks Phoenix logo A panel of professional Phoenix photographers and writers organized by Joey Robert Parks, the founder of the "26 Blocks" community art project, kicks off the 2015-2016 Humanities Lecture Series at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 17, at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel. Photo by: "26 Blocks" / Joey Robert Parks Download Full Image

“Phoenix is on the rise in a big way. The amount of innovation going on here is astounding,” continued Parks, who finds the change in the downtown and midtown areas over the past decade especially energizing. “The growth is not hype. Our time in history is tangible and real.”

In 2010 Parks set to work on a community art project that would draw people in to celebrate and interact with the city from fresh perspectives — and would contribute to the sense of community among those who are passionate about Phoenix and its revitalization.

“I’m driven by wanting to pull people together and also want people to be inspired by their city,” he said.

Parks enlisted the collaboration of 26 photographers and 26 writers, who were paired off and challenged to showcase something about the past, present or imagined future of one of 26 randomly selected blocks in downtown Phoenix. Using the final picture and accompanying story for each city block, a sculptor then created yet another layer of meaning by creating 26 small wooden blocks inspired by each of the 26 displays.

For the Humanities Lecture Series, Parks has invited three of his collaborators and another photographer to discuss their craft, community art in general and lessons from “26 Blocks” specifically.

John Beckett, advertising, catalog and fashion photographer
Sally Ball, poet and associate professor of creative writing at ASU
Scott Baxter, fine art photographer
Ellen Barnes, fashion/lifestyle photographer

Ball, Baxter and Barnes all participated in the “26 Blocks” project.

Panelists will address questions such as: What does it take to make a community art project fly? Why are there so few women in the world of commercial photography? Why were there no black creatives in “26 Blocks”? What lessons from the Phoenix program should Parks consider as he works to establish parallel projects and identify creative talent in other cities?

The “26 Blocks” exhibit debuted in May 2010, toured extensively in downtown Phoenix for 14 months, and has been on display in the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel’s lower lobby since January. It will remain there for hotel guests and the general public to enjoy through January 2018.

“For Phoenix visitors, the free exhibit offers a glimpse into the heart and soul of the city, beyond what they might have time to experience, and may also inspire exploration of the blocks and spaces featured in the exhibit,” said College of Letters and Sciences’ principal lecturer Mirna Lattouf, who organizes the Humanities Lecture Series.

“For those of us who live here, the project invites us to make meaning of our own experiences with Phoenix and think about the history, energy and juxtapositions that make life here special,” she said.

When the exhibit opened at the hotel, a “Renaissance Bonus Block” was added to the installation, centered on the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel. It featured a new photographer, new writer and the same sculptor. Parks is now working with an illustrator to create postcard-size art that connects to each of the 26 blocks, adding them every few months to a large downtown Phoenix map on one wall of the exhibit.  

Parks’ continued passion, indeed obsession, for this work might best be summed up in the words of “26 Blocks” contributing writer Walt Lockley, whose piece for Block Z of the project described an innate longing: “People need to know their cities. They gravitate to the center, looking for something to hold on to, an emotional center to wrap their arms and minds around.”

Other upcoming lectures in this series:

In October and November, the ASU’s Humanities Lecture Series will feature:

•Oct. 22, Matthew McCarthy, ASU W. P. Carey School of Business:
“Technology, eBooks: A Story of Redemption and Meanings”

•Nov. 5, Robert Bjork, ASU Department of English:
“Epic of Beowulf of the Many Faces and Meanings”

The October and November lectures will be held on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication/KAET Channel 8 (CRONK), room 128. The lectures begin at 6:30 p.m. and are free and open to the public.

Maureen Roen

Director of Communications, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


ASU Insight: Should the United States be the World’s Policeman?

September 10, 2015

On Thursday, September 10, The McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University hosted the debate at the Burke Theatre at the Navy Memorial, in Washington. The question brought forward was: “Should the United States be the World’s Policeman?” seated panel discussion Should the United States be the World’s policeman? Download Full Image

The debate centered upon the relative strengths and weaknesses of U.S. leadership in the world, and whether U.S. decision makers should use the significant military, economic and diplomatic resources at their disposal to continue shaping and arbitrating events in the international system.



Julianne Smith, Senior Fellow and Director of Strategy Statecraft Program, Center for New American Security

Tom Donnelly, Resident Fellow and Co-Director of the Marilyn Ware Centre for Security Studies


Richard Burt, Chairman of the National Interest Advisory Board

Elizabeth Cobbs, Melbern Glasscock Chair, Texas A&M University

Moderating the debate

Jon Decker, White House Correspondent at Fox News Radio


Arguments in favor of the United States being the world’s policeman:

  • Historical evidence suggests that the United States policing of the world has been an unprecedented success. Since WWII U.S. leadership has brought prosperity and stability to its shores and those of its allies; it was instrumental in rebuilding Europe and containing the Soviet threat throughout the second half of the 20th century. This points to a compelling moral necessity for U.S. leadership.
  • If not the US, then who? The UN and other international organizations have been a largely ineffectual in establishing stability and security. There is no viable alternative without U.S. policing.
  • It is in the national interest to preserve the liberal economic and political order that has been built since 1945. The United States should remain in a global leadership role to prevent emerging threats, especially China and Russia, from challenging it.

Arguments against the United States being the world's policeman:

  • The United States must adapt to changing contexts and stop states from freeriding under its security umbrella. In the post-WWII context there was a clear need for U.S. leadership; it was the only great power with the material capacity to reconstruct a devastated Europe and challenge the imperial visions of the Soviet Union. In 1947 the United States had to ‘jump to the rescue’ and ‘act as umpire’. Today, however, the picture is very different. There are more democracies and fewer conflicts that ever before. The case for U.S. leadership has diminished and regions should assume responsibility for their own security.
  • The United States has suffered from the overextension of its resources and capital. It must begin to scale down its engagement and prioritize between its core and periphery interests.
  • Democracy promotion is a quandary that the United States has stumbled in too often. Since the Cold War, US foreign policy has dealt poorly with civil wars, failed states and peace building. The ability of the United States to arbitrate international events effectively has slipped.
  • The doctrine of liberal intervention is fruitless. Instead of prioritizing hard power, U.S. decision makers should favor diplomacy and soft power. The United States should no longer coerce but persuade.


Julianne Smith highlighted that isolationism is a cyclical occurrence in U.S. foreign policy, and that, ultimately, having the United States in a leadership role is a global interest. Ms. Smith concluded that future policy should reinforce the United States’ unique leadership role. In terms of soft and hard power, the United States should continue to bring innovation, capacity, drive, risk-taking and coalition building.

Thomas Donnelly advocated safeguarding the U.S.-lead liberal order and the values it entails. Mr. Donnelly argued that weakening U.S. leadership is a choice that will compromise this system.

Richard Burt did not challenge the notion of U.S. leadership itself. Instead, he argued that future policy should adhere to a tightly defined national interest. All policy should strictly reflect these national priorities. Ambassador Burt made the point that military force should be considered in conjunction with economic and political priorities.

Elizabeth Cobbs said the United States should aim to be part of a system in which it is not the only pillar guaranteeing order. Dr. Cobbs called for U.S. leadership to share the burden of spreading peace and security with its regional partners.

Ken Fagan

Videographer, ASU News