«The Role of the Performing Arts in Postwar Phoenix, Arizona: Patrons, Performers, and the Public by Michelle Lynne Bickert A Thesis Presented in ...»
During World War II, the Army banned all airfield personnel from entering Phoenix until the city cracked down on prostitution and gambling. Fearing the serious economic repercussions of losing such a large market, local business leaders met with local government in the Adams Hotel and forced them to resign so the Army would regain confidence in local leadership’s ability to control vice. Three weeks later, the city shifted from civic leaders representing private and public interests to city leaders working through the municipal government.
The CGC and Chamber of Commerce functioned were the force behind city government during the postwar era, but were more than just political puppet masters.
These business leaders and professionals worked as civic leaders sometimes holding government office, but more consistently serving in community organizations promoting philanthropy, fraternity, and the arts. At the same time, their wives organized to bring Eastern culture and refinement to the West. The same names dominated economic, political and often cultural realms, reoccurring across multiple chapters of Phoenix history. The influence of citizens like Newton Rosenzweig, Walter Bimson, Charles Korrick, the Goldwaters, Eugene Pulliam, the Heards, Frank Snell and others is still felt today – particularly in the arts community they established.
Civic leaders understood the interactive relationship between the economy, politics, and culture, and during the postwar era they incorporated culture in city planning through projects like auditoriums and the convention center. The sophisticated leaders personally enjoyed fine arts like the theater and classical music but understood establishing cultural institutions was necessary to recruiting the residents they wanted.
Civic leadership promoted these programs while assuming that growth was ultimately good, and the decisions they made for politics, the economy, and culture centered on gaining residents and annexing land. Attracting a white, middle-class, and educated workforce was the linchpin in realizing their goals for the city.
reinstated everyone ousted in the “Card Room Putsch,” prompting the city government overhaul that led to the CGC. VanderMeer, Desert Visions, 103-104, 153.
Phoenix has served as a white haven since its inception. Tourism, one of its earliest industries, catered to rich visitors escaping harsh winters through resorts like the Arizona Biltmore and Camelback Inn. As the snowbird population increased, so did the number of hotels; by 1946 there were 49 hotels between Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street in downtown Phoenix. Wealthy visitors were the minority, but city leaders focused on courting rich and well-connected visitors who could establish firms in the Valley, or at least invest in its development. Organizations like the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and the Phoenix Symphony Association illustrated what leaders valued for themselves and other residents. Thus leaders intentionally crafted development to reflect the morals and culture they wished to attract, which would further catapult the Valley’s economy.9 Before Phoenix could promote its identity, it had to decide what it should be.
Historians detailed the challenges of cultivating an image for the city. VanderMeer described the ensuing identity crisis that arrived with new residents after the war: was Phoenix the “West,” a desert city, or an extension of southern California? Postwar civic leaders presented Phoenix as mainstream America, differing little from the rest of the country except for maintaining its traditional image as the spot for healthy outdoor recreation. Phoenicians embraced mid-century mass culture – film, cars, shopping malls, and suburbia – but could not shake the regional culture and its past identity of agriculture and ranching. Just as Phoenicians defined what they were, they struggled to overcome what they did not wish to be. Since the nineteenth century Phoenicians fought to escape Luckingham, Phoenix, 8; Seth J. Anderson, Suad Mahmuljin, and Jim McPherson, Downtown Phoenix (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2011), 39; Philip
VanderMeer, Phoenix Rising: The Making of a Desert Metropolis (Carlsbad, CA:
Heritage Media Corp., 2002), 21.
the “Wild West” image, although some cities like Scottsdale fully embrace the cowboy identity. Collins explained the problem best: “The cause of bringing culture to a town where a man caught in a business suit during rodeo week was liable to have his tie summarily cut off challenged the civic leadership.”10 Appearing cultured meant emulating other regions’ definitions of culture – a little more symphony and a little less rodeo.11 Leaders cultivated culture through the arts, and culture attracts industry, a model boosters drove since the nineteenth century. Phoenicians often measured culture against Eastern standards, with the middle and upper classes desiring high culture (art, symphony, theater) and competing with regional, ethnic and popular culture (rodeos, vaudeville, movies). This struggle was typical of Western towns, where immigrants brought their own culture and then adapted it. Phoenix’s sophisticated elite missed their symphonies and art museums, and they led the movement to bring high culture to Phoenix. Valley National Bank president Walter Bimson secured a building and funding for the Phoenix Art Museum in 1959, and Blanche and Charles Korrick of Korricks Department Store supported the Musicians Club of Phoenix since the 1920s and helped start the Phoenix Symphony Association in 1947. The boards of directors and donors listed on postwar performing arts programs read like a who’s who of Phoenix. These leaders not only enjoyed the arts personally but also understood the importance of establishing arts organizations in order to attract eastern businessmen like Daniel Noble, Collins, Emerging Metropolis, 353.
VanderMeer, Phoenix Rising, 106-107.
who brought Motorola to Phoenix in 1949 and was actively involved with the Phoenix Symphony Association, Phoenix Art Museum, and Arizona State University.
