Blog Archive

What Is Offensive Art?
by Rashaad Thomas, Engagement Manager

Blackface from Spike Lee’s Bamboozled

Art.  Freedom of Speech.  Censorship.

“Bad art is more tragically beautiful than good art ’cause it documents human failure.’” – HENRY LETHAM, Stay (2005)

Social media and I are on a trial separation. We still chat from time to time. Twitter, Instagram and I exchange direct messages every now and again.  We indulged our toxic relationship because we were afraid we’d become irrelevant.  Our fears manifested as resentment, pushing us further apart.   In my absence, words of mouth became close friends.  They keep me in the loop about Facebook’s fits of rage catalyzed by mainstream news.

Not too long ago, and a few e-mail inquiries brought me news about Phoenix’s First Friday incident in December. Ted Decker with the Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art (pHica), chose to support an artist’s portrait of himself in Blackface.  The incident set off a firestorm on social media and in our community, forcing people into have uncomfortable conversations about multicultural education and racial equity.

In the past, I jumped into the fire with my comrades looking for the person who made racist remarks.  I didn’t accept the excuse that they were taught that their whole lives.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

No way, no suh. There are no excuses I’m willing to accept. I burned to sever a branch of white supremacy’s tree, “By Any Means Necessary.”  However, this time it’s too close to do that.  I consider Ted Decker a friend and strong supporter of the arts.  I just returned to the community after an extended period of self-care.  In the past my strategy was to harden my heart for protection and join the toxicity coup that lead with their hivemind.  Now, I believe it’s best to lead by love, with both the heart and mind.  Times are changing.  People are changing.

That being said, I don’t think the Phoenix Art Community is changing.  Phoenix appears to be a desolate silo.  White people remain afraid to give up power to artists of color in “their” (the former’s) own spaces.  Still, I don’t think there’re any definite answers.  That’s the point of being an artist: to not have answers, but rather explore self and society.

So as a Black artist, I look within and ask myself—and the Blackface debacle—a few questions;

  1. What constitutes as good or bad art?
  2. Where is the line between what is offensive art and what is provocative art
  3. Is there a balance between censorship and respect for all humans?
  4. What is free speech?

Again, there are no definite answers, but we must explore. This leads me to the last question I have, “What are we doing to make the Phoenix Art Community inclusive?”

“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” – Malcolm X

Student Highlight: Debra King, Painting
by LC Hood, Communications Intern

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Debra King has been a painting student at Phoenix Center of the Arts for five years. She recently painted a portrait of her class and posted it on Facebook. The image caught our attention, so we reached out to Debra to hear the story behind this fun painting. Debra shared the concept behind her idea, as well as her overall experience at Phoenix Center for the Arts and her love of painting. Click here to see the painting in detail.

What is the story behind this painting?
Our instructor, Edna Dapo, has been taking pictures of students with their paintings and drawings for years. You can always go back in time and see your fellow classmates and their drawings or paintings on her Facebook page. It’s incredible to see how some students have grown artistically throughout the years. This painting is my classmates and I at the end of one of our sessions. Edna captured us in mid-pose in our natural habitat, the classroom. I loved the picture, so I painted it at home and brought it as a surprise. It symbolizes Edna’s way of memorializing her students and their work.

What are some of the reactions you’ve received?
So far everyone loves it. Would they really say if they didn’t? Everyone is so polite and encouraging.

How long have you been painting?
I’ve been painting for about 6 ½ years. I started taking an acrylic painting class with Paradise Valley Community College. I took a few drawing and sculpture classes at the Glassell School of Art, when I was living in Houston, Texas. I think having a drawing background first helps because you learn to really “see” what you’re painting. But at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, Edna guides students so well that they don’t necessarily need anything other than desire.

What are the joys you find in painting?
The joy of painting is, of course, the relaxation it brings as you paint and the sense of accomplishment you get when you finish a painting you love. I love painting landscapes. I love painting people. I love Van Gogh.

