Local Artist Pete Petrisko Launches Street Art Project Opposing Roosevelt Row’s “Arts District” Moniker

Written by Niki D'Andrea Category: Q&A Issue: January 2017
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Courtesy of Pete PetriskoFor years, Roosevelt Row in Downtown Phoenix has been known as the city’s main arts district. The area along Roosevelt Street from Seventh Street to Seventh Avenue once housed innumerable local art galleries, but over the past several years, many galleries have closed and many artists have left the neighborhood as developers construct new housing and rents rise. That’s one reason local creative Pete Petrisko thinks Roosevelt Row (aka “RoRo”) needs to stop being called an “Arts District” and be rebranded as a “Luxury Living & Good Eats” district.

Just prior to the First Friday art walk on Roosevelt Row in December, Petrisko designed a field guide and several rebranding stickers. The field guide was distributed at local venues, and nearly a hundred “Luxury Living & Good Eats” stickers were affixed to utility poles. We recently spoke with Petrisko regarding his rebrand project, which will be visible this First Friday in January.

How long have you been living in the Roosevelt Row area?

I lived in the area for nearly a decade, until late 2013. Nowadays, I can’t afford to move back. The rent is too damn high.

Why do think Roosevelt Row needs to stop being called an “arts district”?

The number of galleries and artists' studios in the area number less than half of what was there just five years ago. It's literally down to about a half-dozen total. The rest have been replaced by luxury housing development, restaurants, and other (more upscale) retail. For better or worse, the area has become an “entertainment hub,” one focusing on “music and the performing arts", with a spotlight on the visual arts, but not unlike the sports-centric Legends Entertainment District or what we see happening on West Van Buren, where music and the performing arts are coalescing...There's very little artist-affordable housing left and none is planned for the future. Unlike in Mesa, where city officials proactively engaged with nonprofit Artspace to get something built, the City of Phoenix lacks both the vision and political willpower to support the arts at this most basic level.

Roosevelt Row itself has irrevocably changed, the magic is gone. Its signature events are now the annual Chile Pepper Festival and the Pie Social, both held amidst shiny new housing. It's earned the title "Luxury Living & Good Eats" District, so continuing to call it an “Arts District” at this point might be the greatest bait-and-switch scheme Downtown Phoenix has ever witnessed.The phrase “Arts District” has become nothing more than a marketing tool, used to sell more housing (and a “lifestyle”) in an area where the artists themselves can no longer afford to live. That might be good for developers, and the city’s national profile, but reads like a sick joke to creatives who once thrived there.

What do you think is a true “arts district”?

An arts district is where a critical mass of artists end up living, and working on their craft, because the area is affordable; it's where a sustainable creative infrastructure (galleries, artist studios, and other artist-owned businesses) exists; it's a neighborhood focused on artistic production. Roosevelt Row has lost the first two qualifiers to gentrification, making the third impossible as it morphs into a destination neighborhood for those wanting to socialize, with visual art (and artists) becoming the background scenery instead.

When did you start putting the "Luxury Living & Good Eats" stickers up around the neighborhood?

These were put up just prior to the December First Friday release of the #NoMoRoRo 2017 Field Guide, which was distributed at listed venues. The guide documents the shift toward performance spaces, and loss of visual art galleries, in the area… So it's really a two-part conceptual street art project, including both a guide and visual branding, shining a light on the truth of where the neighborhood is headed.

Where do you see artists moving if they leave Roosevelt Row?

There's been a slow exodus away from Roosevelt Row happening over the last two years, with creatives relocating to areas east, west, and south of Phoenix's downtown core -- when they aren't leaving the city (and state of AZ) altogether. I don't want to be more specific than that, because it'd be like drawing a map for developers. Suffice to say, artists moving away from the area isn't a future event. We're in the midst of a creative brain-drain and have been for a while now.

What have the reactions been to these stickers?
The reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, and bittersweet, in that "You said exactly what I've been thinking!" kind of way.

To learn more about the NoMoRoRo campaign, visit Petrisko’s Facebook page: facebook.com/PetePetrisko