Tag Archives: art in unexpected places

Refugee tales

While driving through a parking lot Tuesday morning, I spied a small delivery truck with colorful faces painted on two sides — along with the words “Welcome to America.” This is one of those moments my children dread, because they know two things are about to happen. First, I’m going to whip out my camera. And second, I’m going to go in search of the artist. What I call serendipitous, they consider strange.

Jennifer might have felt differently about this encounter, because I ended up introducing myself to a man who was walking towards the truck — only to discover he’s the driver for an organization called The Welcome to America Project, which delivers donated furniture and other household goods to refugees who have recently located to the Phoenix area.

Turns out there’s a United Nations connection that would fascinate Jennifer, an ASU student in cultural anthroplogy who dreams of working for the U.N. one day. There’s a 9/11 connection too — because The Welcome to America Project was started by Phil and Carolyn Manning after Phil’s brother Terence Manning lost his life in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Seems the Mannings were searching for a way to honor his memory by making a positive difference in the community when they saw the photo of a political refugee family from Afghanistan on a local news report. Each “realized this family sought the same things they did – safety, housing and a future free of fear for their children.” Soon they were collecting clothing and household items on the family’s behalf.

To date, their non-profit organization (described by the truck driver I met as a “mom and pop” operation) has engaged thousands of volunteers in helping 1,200 refugee families. This week they’re scheduled to assist two families originally from Bhutan who lived for many years in Nepal before coming to America, plus a single woman from Sri Lanka who survived a bombing that killed her brother and father.

The Welcome to America Project also holds special events that raise funds for aiding refugees. Last year’s “prom” had a Broadway musical theme, so I’m eager to see what they come up with for the 2012 version, taking place April 21 at the St.  Patrick’s Catholic Community Center in Scottsdale.

They’re kicking off a 2012 Cultural Dinner Series this Sun, March 11, with “A Night in Havana” at Orangewood Church in Phoenix. The event is “is designed to give Phoenix residents a rare glimpse into the complex history and culture of Cuba.” Think “dance performances, poems, cuisine, colorful clothing and firsthand accounts of the struggles and strength of Cuban refugees building new lives here in Arizona.”

Tuesday’s encounter with Jack Bigus (whose business card simply reads “driver”) reinforces a philosophy I’ve long embraced while exploring Arizona arts and culture — Follow the art, Follow your heart.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for information on refugees to the United States from the Cultural Orientation Resource Center

Coming up: More NYC travels

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Art adventures: Phoenix Children’s

One of a pair of prints featuring children's toys

It might seem an odd place for an art adventure, but I uncovered all sorts of paintings, photos and sculpture on a recent visit to the new 11-story tower at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

I swung by the hospital one day after taking Lizabeth to school — and ran into Steve Schnall, a fellow Desert View Learning Center parent and longtime PCH administrator, just outside the cafeteria.

You see art at PCH from the minute elevator doors open

“What happens in the PCH cafeteria,” I thought, “should stay in the PCH cafeteria.” Happily, he was way too busy to witness my carbo binge as I morphed from arts writer to food critic.

I wondered how the pizza and bread sticks would compare with my kids’ favorite pizzeria at the mall, and felt it was my duty to find out. Thumbs up, by the way, for the spicy pepperoni and generous crust.

Giant art piece viewed from a family laundry room on the third floor

I’d have stayed and “done the laptop” all day if I’d been clever enough to access the guest wireless account, but ended up roaming the first couple floors instead — searching for kid-friendly art.

You’ll be happy to know that you won’t get far at PCH without signing in, snagging a visitor pass and such. I learned the hard way after turning my camera loose before connecting with the fine folks who manage such things.

When a volunteer and security guard got to wondering that I was up to, I felt like I’d just time-traveled back to my college days — when museum security guards had to constantly remind me that artwork was for admiring, not touching.

As I sat with a security guard waiting for clearance to finish my photo shoot, I noticed that every single person who walked by one particular piece of art had to touch it.

One of many bright and cheerful conversation areas on the second floor

Instead of shaking a finger, the security guard shared my delight — remarking that the best art invites interaction. Once I was cleared for take-off, he pointed me in the direction of some of his favorite pieces.

The three paintings of coy fish in a 2nd floor waiting area. The two photos of frogs, in brilliant green and purple, tucked away near the back of another clinic’s reception area.

This is the piece on the second floor that folks find so touchable

The rabbit sculpture near one of the tower’s many vast windows overlooking mountains in the distance. The painting of a dog at the wheel of a colorful car.

Turns out he’s an artist who creates some serious oil paintings when he’s not on duty. Thanks to a handy cell phone picture, he was able to show me a photo of a horse painting that looked remarkably expressive and rich in detail and color.

Knowing he was on duty, I didn’t want to inquire any further into his work. But I do hope he’ll contact me one day during his spare time so I can learn more about what seems a fascinating double life.

One of a trio of paintings featuring coy fish

And I have to wonder, how many of the people we encounter each day spend their evening or weekend hours engaged in creative enterprises that never reach our radar?

