Public art once meant a statue of a local hero placed in the town square, topped with a few pigeon accessories. Public art in Arizona today, though, is meant to evoke a reaction, start conversations, get you thinking – and create a sense of place.
In many cases, the artworks aren’t even sculptures – they’re integrated into buildings or are part of a city’s infrastructure. Here are some great Arizona artworks you can see without the cost of a museum admission.
Greater Phoenix is packed with public works of art. The cities of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa, as well as Arizona State University, all have public art programs.
Her Secret is Patience is a signature piece in downtown Phoenix that floats above Civic Space Park. Artist Janet Echelman used flexible netting, stainless steel poles, rings and cables to create a 100-foot-tall, undulating installation inspired by monsoon clouds and saguaro flowers, which glows at night with colored lighting.
Across town, one of the city’s newest pieces is artist Daniel Martin Diaz’s Journey Through Nature, a dazzlingly intricate terrazzo floor for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s Sky Train project.
In downtown Scottsdale, the Soleri Bridge and Plaza, designed by the late architect Paolo Soleri, has quickly become a landmark. Time your visit to see solar noon marked on the stainless steel bridge through a gap between its two tall, angled pylons. Soleri, known for his experimental Arcosanti community in Central Arizona, as well as his Cosanti studio in nearby Paradise Valley, also crafted the surrounding plaza’s cast wall panels and the massive bronze bell that hangs on the back of the pylons.
The Scottsdale arts scene also includes Robert Indiana’s iconic, beloved LOVE sculpture at Scottsdale Civic Center Mall. The bright red pop-art letters make a popular backdrop for engagement photos, family holiday cards and more.
Downtown Tempe Center for the Arts is a great place to see several works integrated into this performing arts and gallery facility. Among them, Ned Kahn’s Mare Undarum entry piece and reflecting pool link the building to adjacent Tempe Town Lake, while textile artist Ramona Sakiestewa’s Agua Corriente lobby carpeting forms a colorful pathway between the theater, studio and gallery.
As part of Arizona State University’s public art collection, James Turrell’s Skyspace: Air Apparent is a pavilion-like architectural installation on the Tempe campus where you can sit and experience sky and light as part of the artwork.
You can also see integrated public art at the downtown Mesa Arts Center, with works such as the colored glass panels of Color Walk by Beth Galston; Ned Kahn’s Fragmented Landscape, two shade screens with small aluminum panels that move in the wind; and Catherine Widgery’s Light Storm, which uses stainless steel discs imbedded in pavement to reflect light. Taking public transit to downtown? Some of the city’s bus stops were created by artists as well.
The Tucson Pima Arts Council oversees more than 200 public artworks. Two popular pieces were created by artist Joseph O’Connell of Creative Machines. Toby is an angular red griffin sculpture in downtown that “escaped” from the rooftop of an old Tucson library when it was remodeled. Wondrous, at the Wheeler Taft Abbett, Sr., branch library, used community input to cull hundreds of words from the library’s books, which were formed into a steel sculpture.
Central & Northern Arizona
Sedona’s public art collection includes Above and Beyond, two sculptures by Kim Kori and Ken Rowe for roundabouts near the city’s Uptown district. The bronze and rust-finished-steel pieces depict a bald eagle and two ravens in flight above stylized backdrops of red rocks. Indentations at the top of the pieces collect water to attract live birds.
The colorful mountain lion sculptures that dot Flagstaff in Northern Arizona aren’t just cute kitties. Based on an original sculpture by Dion Wright, the 40 installations are part of the Coconino Coalition for Children & Youth’s PAWS (Promoting Assets With Sculpture) project that pairs a local artist with a child or group of young people to decorate each life-sized lion with a motif that depicts positive values such as service to others, integrity and self-esteem.
Arizona’s West Coast
Yuma’s fork in the road is quite literally just that. Fork in the Road is the city’s newest public art work – a giant upright fork by Perry Pensky, set at the intersection of Main and 3rd streets in Yuma’s historic downtown. It’s meant to evoke a smile and fits with the city’s Art in Public Places Master Plan, which calls for four central themes: cultural, historic, nature and/or whimsy.