10/122011

Tempe’s Mitchell Park East and West Neighborhoods

By: Taz Loomans

Chris Wass, one of the founding partners here at Firefly, told me that I just had to check out the Mitchell Park East and West neighborhoods in Tempe. What caught his eye were the fantastic public art pieces embedded there.

Mitchell Park East and West are located between University and 13th Street and Hardy and Farmer in Tempe. They are unassuming places that don’t pretend to be wealthy or pristine. They are, however, really great neighborhoods to live in, walk around, and bike on. What makes these neighborhoods stand out and be memorable is the funky personality they have acquired partly through the public art pieces that are located at strategic spots.

These neighborhoods are made up of irrigated lots, for the most part, and part of the public art there celebrates this fact. For example, a few of the flood irrigation standpipes have been transformed from being boring pieces of infrastructure to being delightful pieces of art.

This one, called An Animal’s Welcome to the Neighborhood by artist Kris Kollasch, was inspired by the local children that said that what they noticed most in their neighborhood were the animals:

And this one, called Stories of Nesting II by artist Joan Baron, showcases the unique diversity of birds that have been spotted in this area partially because of the large trees and dense plant materials.

Another wonderful thing about Mitchell Park East and West is their roundabouts. Not only do they function as traffic-calming devices, but they’ve also been turned into sites for public art. So you slow down for the roundabout and you slow down some more to marvel at the beautiful sculptures in the middle of the intersection.

This weathervane, called Oon Only by artist John Randall Nelson, was fabricated by using recycled materials from the City of Tempe Transportation Department’s “bone yard”:

And this kinetic sclupture by artist Andrew Carson, is dazzling with all the different dances it does spurred on by the wind:

So how did all this breathtaking art come to be in Mitchell Park East and West? I asked Maja Aurora with the City of Tempe Public Art program and she said it was no accident, nor was it due entirely the doings of the City of Tempe. It turns out that both neighborhoods have strong neighborhood associations and they applied for grants such as the Maryanne Corder Neighborhood Grant Program and were able to commission artists to make these great pieces. So far Mitchell Park East has eight pieces of public art and Mitchell Park West has one.

The Maryanne Corder Neighborhood Grant Program comes out of the City of Tempe’s 5-year Capital Improvement Program budget and was created as a means to invest in resident-initiated projects designed to enhance the quality of life in Tempe’s neighborhoods. I applaud both the City of Tempe for having such a great residentially-oriented public art initiative and neighborhoods like Mitchell Park East and West that take full advantage of it.

Mitchell Park East and West show us not only what’s possible when you get involved and take action for your neighborhood, but also that you don’t need huge houses, big block fences, and wide empty streets to call your neighborhood safe and desirable. A few pieces of public art that celebrate the stories of that neighborhood and work with traffic-calming devices do amazing things to give a neighborhood a sense of place and foster pride in its residents and wonder in its visitors.

One Response

  1. mark lymer says:

    grants in the City of Tempe are not limited to public art. Mitchell Park West Neighborhood Association (MPWNA) received grants over a period of years for street signage identifying the neighborhood; about 100 trees to shade sidewalks from the hot summer sun and more benches in Mitchell Park. Also the MPWNA initiated an ‘Art in the Park’ event to give local artists another venue to exhibit and sell and local musicians an opportunity to entertain their neighbors.

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