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Arizona’s Diverse Public Art

July 23, 2013

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From the Mural Mice mural in Flagstaff

Vibrant murals and sculptures abound across the state—and they are accessible 24/7

Arizona’s scene-stealing natural beauty—including the Grand Canyon, Sedona and Monument Valley—often overshadows the lively art scene that has always thrived here.  A diverse range of Western, Contemporary, Hispanic and Native artists working throughout the state use a variety of mediums to tell their stories in ways that educate, entertain and inspire, while providing a unique sense of place. 

Eye-Popping Airport Art

Whether you are arriving or departing, Phoenix Sky Harbor offers one of the most arresting and robust collections of aviation artwork in the U.S. The airport recently unveiled $5.6 million in commissions that have transformed the terminal and new Sky train system into a gallery that includes stained glass murals, ceiling installations, elaborately patterned floors and adorned pedestrian bridges. .

Street Murals

Whole city blocks are transforming blighted—or just boring walls—into artistic achievements that foster pride in place.  In Flagstaff, an ugly city-owned wall is being transformed by the Mural Mice, a collective of community muralists in the summer of 2013. The commissioned Route 66-themed mural will enliven the streetscape in the historic and pedestrian-friendly Southside neighborhood.

Shutterbugs frequently snap the Day of the Dead-themed mural that depicts a female skeleton in an alley behind the award-winning Barrio Café in Central Phoenix. Created by El Moises, the colorful, graffiti-like concept celebrates Mexican culture. It’s part of a much larger effort called The Calle 16, which is beautifying downtown Phoenix. .

Roadside Attractions

Motorists accustomed to traveling endless miles on interstate highways lacking decoration are delighted by the numerous artistic flourishes that distinguish the byways of Arizona. Freeway art here—among the most iconic and prolific in the U.S.—dates to the federal Highway Beautification Act of 1965. Most walls feature Southwestern style geckos and cacti that brighten commutes.

Five 14-foot high silver “horse gargogyles” along Indian Bend Road in Scottsdale are reminiscent of the former McCormick Arabian Ranch.  The stallions were erected in 2010 for flood control and are lit up at night. When in historic downtown Yuma, you’ll come to a literal fork in the road. The utensil, which rises to nearly nine feet, which hints at the agritourism the community is known for:  the region grows the bulk of lettuce and winter vegetables for the nation. 

Bridges and larger than life sculpture also dot the landscape in Tucson.  The award-winning Rattlesnake Bridge near downtown spans six lanes of traffic and serves as a bicycle, Segway and foot bridge. More than just a visual treat, it offers an auditory experience as a motion sensor sets off a rattling sound as you enter. Also in Tucson along I-10, the Grant Bridge honors the Pascua Yaqui tribe, which has a nearby neighborhood. 

The colorful painted rock art of former miner Roy Purcell stretches across 2,000-square-feet of boulders just outside of Chloride.  Dubbed “The Journey,” they have stood the harsh desert climate for more than four decades. . Winged bronze figures rise 40 feet above the Hoover Dam. Artist tall Oskar J.W. Hansen dedicated the statues to the 96 men who died during the dam’s construction.

Libraries & Post Offices

Libraries and post offices throughout the state feature wonderful art.  In Tucson, the extraordinary “Tree of Knowledge" bronze sculpture fronts the majestic Catalina Mountains at the Oro Valley Public Library. Commissioned by the “1 percent for Public Art Program,” it blooms from a book, roots entwined throughout the words, glittering leaves and branches reflecting the afternoon sunlight.

In Phoenix, The Federal Building-U.S. Post Office, features murals that depict present images of Anglo-American settlement and industrialization.

Contemporary Native

San Carlos Apache Nation artist Douglas Miles is the founder of Apache Skateboards.  His street-savvy work marries cultural pride and tribal consciousness.  His representations of historical imagery present a living, vibrant and contemporary culture that is not dead or dying, but rather constantly changing and reinventing itself.

Western Sculpture

Arizona’s Western roots run deep and many towns pay homage to a proud tradition of rugged individualism that lives on today. Madonna of the Trail is a series of 12 monuments dedicated to the spirit of pioneer women in the U.S. Dating to the late 1920s, the sculptures are found in Springerville, and 11 other locations along the National Old Trails Road, which once extended from Maryland to California.

America’s first cowboy sculptor, Solon Hannibal Borglum, unveiled the iconic equestrian bronze known as the Rough Rider Monument in 1907 in Old Town Prescott. The Rough Riders were known as the first volunteer cavalry in the U.S.




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