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What’s Happening at the Roosevelt Row Arts District in Downtown Phoenix?

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The Roosevelt Row Arts District in downtown Phoenix,  affectionately known as RoRo, is one of the most exciting and important nodes in the city that is contributing to the cultural sea change in the city center towards an urban, local, homegrown, funky and unique place centered around arts and culture. The arts district is a result of the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation (CDC) which was founded in 2007 by Greg Esser, Cindy Dach and others. It is the original location of First Fridays Art Walk and continues to be a thriving arts area, even in the face of new development that wants to come into the area, partly because the CDC made the area desirable with it’s ongoing work in the past 7 years.

RoRo is essentially an arts district, a distinctive area of artist ownership in a walkable and creative part of the urban core. RoRo is known for its arts and cultural events, restaurants, galleries, boutiques, live music, murals and a hip and creative vibe. But it isn’t just about the arts, it’s also about fostering urban renewal through temporary use of vacant land, adaptive reuse, renovation of historic buildings and new infill projects. “Its mission,” says Nicole Underwood, the Director of Operations at the CDC, “is to advocate for the continuing presence and role of the arts and small business in the revitalization of the district and fostering a dense, diverse and walkable urban community.”

RoRo hosts some of the most innovative and exciting ongoing annual events in Phoenix including the annual Pie Social and the upcoming Chile Pepper Festival and Feast on the Street. The CDC also facilitates First and Third Friday activities, artist meet and greets and business workshops to provide resources to business owners. In service of urban renewal, the group works to activate vacant lots through beautification, such as with the Growhouse Community Garden and Valley of the Sunflowers projects. “All of these efforts collectively tell the story of the importance of connecting people and inviting them to celebrate each other through the arts, culture and  community,” says Underwood.

A new and exciting project at RoRo is a pilot shipping container project to provide affordable live/work spaces in the Roosevelt corridor. This project is funded by a grant by ArtPlace America, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, and will continue the creative place making efforts the district is famous for. The project is intended to be a catalyst and example for future artist-supported livable solutions for incoming development.

But as with all arts districts that were pioneered by visionary artists, RoRo is facing the challenge of gentrification and new development moving in that might displace the very artists that made the area appealing in the first place. In other words, the struggle at RoRo is to retain artists and creatives in the area while continuing to evolve into a mature and economically vibrant district. Underwood emphasizes that “visionary artists are responsible for the revitalization of this once desolate area. In return, it is our responsibility as Phoenix residents and art advocates who benefit from their efforts to offer viable livable solutions and maintain the presence of creativity and innovation for the next generation.”

Photo Credit: Photo by Candace Porth. Check out Candace’s excellent blog Glenrosa Journeys Life in the 5th Largest City in the US – Phoenix.