After penning nearly 500 posts, I still find the world exploding with stories — some obvious, but most tucked away. They’re revealed in chance encounters, authentic conversations and the everyday wonders of our world.

— Lynn

Note: Many Valley hospitals serving children feature child-friendly artwork, so make time to notice and appreciate it next time you’re there.

Coming up: Google meets museum

Towering art exhibit

I drive by all sorts of towers in Phoenix and surrounding cities each day, but there are two that have special meaning. One helped my children begin life. The other helped give them wings.

The first is Good Samaritan Hospital — which I never pass without wondering which of the many windows might mark the rooms where my three children were born, all some two decades or so ago.

The second is the new 11-story tower at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, whose team of medical professionals has cared for my kids for nearly that long. We know the E.R., and plenty of the specialty clinics — from dermatology to gastroenterology — well.

We missed Monday’s opening of the new outpatient clinics because my son, now 21, was having a medical procedure at another site — but he still beams with pride every time we drive by the new Phoenix Children’s tower, knowing it’s part of the hospital that’s sometimes felt like a second home.

I’ll be heading over to Phoenix Children’s Hospital today to see the new tower in all its glory — then heading home to wrap up a piece on the hospital for an upcoming issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

Through the years I’ve covered many a Phoenix Children’s Hospital milestone for the magazine. I’ve marveled at the sight of tiny babies who thrive despite being born before their time and chatted with older children who’ve faced cancer or undergone delicate heart surgery.

I’m eager to return today — but without my children. They’ll all be in class or doing volunteer work, so I can stroll the halls of the newest Phoenix Children’s Hospital tower alone as I consider all it has meant in their young lives.

I’ll likely take my humble camera along to snap photos of the diverse and delightful art young patients and their families will encounter each time they’re at the new tower.

I already know it’s spectacular because I enjoyed a sneak peek several weeks ago with Daniel Friedman — the photographer, visual artist and former teacher whose fresh writing greets you on the magazine’s home page each day.

Watch for future snapshots that I’ll be adding to this post. In the meantime, visit RAK magazine on Facebook to see how the professionals do it — and check out exciting news about what’s new (and coming) on the Phoenix Children’s Hospital website.

— Lynn

Note: Phoenix Children’s Hospital is working on other additions and renovations as it moves toward becoming the nation’s largest hospital dedicated to serving children and teens.

Coming up: More art that heals

Art in the fast lane

This sculpture in downtown Phoenix is by Cliff Garten of L.A.

You might think the Valley METRO light rail system is merely a means for getting from here to there.

But it’s actually an impressive mix of art and science, making an afternoon spent riding the METRO a sort of mobile museum adventure that’s fun for all ages.

Seems the clever folks who design and develop such things strive to combine safety and efficiency with aesthetic elements that promote neighborhood pride and cultural identity.

The Urban Design Task Force that planned and designed the Valley’s first light rail system included local architects, engineers, environmental experts and artists.

Their work was guided in part by more than 100 volunteers working on various panels and committees.

Valley METRO credits the 28 artists involved in creating artwork for various stations with helping to make the light rail a “celebration of place and community.”

Artists hail from around Arizona, and from other states including New York, California, Washington and North Carolina.

You’ll see the diversity of their work as you travel around the Valley via light rail — whether you’re traveling across 19th Avenue, Central Avenue, Washington Street, Apache Boulevard or beyond.

I enjoy "HANDS" by Suikang Zhao of New York each time I travel along Apache Blvd. in Tempe

My own personal favorite is a 21-foot high sculpture titled “Hands” by New York artist Suikang Zhao — which is part of a larger installation (“The Space Between”) created by four artists in collaboration.

I see it each time I drive to and from performances at ASU Gammage, or travel between Scottsdale and Tempe for other purposes — like enjoying Essence Bakery or Changing Hands Bookstore.

You can sneak a peak at various works on the Valley METRO website, but the best way to experience public art is to grab your kiddos and just go. Take a camera, a poetry journal, a sketch pad or just your imaginations.

You’ll see all sorts of themes — like air and water, time and space, language and culture. A large circular sculpture titled “Landmark” at a downtown Phoenix stop reflects “the Hopi belief that life is a circle that we each enter at a particular place.”

Public art is like vegetables. Kids need to know that corn and peas come from the ground, not from a can. And they need to know that the works of art and design we too often take for granted are created by people sharing individual and collective stories and ideas. They don’t just fall from the sky.

You'll see "A Thousand Points of Reference" by Phoenix artist Michael Maglich when you visit Burton Barr Central Library

I’m especially intrigued by the backstory of the Smith-Martin and Apache Metro stop in Tempe, another collaboration of four artists — this one including Dan Corson’s “Carpet of Languages,” which references the 70 languages spoken in the area.

Materials used by these artists range from glazed tiles and sand-cast bronze to red granite and steel railings. While one incorporates a quilt theme, another embraces historical photos of the surrounding community.