Still, historians credited civic leaders with making (high) cultural progress by the 1960s, only to fall apart in the 1970s. Professionalizing groups proved difficult to sustain, as opera and ballet, faltered and even more established groups with a broader appeal, like the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, had trouble stabilizing. This was one sign of an ending era. Collins argued that the 1970s marks the end of an era, in part because the leaders who supported this culture had retired or died. By the late 1980s, arts and culture finally stabilized with increased attendance, more private donations, and support from the city through bond measures and the creation of the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture. The story folds neatly into the historical narrative, exemplifying vision, growing pains, and eventually maturity. Yet the authors do not answer if these tactics succeeded, and by what standard. In American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century (1999), Michael Kammen concluded that middlebrow culture became the norm due to the rise of the middle class and decline in elitism. Would the postwar patrons be happy with what they see today – increased government and popular support for the arts, but a broader definition of what constitutes culture?
Kammen charted the evolution of taste in the twentieth century by examining changes in class stratification. Where there was once a cultural hierarchy of highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow, there is now cultural plurality. His argument centered on the difference between popular culture and mass culture, and the transition from popular to mass deconstructed the dominance of elitist high culture. Popular culture was prevalent in various forms for centuries (Shakespeare is a good example) and through the first half of the twentieth century, and people shaped it democratically. Taste preferences and social class dictated what constituted popular culture and the process was interactive; people endorsed what they enjoyed. Mass culture, however, is highly standardized, non-regional, and completely commercial. It is dictated by companies and advertisers and thrust upon everyone. Kammen argued that because the West was not fully industrialized until World War II, it was not a full participant in mass culture until mid-century, which is true for Phoenix. Boosters simultaneously promoted high culture and mass culture in Phoenix, attempting to present Phoenix as Everytown and a home for sophisticated entertainment.12 The authors agreed that World War II marked a new era for Phoenix but credited different years and causes for its close. Luckingham identified 1941-1960 as the boom years while 1960-1980 was a new era of growth marked by Phoenix’s emergence as a major Sunbelt center, during which the city’s economy and population continued growing but at the expense of public services and infrastructure. Collins ended the growth era in 1973 with the opening of Civic Plaza and the new Valley National Bank building, Valley Center, symbolizing the “new” downtown Phoenix, which he deemed a success. It also marked the point when many civic leaders retired or passed away, closing an era of intense boosterism and leaving a leadership vacuum. VanderMeer argued the transition came in several stages. Beginning in the 1960s Phoenix dealt with the emerging consequences of rapid growth, and the massive population increase diversified residents, changing their needs, interests. The CGC-era ended in the 1970s when Phoenicians Michael Kammen, American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the th 20 Century (New York: Knopf, 1999), 18, 32, 243.
elected new city leaders to develop new strategies for governance with mixed success.
The 1980s saw more changes: Phoenicians voted for a district system of representation, changing who was elected to city council, while leadership worked to expand the city’s economic base beyond construction and tourism. The stage of development for performing arts groups corresponds with the city’s development, as the leadership, size of the city, public services, availability of funding, and expectations of the population all impact how and when groups organized, recruited, secured venues, staged performances, and professionalized. The decades following the war marked a new vision for Phoenix’s future as more residents, businesses, and leaders contributed their ideas of how the city should develop. Understanding the era that formed Phoenician’s goals and attitudes is essential to understanding the role of the arts in that agenda.13 Leaders created their postwar visions of Phoenix without considering racial and ethnic minorities. Despite its Native American and Hispanic roots, Phoenix civic history lacks diversity. Postwar civic leaders’ vision did not include integrating minorities into the city’s growth, and Phoenix saw de facto segregation with Hispanics isolated in barrios and 90 percent of the African-American population living south of Van Buren Street.
Both communities had poor education, housing, and employment rates, problems Phoenix leadership did not address until forced. Beginning in the 1960s with the national Civil Rights Movement, African-American community leaders formed private-public partnerships to improve conditions. Similarly Hispanics organized their own advocacy groups while capitalizing on the national Chicano Movement, as did the state’s Native Luckingham, Phoenix, 177, 219; Collins, Emerging Metropolis, xvi;
VanderMeer, Desert Visions, 183-186.
American population. During Phoenix’s political evolution in the 1970s Calvin Goode and Alfredo Gutierrez were elected to city council, representing the African-American and Hispanic communities, respectively, and bringing their concerns to the city’s agenda.
Regarding culture, VanderMeer observed that although Native Americans comprise only 2 percent of Arizona’s population, their culture is basic to the state’s self-image, as is the more dominant Hispanic culture, representing one third of residents. As minority populations increased, and they gained a greater voice in the community, ethnic cultures became more visible in the city, particularly in arts and culture. In the 1990s AfricanAmerican and Hispanic theater troupes emerged in addition to art and festivals celebrating the multicultural city. The authors depict postwar Phoenix as a hegemonic city that only addressed minorities groups when they spoke out. As demographics changed in the twenty-first century, Phoenix was forced to recognize its citizens’ diversity in all aspects of civic life.14 Once the postwar leadership left, a new generation of leaders had to determine where and how the arts fit in Phoenix’s future. Ann Elizabeth Marshall’s 1993 dissertation “Arts and Cultural District Formation in Phoenix, Arizona” presented three case studies of arts district projects – the Arts District, Heritage Square, and the Warehouse District – and analyzed how they fit redevelopment goals by evaluating stakeholders. Planning the official Arts District through city government did not begin until the late 1980s/early 1990s, although the Civic Center facilities that housed the Phoenix Public Library, Phoenix Little Theatre, the Phoenix Art Museum and The Heard Museum had operated as an arts district since the 1950s. By the 1980s, Phoenix saw a Luckingham, Phoenix, 212-219; VanderMeer, Phoenix Rising, 111-117.