How did you find out about classes at the center?
When Paradise Valley Community College stopped offering recreational painting classes, I did an online search and found the Phoenix Center of the Arts offering oil and acrylic classes. What caught my eye was that you didn’t have to bring anything but a canvas. Who offers that these days?! You just show up and paint. Good friends, art, music and sometimes some snacks, what could be better?!

What was the first class and the experience you had?
In Edna’s first class, students get a brief drawing lesson, a mental plan for the next few classes and a tour of the classroom. I couldn’t wait to start painting. I was intimidated by the returning students – they were doing incredible things.

What keeps you coming back to the center?
I love the people, the artistic atmosphere and the relaxation it brings. I love watching other students create their own masterpieces. Everyone’s style and their choice of subjects are so different. I also love watching new students who are just discovering their hidden talents.

Staff Highlight: Colin Conway, Camp Manager
by Justin Harrison, Communications Intern

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Colin has been involved in the community at Phoenix Center for the Arts for an impressive seven years, starting as a volunteer for the summer program when he was just 18 years old. Outside of his time at the Center, he has assisted with the After School program at Khalsa Montessori and recently completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts at ASU. He hopes to continue his education and pursue an MFA.

One of his current personal projects as an artist was motivated by a DNA test that revealed which countries in Africa he is descended from, leading him to create a series of paintings and drawings inspired by those countries. While Colin has spent a great deal of time at the Center, some of his favorite memories stem from seeing our campers out in the community, where they regularly greet him and express thanks for the fun he has contributed to their summers. That feedback had made him realize how he is contributing to other’s lives through his work.

When asked about his favorite part of managing camp, he explained that he feels that “there is nothing more therapeutic or self-fulfilling than making art.” When a camper completes a project he gets to share that satisfaction. Here are some of his feelings about the community here at the Center:

What do you think makes Phoenix Center for the Arts such a great place to be?
“The Center is great because of the people that come here. It’s a community. From what I’ve seen, everyone from the employees to the people that attend classes here have a genuine passion for the arts. They care. I personally believe that the arts don’t get the attention they deserve, and places like the Center help fill that void.”

What do you think Phoenix Center for the Arts will look like 10 years from now?
“I feel like 10 years from now the Center will be an expansion of what it is today. Every year that I’ve been here has been an improvement upon that last. My vision for the future of Phoenix Center for the Arts is that it will not only be a staple in the community of downtown Phoenix, but all of Metro Phoenix.”

Call for Poetry for the Arizona Republic

Beginning in April (for National Poetry Month), the Arizona Republic, in conjunction with Phoenix poets Rosemarie Dombrowski and Rashaad Thomas (our Engagement Manager here at Phoenix Center for the Arts), will feature one poem per week in a section entitled, “The Poetry Spot.”

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There is no theme, just an audience of nearly a million readers who’ll be engaging with locally-produced creative content.

Thus, we’re looking for lyrical, contemporary, thought-provoking poems, single-language or dual-language, no longer than 40 lines.

We’d like the poems to represent the myriad residents of the valley, highlighting diversity of age, ethnicity, and gender.

Please submit your poem (one per poet) before midnight, March 20th, 2018, to be considered for the inaugural month.

E-mail submissions to

Call Release Date: Feb. 26th
Submission Deadline: March 20th

ARTicles: “How Artists See”
by Sadie F. Dingfelder

Ever felt frustrated that your drawing of a hat is a hat…but, not the hat in the still life in front of you? The person you drew does look like a person, but not necessarily the person you intended to draw? It’s missing something.

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Good news! Evolutionarily speaking, your brain is doing exactly what it should be doing.  It is filling in gaps for you, making your hat look like a stereotypical hat rather than the hat in front of you. Better news! You can train yourself to see things as they really are by taking art classes and learning how to see things as they really are. Check out this page for our drawing and painting classes.  

Bonus: Ever wonder why artists sometimes squint or close one eye when they are drawing?  The answer is here, along with an in depth look at how artists see.


“Can you sketch a landscape, or even a convincing piece of fruit? If not, chances are that your brain is getting in the way, says painting teacher and landscape artist David Dunlop.