It might make for an especially fun outing if your child needs inspiration for using art supplies received during the holidays — or if you want to help your teen think through issues of identity and design as he or she starts to redecorate a bedroom or study space.

Let family members help plan the route. Your children might discover an intriguing museum alongside one or more of the Valley METRO stops, whereas your teens might uncover some trendy coffee joints where they can gather with friends tired of meeting at the mall.

And you might just discover that riding the light rail is more than a mere convenience — it’s actually a rather creative enterprise.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the Federal Transit Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation and their position on art and design in public transportation.

Coming up: I-Spy: Sculpture style

Photos: Valley METRO

Art, healing and happenstance

I seem to stumble on art everywhere I go these days.

Today it was at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. I was there for my annual tune-up, not feeling particularly perky, when I stepped off the elevator from the parking garage to the concourse and saw something unexpected—an energetic group of patients and medical professionals standing together clapping. I suspected it wasn’t for me…so what then?

Typically when I walk by this area I hear the soothing piano stylings of Mayo volunteers. (To the gentleman who played Tuesday morning, you were terrific—I had to fend off the urge to interrupt your playing to tell you how much I appreciated you being there.) Today I caught the end of a song about peace, and the generous round of applause that followed it.

I headed for the information desk to see what all the excitement was about. There I met Katherine Kough with the Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities in Medicine—a program open to Mayo clinic patients, staff, visitors and community members. Good to know, since I’d like to enjoy it more than once a year.

The Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities in Medicine features music performance, theater and dance events, visual arts exhibits, workshops, lectures and film—as well as arts programs specifically for Mayo hospital patients—and is funded by “the generous donations of grateful benefactors.” (Thank you.)

My stop at the information area will serve as a testament, for those who know me, of just how much I liked the brief bit of music I heard from the two gentleman with instruments in hand—guitarist Walt Richardson II and violinist Tim Sadow. If there’s a line for something, like checking in for an appointment or finding a good theater seat, I let very little stand in my way.

I figured it couldn’t hurt to take a peek at the sign near the performers so I’d know who I’d hurried past on the way to check in. I saw the name “Sadow” and stopped in my tracks. Might Tim Sadow be related to another Sadow I’ve known for many years? As I spoke to him, I got my answer.

He sounded just like Jeffrey Sadow, the music teacher my children were all so taken with during their elementary school days at Desert View Learning Center. Jeffrey’s son was in Lizabeth’s class (sorry you two, but I think I recall some talk at the time of what a lovely married couple you might make one day).

It’s a small, and wonderful, world.

I was firmly but cheerfully corrected when I mistook Tim for Jeffrey’s younger, rather than older, brother. “You have Jeffrey’s voice,” I said. “Actually,” he replied, “he has mine.”

It brought back memories of many a magical musical moment at Desert View, including Jeffrey teaching the kids songs like Cat Stevens’ “Moonshadow” plus a myriad of American folk songs (Liz vaguely remembers one about cowboys and ghost riders).

James, my hubby, tried to peg “the Stegosaurus song” on “teacher Jeffrey” but I know better. That was “teacher Josie,” now known to most folks as a board member of the Children’s Museum of Phoenix (and one of its early grassroots advocates and supporters).

Tim Sadow shared with me that he’s been a musician for five and a half years, ever since his lay-off by Motorola. He describes himself as “classically trained, alternatively minded” and specializes in “music performance, private instruction and studio work.” Sadow teaches violin and viola lessons, and shares that his “full-time gig” is playing fiddle with an Irish rock band called The Brazen Heads.

Sadow has been performing duo engagements with Richardson, a self-taught guitarist who began playing at age nine, for eight years. Richardson is an ASU graduate with a degree in speech and communications. His other claims to fame include heading a band that performs “a mix of folk, rock and reggae” and writing more than 100 songs (many of which have been recorded).

Richardson’s credits include writing music for commercials and movie scores. He’s a member of the artist roster for the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and “often performs with his sister, Lillie Richardson, bringing music and storytelling to children and adults in Arizona.” (I’m hoping to connect with Lillie for a future post on storytelling.)

I’m also hoping to get back to Mayo for a few more arts adventures.

I noticed the start of a serene-looking nature trail as I drove through the Mayo Clinic campus today, as eager to get a good parking spot as I was to get that first place in line. I’d like to head back with children and camera in tow to see what that’s all about. (It looks like my kind of trail—flat.)

Mayo’s Scottsdale campus also features rotating art galleries spotlighting the work of local and regional artists. The hospital has a first floor gallery in the outpatient waiting area. The outpatient clinic has three art galleries—the Concourse Gallery, the Pharmacy Gallery and the Radiology/Oncology Gallery.

But why marry art with medicine? The mission of the Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities in Medicine is “to integrate the arts, history and ethics in the medical environment, supporting the Mayo Clinic ideal that the needs of the patient come first.”

Next time I sport a lovely linen cover-up that matches my complimentary cranberry juice (some of their waiting areas are really something), I may ask for a tablet of paper and some crayons…

–Lynn

Coming soon: Young Sounds of Arizona