Best of the Valley 2023 : The Arts

Editorial StaffJuly 6, 2023
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Best Non-Toxic Teenage Drama
Spotlight Youth Theatre
For the little ones, there’s stuff like Annie and Mulan Jr. But for serious teenage drama geeks, both in the audience and onstage, each season this troupe tries more ambitious fare, from Gypsy to Shakespeare’s “Scottish Play” to Green Day’s American Idiot. What’s next, Hamilton Jr.?

10620 N. 43rd Ave., Glendale, 602-843-8318,

Best Mashup 
Poetry & Punk: Shawnte Orion x Sweat Lodge
Phoenix poet Shawnte Orion is the king of cool collabs. In his 2020 collection Gravity & Spectacle, he collaborated with photographer Jia Oak Baker. He collaborated with Phoenix poet laureate Rosemarie Dombrowski on Rinky Dink Press. His latest awesome group project: this split 7-inch record, which has his performances of five of his poems on one side and two songs by San Francisco punk band Sweat Lodge on the other.

Photo Courtesy Shawnte Orion
Photo Courtesy Shawnte Orion

Best Group Show
Unintended Consequences
Yeah, the whole “O.G.” thing is way overused – but it certainly applies to Carolyn Lavender, Monica Aissa Martinez and Mary Shindell. Curator Laura Hales set the three longtime Phoenix visual artists loose in a gallery at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts – and the proof of their talents is written on the walls. Literally.

7380 E. Second St., Scottsdale, 480-499-8587,

Best Sculptor
Pete Deise
Pete Deise is a Phoenix icon – and so are his sculptures. The giant snarls of hot pink or white are as recognizable as Deise himself, who – with his super-tan skin and gravity-defying shocks of rusty hair – bears a remarkable resemblance to a certain holiday movie character who really, really likes heat. Which makes sense, given his process.

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

Best Art Studio 
Artist duo Victoria + Julian run this multidisciplinary indie studio, where their combined skills include illustration, 3D printing, silk-screening and risograph printing, among others. They have their own merch and apparel line, but they can also help others execute their artistic visions, through commissions, workshops or open studio hours at Paper Jam + Print.

Best Local Exhibit
Mission and Legacy at Phoenix Art Museum
Friends of Mexican Art formed in Phoenix in 1963 to strengthen cultural ties between Metro Phoenix and Mexico through exhibits at local cultural institutions like Heard Museum, Mesa Arts Center and Phoenix Public Library. This new exhibit at PAM celebrates the nonprofit’s enduring influence through works by renowned Mexican artists like José Clemente Orozco, Francisco Zúñiga and Alfredo Ramos Martínez, which will be on display in the museum’s James K. Ballinger Gallery through December 31, 2023.

1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-257-1880,

Best Returning Artist
Jake Fischer  
His fine-art suburban cityscapes of Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa made him an overnight success, and right out of art school, Fischer was scooped up by a tony Manhattan gallery and moved to the Big Apple. He’s back, and so are his gorgeous oil paintings, showing now at Downtown’s Bentley Gallery.

Photo courtesy Jake Fischer
Photo courtesy Jake Fischer

Best New Artist
Heather Weller 
Weller, a recent Arizona State University art-school grad, combines surrealism with a Renaissance palette to create photorealistic paintings unlike any other local artist. Moody portraiture and metaphorical livestock are her thing, and her popular gallery exhibits suggest this fine artist is about to break big.

Photo by David Apeji
Photo by David Apeji

Best Established Artist
Annie Lopez
The cyanotype artist and Arizona native has been interpreting her Mexican-American life and our local culture since 1982. An early member of the Phoenix-based Chicano artist collective Movimiento Artístico del Río Salado, Lopez has shown her signature blue-hued photo-print dresses and tamale-wrapper pieces in museums and galleries around the world.