“People don’t see like a camera,” he says. “We go through life anticipating what we are going to see and miss things — which is why so many wedding invitations go out with the wrong date.”

In his art classes, one of the first things Dunlop tells students is to stop identifying objects and instead see scenes as collections of lines, shadows, shapes and contours. Almost instantly, students sketches look more realistic and three-dimensional.”

ARTicles: “Images and Poetry Combine in an Exploration of Identity at the Alice”
by Margo Vansynghel

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“Double Consciousness” by Nancy and Rashaad Thomas, archival glicée print, 2017

Phoenix Center for the Arts’ Engagement Manager, Rashaad Thomas, and his poetry group, Gutta Collective were recently featured in City Arts Magazine, in an article about the collective’s participation in an exhibition at the Alice Gallery in Georgetown.


“Stepping into the Alice is like unwrapping a birthday gift: The surprise is expected but nonetheless wonderful. Since 2014, the Georgetown gallery has been reaching beyond the Seattle bubble to reel in artists from all over the U.S. and connect them with writers-in-residence. In /what are we but lying single surface/, a compact but exciting group exhibition combined with a series of readings, co-curators Molly Mac and Natalie Ann Martínez ramp up the Alice’s literary links.

The connections between the works on display—paintings, videos, photos, collage and text—are unclear at first glance, as vague as the broad strokes of the exhibition statement describing “themes of identity, place, family, language, collaboration and self-making.” But a patient eye allows the show to reveal itself gradually.”

by Sarah L. Kaufman, Dani Player, Jayne Orenstein, May-Ying Lam, Elizabeth Hart and Shelly Tan

Every 2nd Wednesday of the month, Phoenix Center for the Arts dedicates a portion of our staff meeting to discussing an arts, culture, or community-related article. Today’s article, “This Is Your Brain on Art,” was suggested by Thunderbird Class Manager, Lindsey.


“If you think about it, having a great time at the theater defies logic in many ways. We’re surrounded by strangers, bombarded with unusual images and often faced with a wordless language of symbols. Yet, on a good night, we generally laugh more, cry more and enjoy ourselves more at a live performance than when we’re watching TV at home. We may even lose ourselves and feel connected to something larger. How does this happen?

Some of the answers to art’s mysteries can be found in the realm of science. Art is considered the domain of the heart, but its transporting effects start in the brain, where intricate systems perceive and interpret it with dazzling speed. Using brain-imaging and other tools of neuroscience, the new field of neuroaesthetics is probing the relationship between art and the brain.”

Read more of this fascinating article by clicking the link above!

Instructor Highlight: Marilyn Johnson, Glass
by Justin Harrison, Summer 2017 Communications Intern

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Marilyn Johnson has been an instructor at the Phoenix Center for the Arts for 3 years. She began taking glass fusing classes at the Center in 2000. She is currently retired, but taught special education for 28 years. Marilyn enjoys spending her time working on personal projects in her home studio. When asked about some of her favorite memories of teaching at the Center, she explained that her happiest moments are when students meet their personal goals and exceed what she can create herself. Some of her recent personal projects have included different types of hanging pieces and wall art.

Q&A with Marilyn Field

What is your favorite part about teaching Glass?

After teaching regular public school, it’s really nice to not have tests and grades and to let people create things the way they want. I also like that most people have not been exposed to glass artwork, so they don’t have preconceived notions about how their work should be. It opens you up to experimenting and playing with the medium like you would as a kid, and brings out unique personality traits in each art piece.

What do you think makes Phoenix Center for the Arts such a great place to be?

For one, it’s very down to earth and accepting. I think they allow people to create more freely, doing things as they wish. I think it’s also a nice place to take a breath from responsibilities and be able to spend time with other people enjoying stress-free creativity.

What do you think Phoenix Center for the Arts will look like 10 years from now?

I’d love to see an expansion, the area is becoming a very hip place and I’d love to see a whole new facility. More space would definitely have more people coming to classes.

Any closing thoughts?

