Pilot project turns downtown Phoenix alleys into art galleries

PHOENIX - The images that come to mind when you think of an alley are typically dark, dingy, smelly, and places ridden with crime-- the City of Phoenix hopes to change that.

Inspired by a vision from community groups, the city has green-lighted a pilot project that would turn downtown alleys into art galleries and vibrant places full of life.

The idea came from Ryan Tempest, co-founder of the community group "This Could be Phoenix."

"If you're looking at this alley, I can see why you would think, ‘OK, this is dirty, the sidewalk is all cracked up.’ But you have to look beyond the trash," Tempest said.

He was referring to the alley on 1st Street between Adams and Washington, next to the La Piazza restaurant. Several local muralists have already left their marks on the walls.

Tempest saw the potential in the alley and was inspired after travels around the world.

"The most memorable alleys were in Madrid and Barcelona. These are places you wouldn't even realize you were in an alley,” Tempest said.

But there’s no need to travel that far for inspiration. Tempest pointed out alleyways in Austin, Seattle, Denver and Detroit. The alleys appeared full of life, and crowded with people eating, drinking and just hanging out.

His vision included restaurants wrapping their patios around into the allies and vendors or restaurant owners selling food and drinks in the alcoves of the alleyways to draw customers in.

Alleys-into-art galleries was a big part of the vision-- including murals, paintings, lighting “artscapes,” and bench art. Tempest said the possibilities were limitless.

He envisioned alley concerts and alley festivals as another way to draw people in.

"First Fridays would be a great time for artists to use alleys to showcase their art," Tempest said.

Michael Langford, a server at La Piazza, was on board with the idea.

"It's more attractive than an alley with garbage cans to visit," Langford said.

The City's Planning and Development Department was also on board, saying a sub-committee had approved the project at a meeting last month.

"How do you improve what are eye sores and back alley areas and make them something beautiful? We have so many big projects downtown, housing projects, apartments [and] a new grocery store. Alley activation is the fine grain details of revitalization," said Alan Stevenson, the Planning and Development Director from the City of Phoenix.

The alley activations would be funded by downtown businesses and community groups. Many would hold private fundraisers to make it happen. Stevenson said there appeared to be a lot of interest in the project.

There are many alleys downtown for groups to take on. If you are interested in activating a downtown alley way, contact the Phoenix Planning and Development Department at (602) 262-7811.

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