Gallery owner continues to help build arts scene he envisioned

Wayne Rainey, owner of MonOrchid, followed his vision of creating an affordable arts scene in Downtown Phoenix and helped build up the arts community that is now known as Roosevelt Row. (Dominic Valente/DD)

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On any First Friday, MonOrchid is a bustling hub of art and artists. People come from all over to witness Roosevelt Row those nights, making it hard to imagine a time when downtown did not come alive every first and third Friday.

When owner and arts activist Wayne Rainey, 46, purchased MonOrchid at the turn of the century, Phoenix’s downtown was more of a ghost town.

“After 6 (p.m.) is when a city is supposed to shine, but Phoenix rolled up its doors,” Rainey said.

Rainey got his start as a photographer and is a third generation Phoenician.

“My grandfather was a farmer down here, and at the end of the day he could always come downtown to the Arizona Club and relax,” Rainey said. “When I was a kid, by 5:30 I could skate about every parking lot in downtown and not worry about getting hit by a car, it was a ghost town by 6.”

Rainey is a firm believer that creating an affordable arts district is vital to the success of a city.

“Phoenicians crave a third place. The first place is home, second place is work and third place is where people can go at any time of the day to engage, change, exchange ideas, grow and experiment,” Rainey said.

Rainey began engaging the city in the arts while building his own career. He was doing work for SkyMall around the time that he bought MonOrchid. Rainey also bought Holga and turned it into affordable housing for artists in the area.

Even before MonOrchid, Rainey advocated for an affordable arts district. When he was younger, Rainey traveled all over the world doing photography, but his roots always brought him back to Phoenix and helped inspire his business.

“The idea behind MonOrchid is that we are all just petals on one flower, we are all just part of a whole,” Rainey said.

Phoenix’s art district is now gaining momentum as more artists and young people move into downtown.

Phoenix did not possess a strong urban center for many years, but Rainey saw an opportunity to help revitalize the arts.

Matt Garcia, 32, an assistant professor at Kansas State University, was a student at ASU when he became involved with MonOrchid. Garcia did everything from mopping floors to being a studio manager.

“Wayne was the person that was willing to put his money where his mouth was and invest in downtown,” Garcia said.

Rainey was a catalyst to making Roosevelt Row a thriving arts community, and MonOrchid was the outlet where Rainey could impact the public. MonOrchid is open to artists of all different disciplines to try to create a more effective and creative working environment.

“It is always better to find a creative person in another discipline to gain inspiration – it helps inspire careers and expand intellect,” Rainey said.

When Rainey opened MonOrchid, most people doubted that his artistic endeavors would succeed in downtown. Downtown was derelict at the time, and an arts district of today’s standard seemed far-fetched.

“People thought I was out of my mind to risk so much money and time to open this up to the arts – there was no art walk and no Roosevelt Row back then,” Rainey said with a laugh. “But Phoenix has to have a heart, it has to have a beating, thriving core where there is always something going on.”

Art is vital to Roosevelt Row, and through the various artists Rainey helped bring in Phoenix regenerated its arts community. Rainey’s wife, Alison Rainey, 36, witnessed how Rainey’s dedication to the arts helps his endeavors.

“That man has so much passion and tenacity, he does not give up easily and he is willing to try something from a whole bunch of different angles in order to get a good result,” Alison said.

Near the beginning of his Phoenix activism, from 2000 through 2004, Rainey ran a magazine called Shade in addition to owning and operating MonOrchid and Holga. Shade’s purpose was to engage people in the growing arts community and take an in-depth look at the art world.

In each issue of Shade, Rainey addressed the community in a publisher’s note. In the June 2002 edition, Rainey wrote “We are born to grow. And with growth there is always some pain, but we grow in some way or we perish.”

Finances forced Rainey to stop production of Shade, but reviving it in the future is not out of the question. Rainey challenged all of Phoenix to grow with him as he advocated for a stronger arts community.

“The amount of optimism and energy MonOrchid brought to the community in the early days was just electric,” Garcia said.

Despite challenges, MonOrchid has thrived as a symbol of the arts in Phoenix.

Rainey suffered from dengue fever in 2001 and encephalitis in 2006, which was a factor in him selling Holga.

“Mosquitos love me, I’m sweet,” Rainey said with a wink. “I was forced to take a step back, but now I’m just trying to move forward with my projects.”

Now that Phoenix has an established arts district, the next step is to stabilize the area. Part of the stabilization is by creating affordable housing for artists, which is what Rainey is working on now.

“He just loves people, he loves projects, he loves creative process, making beautiful photographs and he genuinely likes to see people and their businesses thrive,” Alison said.

Rainey believes that if Phoenix does not take the leap to make affordable housing for artists downtown now, it might soon be too late. Without affordable living, Rainey worries that artists will be pushed out of downtown, ruining the blossoming arts district.

The city needs to forge partnerships with housing developers so the artists can continue to stream in, he said.

“To me, artists are our modern day heroes. They make the world exciting for all of us,” Rainey said.

Rainey’s admiration and involvement in the arts is what drives him to advocate for Phoenix’s young arts district. His ideas in the past decade have continued to push Phoenix toward a more-vibrant arts culture.

“Wayne provided the confidence and guts to go in and gamble on the arts and gamble on downtown, and it paid off,” Garcia said.

MonOrchid helped to establish Roosevelt Row as an arts community, and Rainey hopes that the district he worked so hard to build will continue to flourish in the future.

“He enjoys taking something that might not seem beautiful or interesting and turning it into something beautiful,” Alison said.

Rainey is continuously working on personal projects and endeavors to help stabilize the urban heart of downtown, but he is far from finished. In addition to his affordable housing project, Rainey is working to turn Deck Park from a virtually abandoned space into a venue for community members.

“For me, my biggest accomplishment is having met my wife,” Rainey said with an easy smile. “Other than that, I have not achieved it yet. I’m still working on it. I hope that it can be said I was instrumental in building an arts community in downtown Phoenix, therefore I was instrumental in building downtown Phoenix.”

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