Paint Can Alley

Written by Faith Miller Category: Arts Issue: July 2016
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When was the last time someone recommended you walk down an alley in Downtown Phoenix? Alleys aren’t known as avenues for the arts, but thanks to urban visionary organization This Could Be PHX and Monarch Theatre owner Pete Salaz, one back street is at the forefront of the city’s mural movement. The alley, which stretches from First to Second Street between Adams and Washington streets, has been designated PHX Alley of the Arts and slathered in colorful murals by local artists. Even the dumpsters are tatted up. One result has been more foot traffic through the alley – photographers and art students stop by for photo ops, and office workers use the alley as a shortcut or a lunch break spot. Here are a few of the views.

“Phoenix Rising” by Thomas “Breeze” Marcus (west end of the alley, at First Street)

Marcus was the first artist to add color to the alley with this mural. It’s been used as a backdrop for photo shoots, music videos and even a promo video for the Phoenix Suns. The illustration of a phoenix incorporates the tribal imagery of Marcus’ Tohono O’odham ancestors, and represents Phoenix taking on a new identity (as a phoenix rises from the ashes) while remaining connected to its past. “I’ve always been here, my people have always been here, my community, my family,” Marcus says. “[I am] creating murals that reflect my contemporary human experience within the city of Phoenix.”

“THROW UP YOUR MIND” by Carlos Rivas (behind Monarch Theatre)

The next artistic breakthrough came when Carlos Rivas, who was the artist-in-residence for ALAC (Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center), asked Salaz if he could paint a mural on the back of Monarch Theatre. “THROW UP YOUR MIND,” the sprawling, “spontaneous” result, is admired by touring artists at Monarch Theatre and passersby. Rivas says what he likes most about the finished piece are people’s reactions – in many ways, he says, it “got the ball rolling” on the process of activating the alley. “I also love standing right in front of that wall and just looking up, how big it is,” he says.

Untitled mural by various artists (parking garage opposite “Phoenix Rising”)

ALAC obtained permission from the city of Phoenix for a mural on the side of a parking garage in the alley. Rivas has completed the center portion. Several other muralists are working to complete the project, an array of colorful elements that includes images of the Virgin Mary and Cesar Chavez.




Untitled mural by Carlos Rivas (behind Bar Smith/Sky Lounge)

Rivas also painted this sprawling design in black and white patterns on the back of Bar Smith and Sky Lounge. He emphasizes that most of the muralists who painted the alley were not monetarily compensated. “[The alley] is the heart of Downtown, and it’s not a coincidence that it has so much heart, because we haven’t got paid for [any] of that work,” he says. “It gives us satisfaction in so many other ways.”