For me, there’s really a joy in sharing my knowledge and knowing that I’m not the master of all masters. We all share as a team and it’s a mutual kind of learning environment. I love not having to grade people, and instead focusing on the content of their work and watching people blossom. For any prospective students–once a month, I do a workshop for anyone who is seeking exposure to working with glass fusing. It’s a great opportunity to see if they’d like to sign up for a regular class.

Liz, a student of Marilyn’s, has taken 4 or 5 glass classes at the Phoenix Center for the Arts. When asked if she has had a favorite class at the Center, she explained that the introductory courses as some of her favorites, because she was just beginning to learn glass and starting to understand it. She also enjoyed a class exploring frit-lace, a technique in glass fusing that she was not initially sure how to apply to her work. In the future, she is looking forward to taking a class called “Thick Glass Block Construction, ” in which students use multiple layers of glass to create a sense of depth in their pieces.

Q&A with Liz, glass student

What do you think makes the Phoenix Center for the Arts such a great place to be?

The teacher, Marilyn, really makes me want to come to class. She’s such a positive force, and that makes it fun to class but also to learn more about glass.

Phoenix Center for the Arts Summer Camp 2017
Session 3 – Week 1, July 10-14
by Vritika Patni, Summer 2017 Camp Marketing Intern

This week with Miss Antoinette, our campers explored with one of the fundamental principles of art: space. Miss Antoinette first began by asking the kids what comes to mind when they think of the word “space. “ She then continued to explain the concept of depth and dimensions. Miss Antoinette drew attention to the fact that placing certain objects farther away can achieve the illusion of actually being in the canvas, adding another dynamic to your picture. The campers then used this information in creating their own spaceships using plastic coffee lids, straws, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, ribbons, and rhinestones. After the kids were done building their projects, Miss Antoinette would spray paint the individual pieces a metallic silver color. The next project will involve wooden panels, which the kids will paint to depict their own galaxies.

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A camper builds a spaceship

With Miss Jessica, our campers used the techniques of marbling and splatter-painting to create mixed media collages. The kids used toothbrushes to flick a thin film of white paint (resembling stars) onto blue and black construction paper (resembling a sky). Next, Miss Jessica sprayed a pile of shaving cream onto each of the campers’ desks, which they smoothed out with popsicle sticks, and swirled with paint. The kids then pressed a clean sheet of paper on top of their mixtures, leaving them with a cool marbled design from which they would create their “planets.”

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Campers using shaving cream to create their marbled designs

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Finished mixed media collages

The campers also made their own miniature alien puppets and an accompanying back drop. They cut around the inner rim of a paper plate, and folded it back to create a UFO-like formation. They then colored and cut out paper aliens, which they glued onto popsicle sticks, for their puppets.

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Two campers smile with their finished projects

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Q&A with a summer camper:

Why did you choose the colors you did?

“The pink side is for the pink alien and the green side is for the green alien.”

Why did you decide to add three eyes on each alien?

“Just because I like those kinds of aliens. They’re cute.”

In theatre with Mr. Derek, our campers brainstormed themes for their upcoming performances on an “Idea Board.” Mr. Derek intended for this activity to be high-energy and filled with laughter, encouraging the kids to pitch any and all suggestions. The excitement seemed contagious, as most of the campers who were shy at first eventually opened up and became active participants. The kids also worked on “Three-Word Skits,” in which Mr. Derek assigned each group a series of random words, which they would weave into a cohesive storyline. He told the campers to think about what emotions they wanted their audience to feel when presented with their skit, and told the kids to make a conscious effort to incorporate those emotions into their plot. After their performance, each group would receive feedback, to ensure they would know exactly what to improve upon for next time.

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Campers getting ready to perform their skit

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A group receiving feedback on their play

What the campers seemed most excited about, however, was creating their own commercials. They worked in small groups to come up with the foundations of their advertisement, including a name for their product, its price, where to buy it, a telephone number/website, and a jingle. Then, using the props Mr. Derek had laid out on the table, they presented their skits in front of the class.Image

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