The light rail extension will end at Central Avenue and Baseline Road and is set to be completed in 2023. (Photo and story by Leah Goldberg/Cronkite News)

February 8, 2018

Cronkite News

South Phoenix light rail extension includes 11 cultural art installations

The 6-mile South Central Light Rail Extension expected to be completed in 2023  not only will provide transportation through South and downtown Phoenix, it will honor the diverse people and cultures that make South Phoenix such a vibrant community.

“There is something magical about Phoenix, Arizona,” said Gabriel Fortoul, an artist from Union City, New Jersey. “It is in the land, it is in the air, it is in the community of people that are here, right now, people that live in South Phoenix.”

Fortoul is one of 150 artists who responded to the Valley Metro Rail Board’s nationwide search for artists to design cultural art installations at each stop. All of the 14 artists were chosen by South Phoenix community members and 10 are Phoenix locals.

The extension will move along Central Avenue from the existing light-rail system in downtown Phoenix to Baseline Road. The extension could lead to an increase in jobs and boost local businesses as they become more accessible.

“This is a neighborhood improvement project in itself,” said Julie Cruz Gilfillan, Valley Metro community outreach coordinator. She noted the deeply rooted history and diverse culture of South Phoenix.

“Throughout the process, we want to make sure that we are including the community and working with them along the way,” she said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2015 report, about 60 percent of South Phoenix’s population is Hispanic. The African-American and Anglo community are almost tied at about 17 percent,  with the remaining 2.2 percent being Asian, 1.3 percent mixed and 2.6 percent identified as “other.”

Eva Olivas grew up in South Phoenix and now is the executive director of the Phoenix Revitalization Corp., which covers South Phoenix. She calls the extension crucial. Olivas wants to see the 14 artists “embed the feeling of neighborhoods into the light-rail station” after years of underrepresentation in history and development of this community.

“Not just the history from 100 years ago, and not just about what could come in 100 years, but what’s here today,” she said.

The “South Side” has a history of low-income households, especially within its large Hispanic and African-American populations.

In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau found that the 95th percentile of Phoenix’s household income makes about $175,000 and in South Phoenix, $128,000. The middle percentile of household incomes in Phoenix are $47,000 and slightly lower in South Phoenix at $42,000.

“Art is something that should be made available to all communities regardless of social or economic situation,” Martin Moreno, one of the 10 local artists, said of the project. “So this just kind of reinforces that philosophy.”

Moreno and Emily Costello, another local artist chosen for the project, have lived in South Phoenix all their lives. Moreno and Costello’s art installation will be made of standalone cutout steel, framed with hand-painted tiles. They will design panels with six designs representing cultures and concepts of South Phoenix: The African-American community, the Native American community, education, religion and faith.The two artists said they want to make the public a part of their work and are planning to invite South Phoenix community members to paint the tiles in future workshops.

At the Valley Metro and city of Phoenix meeting over the weekend, seven of the 14 artists presented about 30 percent of their initial art concepts to South Phoenix community members in a town hall style setting. After, the artists spoke individually with residents to answer questions and take suggestions for their concepts.

Valley Metro board members said they will consider safety before approving the artworks for final installation.

Many artists and project members, including New York artist Mark Reigelman, said it’s rare for members of the public to get so involved in a development project.

“I hope that the community understands what is happening for this project because it doesn’t happen very often,” Reigelman said. “So having a good variety of super talented artists, I hope, will help propel South Phoenix to be kind of a go-to spot for young contemporary art.”