Opinion: Loss of murals reflects changing arts, community landscape in Phoenix

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Through the camera lens: (1) The Sentrock mural during removal. (2) Roy Sproule’s works are among the oldest murals on Roosevelt Row and grace the side of Revolver Records and the Valley Youth Theater Offices. (3) Hugo Medina and crew created this piece on the back of a building near Third Avenue and McDowell Road. (4) Breeze and J.B. Snyder collaborated at the Phoenix Festival of the Arts during a massive mural event. (5) One of Sent’s less public pieces, hidden in an alley near Seventh Street and Osborn Road. (6) One of Isaac Caruso’s latest and greatest murals lies near the Encanto light rail stop. He may be leaving the area soon, but his murals will continue to have an impact on the community. (7) Breeze’s work exemplifies his ability to put his opinions and emotions on display through his art. (8) This unknown artist and beautiful imagery have quickly popped up around the neighborhood in a powerful way. (9) This tag wall was chaotically beautiful, and one of my favorite parts of downtown, but it too fell in the name of renovation. (Photos courtesy of Gabriel Radley)

Destruction is not new to Phoenix. This city has been torn down time and time again, but it has always come back.

On Friday, a construction crew washed away Joseph “Sentrock” Perez’s mural on the west side of the Phoenix Public Market building.

I was fortunate enough to witness Sent give life to this now-gone piece of art at the one-year anniversary of the now-gone Urban Grocery.

I remember the joy it brought me to see the community gather and watch him work, and the way everyone present understood that it was not simply paint being applied to brick, it was the creation of a symbol crafted out of the passion of a unified people moving to create a community.

As I was fortunate enough to see its birth, I also bore witness to this mural’s death.

The pain I felt watching it go was equal only to the awful noise of the removal itself.

The first piece of public art I ever had a personal connection to was gone.

This destruction — as brutal as it was — served as a direct reminder of the importance of art in the cultural development of a city.

While this piece at the market was the first, I have had the pleasure of seeing many more murals spring up across our fair city this past year, even getting to add my own touches at times.

The scene has grown and not only beautified Phoenix, but in my opinion it has helped to focus the community as a whole, having visible, striking reminders coat what would otherwise be blank walls.

Much of this has been possible due to the unspeakably important efforts of Hugo Medina and the entire Calle 16 Mural Project.

As both an artist and a community leader, Medina has brought attention to public art and art more broadly in such a way that it builds the entire city with every layer of paint. To know that he is behind a project is to know that the project will impact the community in an enriching and powerful way.

Medina’s work — along with his ability to combine artists and organizations all around the Valley — has a very clear and necessary impact, but he is certainly not alone.

Artists like Lalo Cota and Thomas “Breeze” Marcus spread their fiercely beautiful art around the city. They sweep up blank surfaces and replace them with murals that serve as staunch reminders of the deeper cultural bindings that form the base of this city’s culture.

While their work does not receive the same acclaim as the community-based projects, it does not diminish the fact that their work — and the work of all Phoenix public artists — are building a better Phoenix.

Whether making a political statement or simply expressing the often overlooked emotional state of a people, their work creates an environment where — due to the public nature of a mural — it cannot be ignored. A response is not only helpful, but mandatory.

There is one last group of artists that I would like to comment on. The taggers, wheat pasters, outsiders and other expressionists play a vital role in developing a Phoenix for the people of Phoenix.

Their art is rough, slightly illegal and incredibly raw and powerful. I have been watching a series of wheat pastes pop up around the neighborhood, and every single one of them has been moving and thought-provoking.

Witnessing the loss of Sentrock’s mural and — before that — seeing the beautiful wall of graffiti on the back of what is now Matt’s Big Breakfast damaged, the losses seem tragic. But the pain felt at their loss serves as an example of why these pieces are so important.

Phoenix has been destroyed before, but this time we are doing it right: Remembering our past and envisioning our future through public displays of art are vital parts of building the supportive and loving city we want, need and deserve.

Gabriel Radley is a criminology and criminal justice sophomore at the College of Public Programs, vice president of Barrett Leadership and Service Team Downtown, founding member of the Student Residential College Advisory Board and an active member of ASU Downtown Alive!