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Using Art To Make

Phoenix Alleys Bloom

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Carlos Rivas, local Phoenix artist. Images by Ben Garcia.
A Group Of Artists And Businesses Are Seeking To Re-Imagine Phoenix Metro Alleyways As Artistic, Creative, Public Spaces


By Ben Garcia
Special for Modern Times Magazine

June 9, 2013 — From a distance, tall buildings found in downtown areas can give off a prestigious feel, but often in between those big, shiny buildings are dirty, smelly and neglected alleyways.

Usually, these alleyways are dimly lit beacons of suspicious activity at night and only used by brave pedestrians looking for a short cut during the day.

A new leadership group that includes local Phoenix artist Carlos Rivas, wants to change both the perception and reality of these urban spaces.

Rivas, who works at the Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center, sees alleyways as “inner city backyards” and believes with the help of Mary Duran, MGM Events Group, and German Murcia, owner of Sky Lounge, alleyways in downtown Phoenix can become just as inviting and welcoming as the storefronts on the opposite sides.

Rivas' inspiration for cleaning up the alleyway between First and Second streets just north of Washington came from a downtown Glendale alleyway that has been remodeled and cleaned up to include strings of lights, tables and chairs for anyone to use.

But this group has bigger plans than to clean up one alleyway, according to Duran.

“I think we have the need for it and any business owner that we've brought the idea to loves it and we see it happening because we've not only talked to the city of Phoenix but we've also looked into community grants and have also been contacting people that have influence in Phoenix so it's really moving fast,” said Duran.

Duran has spent more than 12 years working in the downtown Phoenix area and the clean-up project is a point of pride that she takes in downtown, saying, “it's more than just adding chairs and having people look at our alleyway.”

“What I've seen throughout the years is when people come to downtown they come for a game and then they leave. They don't stay around much and we want to see them stay and enjoy what the city has,” said Duran.

I see it happening in other alleyways because the only thing we need is the support of others that share the vision we have and once they see what we are trying to do and see our plan on paper nobody will object because everyone wants to have a nice, clean city.”

From the alleyway behind ALACC's gallery, Rivas told a story about the time the alley was used by the gallery for more than just deliveries, “we had an Art Detour one day and I had been wanting to use the alley forever so finally they (ALACC) told me it was OK to use so we opened the back of the studio and let people in.”

Rivas felt the alleyway had so much more potential, but its dirtiness detracted from its appeal, “it was kind of embarrassing you know, to let people through here because it stinks and it's kind of trashy,” Rivas said.

Time went on and it was after watching a fireworks show from that embarrassing alleyway that Rivas thought of painting a mural in order to make it a better place for the downtown community and business owners.

“One day I was in the studio and I started hearing bangs, the Dbacks had just won a game, so I ran out to see what it was and I saw fireworks and I just stood there looking and them you know and while I was looking I noticed this building and I thought 'man, that would be an awesome building to do a mural on,'” Rivas said.

The building Rivas envisioned as a perfect canvas for one of his signature “shape shifting” murals was the back of the nightclubs Sky Lounge and Bar Smith.

At the time, Rivas didn't know the owners of the clubs but it was through a series of events Rivas described as “more than coincidence,” he met the owner of the Sky Lounge and after a brief meeting, Rivas asked if they would be willing to let him paint a mural on their wall and without objection they agreed.

This first mural has given this leadership group the vision to move forward with the revitalization of downtown Phoenix one alleyway at a time.

“I'm very motivated to continue this project and do whatever it takes … it's more than just adding chairs and having people look at our alleyways, there are a great variety of things to do and I want people to see our city’s value,” Duran said.

Ben Garcia is a freelance writer and photographer living in Mesa, Ariz. Reach him at
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