When I first came to Arizona, the wide variety of public art on display throughout the Valley was one of the first things I noticed. From the moment one arrives by plane, the art collection at Sky Harbor International Airport is incredibly striking, its mere presence at the airport quite unusual. The innovative displays that change over time reflect the cultural diversity of Arizona and send a powerful message about how we value the aesthetics of our community.
Our freeways are so beautifully adorned with art along the sidewalls that visitors from out of town frequently marvel at their beauty. Credit goes to the City of Phoenix and the tireless work of arts advocates for investing time and resources in this creative project, without which our sunken freeway systems would be little more than ditches running through the Valley. I believe it is accurate to say that residents who have not traveled to metropolitan areas across the country may not appreciate how beautifully appointed our freeways are. (Hint: freeways are rarely called “beautiful” anywhere but here.)
Whether it’s the fountain in Fountain Hills, the modern art collections on display at Phoenix Art Museum, the native works at the Heard Museum, or the many small galleries that celebrate the long tradition of American Western art, you can find a wide variety of ways to appreciate art in Arizona.
Because of the rich tradition of art here, it’s surprising that arts funding still lags behind other areas worthy of charitable support. Certainly, education and health are deserving of their top spots on the list of needs that are funded at the highest levels. But, in addition to caring for our minds and bodies, we must also feed our souls. The arts help us do that, and communities with strong arts and cultural attractions and an appealing arts economy thrive in more ways than one.
Leaving charitable funds to support the arts is not a lofty idea. It is incredibly important and ranks alongside other priority areas such as feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and supporting our most vulnerable residents. Were it not for the passion and generosity of donors who passed on decades ago, the Phoenix Art Museum and other museums throughout the state would not have the vast collections they have today—which attract visitors and positive attention from all over the country.
I hope we can build a robust arts fund at the Arizona Community Foundation to sustain and build on the wonderful artistic tradition that currently exists here. It will take a coalition of leaders and those who work with charitably-minded donors to ensure the arts remain a top priority as residents plan their legacies.
Protecting and continuing the centuries-old tradition of art in our great state is something that will pay dividends for many years to come—for those of us who live here part-time or year-round, for those who visit to enjoy our sunshine, recreation and outdoor activities, and for future generations who deserve to know and understand the rich history of Arizona.