While in some cities, corporate businesses, public art and art communities are kept separate from each other, Phoenix is unique in the way these two seemingly polar-opposites come together, whether it is hotels decorated with pieces purchased from local artists or murals painted on the outsides of popular storefronts. 

Catrina Kahler, president and CEO of Artlink Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports community-based art events and initiatives through First Fridays, the annual Art Detour, Art d’Core Gala and Juried Exhibition, said that the influence of local artists and their projects within Phoenix, especially in downtown areas, is critical to the city’s developmental success.

“Public art is literally a part of our history. The City of Phoenix does public art programs and it’s literally nationally renowned, and it’s had a terrific influence on our built environment,” Kahler said. “People have found creative ways not just to bring what some might call ‘traditional art’ into the public realm, but also focused on integrating art into development.”

Welcome to Phoenix! Whether you are a Phoenix native or just visiting, make sure to stop and see this fun mural located behind the Barrio Cafe on 16th Street and Windsor. This piece was finished in May 2019 by artists Pablo Luna, Angel Diaz, Breeze M, and Lalo Cota. (Photo by Ane Pulu)

An increasing number of businesses in Phoenix have begun to add artwork to their physical design, whether it be murals, sculptures or other mediums. Recently, Kahler said, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is just one entity among many others that has been extremely focused on incorporating as much public art as possible into the building’s design.

“There’s a growing interest from the corporate sector to connect with arts and culture,” Kahler said. “Our mission at Artlink is connecting the artists, businesses and community so that we can keep the arts integral to our growth.”

One business in Phoenix that recently decided to incorporate a mural into its design at one of its locations is Rinse n Ride car wash, located at 28th Street and Indian School Road. Owner Luke Bathel said that when he made the decision to add public art to his business, it had more to do with contributing to the unique culture of Phoenix than it did with trying to promote his own car wash.

“Regardless of whether or not we actually wash another car, I think the value for me is that people can see our culture on the wall and say, ‘I’m happy to wash my car here because these people are about the things that I’m about’,” Bathel said.

Bathel said he has always had a deeply-rooted interest in viewing the different murals that are located throughout the city, and that his primary goal for the addition of one to his car wash was so that “not just at our wash, but to those seeing it on Indian School when they’re in traffic, it would add value to their lives if they’re looking at it and seeing it right there.”

The Rinse n Ride mural was a year in the making, from the moment Bathel came up with the idea, when he then called the Phoenix Mural Project and worked on the design of the mural, until it was finally painted along the large wall at the end of the car wash tunnel. Bathel commissioned local artist Oscar Ruiz for the project, which was officially unveiled to the public on Jan. 23.

Ruiz said that he was not aware of the scale to which public art impacted the culture of downtown Phoenix before he moved to the city for unrelated work. However, once he was living in Phoenix, Ruiz made connections within the local artist community who were able to help him get started as a muralist. Ruiz said he hopes people feel inspired when they see the ever-growing collection of murals adorning outdoor walls throughout Phoenix.

“As an artist myself, when I’m driving around it’s always nice seeing new art pop up, regardless of whose it is or what it is,” Ruiz said. “Just the fact that people are getting up and painting something, or creating, that always touches me in a really nice way.”

Talk about dynamic art! Water Wars was a collaboration done in December 2016 by artists Leter91, Vela Art, Guache, Insano, and 0rgans, and is located on 20th Street and Roosevelt. This mural captivates you by telling a story that depicts Native American heritage with such spirited imagery. It is definitely a must-see the next time you find yourself on the Row.

Ruiz said his primary motivation for his artwork is more rooted in self-expression rather than expecting to gain a great following from his work. However, he said he hopes people can find inspiration and joy from his art.

“I hope people enjoy it as much as I enjoy painting it,” Ruiz said. “I hope they are able to see that it’s hard work and effort. Because it’s definitely not easy for artists to do that, day in day out, having to wake up early in the summer to beat the heat, painting in the sun, painting at night, and dealing with weather.”

Bathel said there has been a lively response from the public after people started to notice the Rinse n Ride mural. He said he has received positive feedback from both customers and other residents of Phoenix who said they have greatly enjoyed the mural, with many guests stopping to take pictures of it.

“You never know how something like that is going to be received, and you spend a lot of time and effort,” Bathel said. “This has been a year in the making on my end, making sure that it was exactly what we were wanting to do. So the response has been great.”

Kahler said that as public art becomes more ingrained into the design of Downtown Phoenix, it has begun to shape the culture and add to the diversity of the city, to the extent that she doesn’t “think residents can imagine downtown without the public art that is brought in.”

“As a city, we care about how it develops moving forward,” Kahler said. “Public art adds a heart and soul to a city and makes it a place where people actually want to live.”