Public art explores portraiture with community artists

February 12, 2014

A portrait can take many forms. It can express thoughts, relationships, memory and even community.

The public art exhibition “Portrait of a Community” showcases the work of more than 75 community visual artists in the University Center on Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix campus. The exhibit includes community art from working professionals alongside emerging young artists. hanging origami cranes Download Full Image

Organized by the College of Public Programs’ Action, Advocacy, Arts series, the public art exhibit provides community organizations and individuals the opportunity to share valuable visual art stories with more than 8,000 people in the downtown ASU community.

The exhibit will run through May 9, and is displayed on the first, second and third floors of ASU’s University Center at 411 N. Central Ave. The vibrant and dynamic exhibition features more than 115 works of art submitted in response to a community-wide call to artists. Submitted works stretch along the busy and bustling hallways filled with students, faculty, staff and visitors.

“We have drawings of cities, parks, imaginary landscapes, what you hoped your community would be, and really traditional portraits,” says Carrie Tovar, curator of art for the College of Public Programs. “These are the people who live in our community. It’s a great juxtaposition.”


The exhibit explores portraiture on an individual and community-wide level. Artists of all ages submitted 2-D and 3-D visual representations of the buildings, homes, landscapes and people in their community. Canvases filled with abstract clay shapes jut out from hallway walls amid hand-drawn maps and hanging collages.

“Portraits can be of all different kinds of things. It can be a portrait of a human, or a likeness of an individual, but when you think of portrait of a community, it’s also a portrait of the place you live,” Tovar says.

The “Action, Advocacy, Arts” program uses the arts as a central vehicle to build relationships among the community and ASU students, faculty and staff.

“The art here is visible to staff, faculty and students in the ASU community, but the exhibits also help us find our place within the greater downtown neighborhood by asking community artists to participate,” Tovar says, adding that the “Action, Advocacy, Arts” program has allowed the College of Public Programs to form relationships with the greater Phoenix community, including individual artists, schools and nonprofit organizations.


Artist Tasili Epperson’s portraits, “Grandpa Jim” and “Momma Yakka” capture the overlooked beauties of everyday life. Her oil painting reflects shadows on a face, freckles dancing on a shoulder, wrinkles and furrowed brows.

Epperson, who graduated from ASU with a bachelor's degree in painting and drawing, chose to participate in the exhibit because community plays a large role in her work.

“I wanted to share my perspective on the importance of relationships with others. I am deeply fascinated by humans and relationships, and this exhibit honors the sacred nature of humans in a community,” Epperson says.

Artist Caiti Benefiel has several art works in the exhibit: “Essence of Music,” “Wild Heart,” “Flawless Imperfections,” “Dana Point, CA” and “Self Portrait.”

“When I saw the theme of the exhibit, I had immediate inspiration to create pieces that helped people see these things in a different way,” Benefiel says. “The Community Arts Program has given me the opportunity to have my art seen by a wide range of people. It has also given me the opportunity to discover other local artists and see what the community is doing as a whole.”

Charisse Warsco chose to display her Dia de los Muertos mask line made with the community in mind.

“These designs were inspired by the community, molding their meanings to whatever member stands in front of them,” Warsco says. “When I design a mask, I am more interested in creating an experience, and I let each mask become a vessel to these new places.”

Art teacher Farhana Shifa Ahmed has two works in the exhibit – “Desert Beauty” and “Women of Many Religions” – along with others from her students.

Ahmed said the opportunity to display her work along with her students helped her be proactive in her teaching of diversity, celebrating communities and viewing the world with a new perspective.

“ASU's all-inclusive art program helps budding artists to come forward, emerging artists to teach new messages … children to gain confidence to express themselves,” Ahmed says. “I believe this is a wonderful initiative of ASU that will slowly but surely make changes in people's lives.”

The gallery is free to view and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, except for holidays. Guided tours may be arranged by contacting Carrie Tovar at For more on Action, Advocacy, Arts, visit

Written by Adrianna Ovnicek

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Foundation awarded $1M for ASU-accelerated companies

February 12, 2014

The Maricopa County Industrial Development Authority (MCIDA) has awarded a $1 million grant to the ASU Foundation for A New American University to create a venture capital fund. The fund will be invested in companies that benefit from ASU-supported accelerator programs, helping them take the next step in their development with early-stage manufacturing start-up support.

Accessing this early-stage risk capital will allow Arizona companies and entrepreneurs to create jobs and wealth. This is in keeping with the mission of the MCIDA, to create and maintain jobs within Maricopa County and help residents achieve a better standard of living and way of life. exterior view of ASU SkySong Download Full Image

“When the IDA partners with ASU, it makes both organizations stronger,” said David Adame, president of the authority. “One of the fundamental goals of the IDA is to spur economic development with a focus on job creation. This agreement with ASU will help improve the fiscal health of our community.”

“Maricopa County is excited to join with ASU to help emerging businesses develop into sustainable companies and promote job growth in the county," said Denny Barney, chairman of the Maricopa Board of Supervisors who represents District 1. "This partnership demonstrates our commitment to investing in the long-term, sustainable growth of Maricopa County.”

The venture capital fund was developed by the ASU Foundation and two university initiatives – the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group and ASU’s technology transfer arm, Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE).

This evergreen fund will take small equity positions in each company that receives investment capital in transactions ranging from $50,000 to $250,000. EIG and AzTE will select companies for investment through a process developed in consultation with donors. Final approval will be given by a selection committee.

As a company matures and realizes liquidity, proceeds will flow back to the fund to be re-invested in future companies. ASU’s goal is to build the fund to $10 million through private donations.

“This fund is the next step in ASU’s evolution of the knowledge enterprise model," said R.F. “Rick” Shangraw Jr., CEO of the ASU Foundation. "We are able to advance entrepreneurship through our ASU accelerators – Furnace Technology Transfer, ASU Startup, Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative – then support the results with venture capital that will allow them to expand and achieve.

“We’re grateful to MCIDA for recognizing the value of supporting Arizona-based entrepreneurship through ASU,” Shangraw added. “We look forward to using this grant to fund manufacturing companies that will contribute to the public good of our community and our state.”

The Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group at ASU helps innovators, inventors, ideators and entrepreneurs launch for-profit and more-than-profit ventures. The joint initiative between ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development and AzTE serves as the hub for entrepreneurial activity at ASU, and is based at ASU SkySong in Scottsdale. Over three years, the unit has grown to encompass not just startup acceleration, but a range of entrepreneurship-related activities across the university, the metro area and the state. This fiscal year, EIG will support more than 70 startups.

“More than half the startups we have worked with over the last two and a half years have been manufacturing-related, and this new fund will support their growth and development as job and wealth creators,” said Gordon McConnell, associate vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation in the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development and a general partner of the new fund.

In 10 years, AzTE has supported the launch and development of 67 ASU spinoff companies. Spinoffs based on ASU-developed technologies raised $68 million in external funding during the 2013 fiscal year. Altogether, companies licensing ASU discoveries have raised nearly $400 million in venture funding since AzTE’s creation in 2003.

“A healthy venture capital industry is a key part of a robust startup ecosystem,” said Charles Lewis, AzTE vice president for venture development, and a general partner of the new fund. “This generous gift from MCIDA will help ASU to start and grow this fund for the benefit of entrepreneurs.”

Media contact:
Amelia Huggins
Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development

Copy writer, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College