The scenic Sonoran Desert isn’t the only dramatic backdrop in Tempe, Arizona. This college town has a love for public art and inspiring architecture.
Tempe’s love for great design and creativity, from local and nationally known artists and world-renowned architects, is apparent throughout the city. Many of the most remarkable elements are located on the Arizona State University (ASU) Tempe campus and in the downtown Mill Avenue District.
All the World’s a Stage
The ASU Tempe campus is a perfect starting point for a self-guided tour of artistic gems. The crown jewel on campus is ASU Gammage, a historic auditorium designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright designed this magnificent building as a circular shape with outstretched arms that seem to welcome one and all to ASU. Celebrated both for its beauty and acoustics, the building was inspired by an earlier design Wright had conceived for the Baghdad Opera House.
ASU Gammage is among the largest university-based presenters of performing arts in the world. It is the home theater of the Desert Schools Broadway Across America–Arizona and the Beyond series. Building tours are available by appointment.
More Than Just a Museum
The contemporary art inside the ASU Art Museum is just as inspired as the building’s design. Architect Antoine Predock designed the Nelson Fine Arts Center, home to ASU Art Museum, as a complement to the Sonoran Desert landscape.
The motif incorporates pueblo forms inspired by American Indian architecture of the Southwest, executed in modern materials. The appropriately colored stucco was inspired by the color of rocks found on nearby Hayden Butte. The building received an American Institute of Architects National Honor Award.
On Public Display
Artworks, from Depression-era murals to contemporary sculpture, can be found on the 720-acre ASU Tempe campus. A self-guided tour map, available on the ASU website, helps visitors explore the picturesque grounds and get a sense of the rich history and cultural traditions of ASU and Arizona.
The most recent addition to ASU’s enviable public art collection is James Turrell’s new Skyspace installation: Air Apparent. The public can easily access this space, designed as an artistic interpretation of American Indian Hohokam shade ramadas and pithouses. Once inside, the open ceiling of the Skyspace provides a framework for sky viewing, which is especially dramatic during sunrise and sunset. Turrell designed light fixtures at the top of the structure that change from one vibrant color to another.
Mill Avenue District
The Mill Avenue District has become a hub of artistic expression. Once mundane utility boxes are now canvases for colorful paintings that depict the uniqueness of Tempe and Arizona. Bike racks look like oversized game pieces and fountains are paired with whimsical, oversized bronze rabbit sculptures.
Located in the downtown Mill Avenue District, Tempe City Hall is just one of the places to admire great design and creativity. City Hall is connected to bustling Mill Avenue by Sixth Street Park, home to the colorful mosaic bench by Susan Gamble titled Greetings from Tempe and art that you can walk on. A pattern of beautiful stones pave the park to create an art piece known as Earth Quilt by Meiny Vermaas.
Tempe Center for the Arts & More
The magnificent Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA) was designed by Tempe-based Architekton and award-winning Barton Myers Associates of Los Angeles. In addition to theater and gallery space, this popular lakeside venue showcases several works of public art by outstanding regional and national artists, from a dramatic fire piece to lobby carpeting to a reflecting pool. A 5,700-square-foot sculpture garden is located outside the gallery.
And, just across from the TCA, visitors can stroll or bike across the pedestrian bridge. Local artist Laurie Lundquist was involved with the design process for the bridge, helping to make it a true marriage of form, function and beauty. This suspension bridge is illuminated by bright blue lights after dark.
Public art shows up in the most unexpected places in Tempe. The cool blue waters of Tempe Town Lake are the backdrop for numerous artworks, including Words Over Water, tiles with poems, illustrations and descriptive words along the retaining wall of the lake. Many of Tempe’s bus stops have been transformed from ordinary spaces into eye-catching works of art. Tempe has also commissioned art at fire stations, the Tempe History Museum, the Public Library and the inverted pyramid that is Tempe City Hall.
(Brought to you by Tempe Tourism Office, (800) 283-6734, www.tempetourism.com.)