20 years on, Modified Arts exhibit examines a changing downtown

Modified Arts is hosting a special exhibit for their 20th anniversary on Roosevelt Row, exploring massive growth the row has experienced in the last two decades and its impact on the art community. (Hailey Rein/DD)

Modified Arts gallery held the reception for an exhibit called “A City Modified,” Friday, which marked the gallery’s 20th year as a cultural touchstone of Roosevelt Row.

The exhibit highlighted the flurry of changes that the gallery has weathered over the last two decades since it was opened by owner Kimber Lanning in 1999. 

On one wall hung a series of three aerial photos labeled with the years 1930, 1999, and 2018, showcasing the increasingly rapid development of the area from sparse single-story homes to the high-rises of today. Suspended from the ceiling were dozens of tickets to events that were hosted in the building back when it served as a music venue.

Over the years, Modified Arts has gradually transitioned from music to visual arts. It now shares a space with the non-profit organization Local First Arizona to allow the gallery to remain open 24/7 while cutting down costs.

“I think it’s going to change; I think that’s guaranteed. I think this place, though, is going to stay here,” Martinez said. “Kimber Lanning has changed it before, but she always kept it going.”

The gallery is hoping to bring back local artists who were featured there in the beginning years.

“We were looking to bring back artists who had shown with us in the first five to seven years, so we would have a span of artists who cover all the years since the beginning,” said Merryn Alaka, co-curator of the exhibit.

For some, the exhibit was more than just another chance to show their art. 

“It ended up being a bit more like a family reunion,” Alaka said. “Artists who had shown here over a decade ago before they went their separate ways all came and met and shared their stories.”

One of these artists was Monica Aissa Martinez, who first encountered Modified Arts 20 years ago when she attended a show after first moving to Phoenix.

“I got my start on Roosevelt Row,” Martinez said. “If you had asked me if all these changes were going to happen back then I would never have believed you. We’re just impressed that this is still here.”

The Modified Arts building has served as a hub for the local arts community since it opened and has shown the work of hundreds of local artists.

“There’s always been art all over the city, but it used to be that you could come here and see everything. More importantly, you could come and meet and connect with all your friends and artists,” Martinez said. “I think that’s what’s changed. The community dispersed.”

Alaka’s thoughts on the changing landscape was bittersweet.

“At times it really feels like we’re being pushed out,” said Alaka. But added, “It will be interesting to see the changes as Phoenix continues to develop, but the hope for us is to always be here to see them.”

The gallery is not just for those who have visited Modified Arts for decades— newcomers continue to enjoy the gallery as well.

“It makes me feel a lot of things, and most of them are hard to put into words.” said Ben Aspinall, a first-time visitor to the exhibit. “It’s a unique little place.”

“A City Modified” will continue to be shown at the Modified Arts gallery at 407 E. Roosevelt St. until December 14.

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