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DISCOVER ART IN THE HEART OF PHOENIX

Black Tastemakers Share Downtown Phoenix's Best-Kept Secrets

 

Everyone knows that Greater Phoenix is a Sonoran Desert oasis dotted with golf courses and swimming pools, which means there's no shortage of luxe resorts, posh spas and state-of-the-art meeting spaces.

View of the downtown skyline from the Phoenix Art Museum, the largest museum of its kind in the southwestern United States.

What visitors may not know about the nation's fifth-largest city, is that its welcoming and innovative history laid a foundation for the melting pot-culture that exists here today. Phoenix is home to influences from around the globe, thanks to Black movers, shakers and tastemakers who are enriching this community as purveyors of the arts. 

Culinary Arts 

The downtown dining landscape is equal parts eclectic, noteworthy and underrated. A closer look reveals chefs who are working to connect and enrich their city, one bite at a time.

"I just love downtown," says chef Stephen Jones, who opened  The Larder + The Delta nearly three years ago, "it's where the pulse is."

Jones is redefining Southern food through the lens of Southwestern produce, drawing inspiration from as far away as the Deep South and as nearby as local farms.

"Phoenix has done a 180 ... in terms of food, in terms of diversity," he says. "I see growth, I see small pockets of communities now that have a voice … and people are finally opening up and listening to our journey."

Similarly, Dwayne Allen and Danielle Leoni have been showcasing their take on Jamaican dishes and rums at  The Breadfruit & Rum Bar  for nearly 13 years.

"There's heritage ... and culture here in Phoenix, and to meld that with another culture that's so vibrant [and] has so much to give, just makes us who we are," chef Leoni says.  

Both Jones and Leoni were 2020 James Beard Award semifinalists in the Best Chef: Southwest category. 

Performing Arts 

No visit is complete without an evening of entertainment. Phoenix's downtown core

offers countless nightlife options, including two stages that honor this city's roots while building bridges for the talent of tomorrow.

This season marks 50 years of the Black Theatre Troupe (BTT) illuminating the African American experience on its stage.

"In 1970, the Black Theatre Troupe was born out of a situation just like we're having today," says David Hemphill, BTT Executive Director, in a semicentennial season announcement. "This is a very important time in America. Voices are demanding to be heard. And we, as arts organizations, must answer that call."

Decades earlier, Phoenix jazz clubs were answering that call. As a convenient stopover between Texas and California, Phoenix played host to future legends, including Little Richard, James Brown and Tina Turner - who shared stages with local players.

  Phoenix native Lewis Nash (far right) was named "jazz's most valuable player" by Modern Drummer magazine.

While most of the clubs from those days are now gone,  The Nash  has played a key role in reigniting interest in the smooth, innovative sounds of jazz since opening in 2012.

"I've always felt that jazz music just needs the right setting and commitment from people presenting it to succeed," says Lewis Nash, internationally acclaimed jazz drummer and the venue's local namesake. "Downtown is in a midst of a resurgence and people from diverse backgrounds, histories and ethnicities are coming here." 

Visual Arts 

You can tell a great deal about a destination by the platforms given to visual arts, as well as the stories they tell.


Antoinette Cauley's nine-story depiction of author and activist James Baldwin overlooks downtown Phoenix's Roosevelt Row Arts District. 

In the past year alone, more than 30 murals celebrating Black icons have been added to Phoenix's growing street art scape. Many of these scenes can be spotted throughout downtown, including a  nine-story installation of James Baldwin . "I know I am a vessel for a greater message and my art is my voice," explains Phoenix artist Antoinette Cauley in a blog post about her creation. The author, civil rights activist and queer Black man "just made sense as he "embodies so many of us."

A few blocks north, you'll find the largest art museum in the southwestern United States. The Phoenix Art Museum provides access to a wide variety of mediums, as well as events and educational programming. The exhibits and collections hosted here - ranging from Kehinde Wiley's "A New Republic" to Bruce Davidson's photography of the civil rights movement - have drawn millions of visitors since 1959.

For more information, contact Lorne Edwards, Visit Phoenix Senior Vice President of Sales & Services, at 602-452-6210 or  mailto:ledwards@visitphoenix.com

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