The Paper Heart Gallery
Calling The Paper Heart an art gallery really is a misnomer. A more accurate description would be an urban arts multi-discipline center. Consisting of a stage, an art gallery, a bar and the ability to serve food, this multi purpose one-stop arts venue could very well be the shape of things to come. It could easily be the blue print for a lasting exhibition space.
In sharp contrast to the more orderly established galleries in Scottsdale, the Phoenix art scene is still a mix. Consisting of ad hoc galleries, alternative spaces, established galleries and venues that are difficult to define and resist classification, the shape and form of downtown is changing as rapidly as the city expands outward. Sprinkled among various pockets in the urban landscape, parts of the city are developing a decidedly more artistic edge. Grand Avenue, as it appears now, is one of those places.
The unmistakable look of the Paper Heart’s angular roofline immediately differentiates it from the surrounding architecture. Jutting away from the two story building like at set of metal wings, or the prow of a ship purposely aimed forward, depending on how you view it, the symbolism of such a configuration becomes a visual logo of sorts. The implications of such a symbol bring to mind rebirth, revitalization and incidentally a touch of history.
According to Shane Rhodes, a local musician who has been with the Paper Heart back since its days at 5th Avenue and Van Buren, the new location’s building was once an auto dealership, a VA Center and offices for lawyers prior to being reincarnated as an arts venue. This example of architectural restoration is interesting when taking into account the relative rarity of spaces available like it for rehab. There are few in the Valley so ideally suited, and so conveniently situated, for artistic use.
Unlike most art galleries in the City that depend on art sales, donations, patrons or the deep pockets of their owners to sustain them, the Paper Heart has opted to make visual art part of a larger set of offerings. That inclusiveness allows them a certain flexibility that is no doubt a key to their continued development.
While brave art spaces open, close, struggle for survival, or come alive only for the First Friday event each month, the Paper Heart has taken a different path from most. Rather than relying on art patronage alone, the space plans a fairly broad spectrum of events that frequently include a modest cover charge. When you pair that with the fact that they are able to serve food, wine and beer, you start to see the Paper Heart creating a freewheeling mix of experiences and tangible items that makes sense on many levels.
Should you be hungry, you don’t have to leave the premises. Menu items include salads, appetizers, sandwiches, and 12-inch pizzas made from spiced dough handmade on site. Given that few dining establishments in the Valley are open late, and the few that are may not be accessible given the distance between galleries and spaces open in Phoenix on First Fridays when all the spaces open up, having onsite food and drink gives added reason to visit.
On any given month, stand-up comedy, poetry readings, performance art, musical acts and wine tastings are regularly scheduled events. Rhodes proceeded to inform me that they also have offered tango lessons, fashion shows and open mic poetry, in addition to the live musical acts for which they are known.
Earlier this year, they were host to Songsalive!, an international artist-run organization that supports and promotes songwriters and composers, and Just Plain Folks, an organization devoted to foster tighter networking among its members who include those involved in the entertainment business. They have also played host to independent films produced in the Valley, among other events not easily found in other spots around town.
Having started out modestly in owner Scott Sanders’ back yard, the Paper Heart has literally grown from those early days as a small start-up into what is now the urban equivalent of a grass roots fine arts and performing arts cultural center. With at atmosphere that is as raw as the work shown on its walls, this is certainly a far cry from the polished surfaces and carefully waxed floors of Scottsdale. There is an urgency and immediacy about the place that reflects, in many ways, downtown life for most people. Granted, it is not sparkling, but it is–on its own terms–real, if not a bit gritty, in the process.
Clearly there is a vision at work at the Paper Heart. It is that comprehensive view that makes it unique among the downtown galleries. The notion of merging a downtown art gallery that capitalizes on the look of Phoenician art with performance space, musical acts, assorted workshops and food and drink is ingenious. That truly separates it from other spaces in the city. There really is no place quiet like it in the Valley.
Has Scott Sanders’ vision become the future of alternative art venues in sparling cities? Only time can answer that question. The idea holds a great deal of potential and promise. If you are adventuresome and want to experience something a bit out of the ordinary, this is a very good place to get a feel for genuine Phoenix downtown arts scene.
The Paper Heart Gallery
750 N.W. Grand Avenue
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 3 pm to 1 am
Closed Sunday and Monday