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«The Role of the Performing Arts in Postwar Phoenix, Arizona: Patrons, Performers, and the Public by Michelle Lynne Bickert A Thesis Presented in ...»

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revived interest in the arts from public and private sectors. Phoenix mayor Terry Goddard (1984-1990) actively supported city arts projects, including all three of Marshall’s case studies, allocating staff, convening committees, and pushing projects through City Council. The shift from civic leaders to city leaders in the 1970s meant Phoenix needed officials like Goddard to prioritize the arts since the original base of postwar patrons was gone. Government participation was the key to stimulating a vibrant arts community in the 1980s, but Marshall concluded public support and valuing creativity were the first steps of development; past bond measures had failed because of lack of community support. Marshall encouraged future policy studies to explore the implications of an entertainment-based strategy of economic development. Arts districts not only foster the culture of creativity necessary to attract human capital, but are used to revitalize overlooked downtowns.15 As with arts and culture, downtown Phoenix underwent multiple stages of development and redevelopment, symbolizing the various visions of leaders. Downtown Phoenix thrived before the war, with steady growth around City Hall from the 1890s through the 1940s. A hub for retail, dining, and government, it was also the city’s cultural center. Theaters, or “cathedrals” as Reynolds describes them, made Washington Street an alley of entertainment before the war, featuring film, vaudeville, theater, and musical performances. Phoenix’s prewar glory days were part of a national trend in downtown development. Robert M. Fogelson’s Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950 (2001) described the three phases of downtown as the business district at the turn of the century, Ann Elizabeth Marshall, “Arts and Cultural District Formation in Phoenix, Arizona” (DPA dissertation, Arizona State University, 1993), 124, 488, 497, 531.

the central business district in the 1920s, and just another business district by World War II. A relatively young city, Phoenix’s downtown dominance lasted a bit longer with 52 percent of citywide retail sales still occurring downtown in 1948.16 However, land annexing led new suburban housing and shopping developments, leaving downtown with abandoned and blighted.

The postwar boom benefitted the Valley overall, but led to neglect and decentralizing downtown. White Phoenicians, concerned about the rising number of minorities and urban problems, moved to the suburbs or uptown, taking business with them. By the 1960s, downtown retail was dead; department stores like Penney’s, Diamond’s, and Goldwater’s left downtown for shopping malls like Park Central. In order to revitalize downtown, leaders recognized they needed major public investment and a return to downtown’s historic vibrancy but were seriously divided over urban renewal. In the 1970s the city razed historic buildings and cleared slums to create superblocks, such as Civic Plaza and Valley Center, and parking lots. This strategy was not entirely successful, and downtown remained neglected until the 1980s when the Phoenix Community Alliance, the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, and the growing interest in historic preservation began seriously reviving downtown. VanderMeer credited Mayor Goddard’s focus and vision with driving development and providing municipal support.

In 1988 the city passed an excise tax and bond initiative, encouraging the construction of cultural and educational facilities like Phoenix Museum of History and Herberger Theater Anderson, Mahmuljin, and McPherson, Downtown Phoenix, 23; Robert M.

Fogelson, Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 2.

Center and refurbishing historic buildings like the Orpheum and Heritage Square’s Victorian homes.17 Larry R. Ford found these efforts to revive downtown unsuccessful. In America’s New Downtown (2003) he ranked Phoenix against fifteen other downtowns, comparing built environment, function and amenities. Phoenix tied for last with Charlotte with a failing grade of 48 percent. Ford concluded that downtown Phoenix is just too big to be functional. He echoed other critics of Phoenix, noting that it was too difficult to move between activities. He liked the idea of redefining downtown as the ninety-block region known as Copper Square, but thought the super blocks created in the seventies still inhibited navigation. The only high-scoring aspect of downtown Phoenix was its major attractions, which by then included Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field), Heritage Square, and Symphony Hall. Yet Ford lamented the distance from the Civic Center, a criticism Frank Lloyd Wright had made during development in 1949. Although these amenities drew an estimated nine million visitors per year by 2000, the city continued to make the amenities more accessible with increased public transportation, parking, hotels, and housing.18 Urban studies theorist Richard Florida presented his argument for cultivating cities that attract ideal workers in The Rise of the Creative Class (2002). Florida identified architects, designers, scientists, engineers, academics, artists, musicians and Anderson, Mahmuljin, and McMurphy, Downtown Phoenix, 95; Collins, Emerging Metropolis, 366; VanderMeer, Phoenix Rising, 89.

Larry R. Ford, America’s New Downtowns: Revitalization or Reinvention?

(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 214, 290; Collins, Emerging Metropolis, 356; VanderMeer, Phoenix Rising, 90.

entertainers as examples of members of the creative class. Since 1950, society increasingly valued creativity until it became the highest commodity, as “coal and iron ore were to steelmaking.”19 Therefore in order for cities to be competitive, they must invest in creativity, including research and development, education, arts, culture, design, and related fields. Additionally, they must invest in cultivating a unique and organic culture appealing to workers who thrive on creativity. He argued projects like stadiums and convention centers do not return on investment as well as investments in education and programs that cultivate creativity. He advised cities to prioritize attracting and maintaining the creative class in order to generate jobs and increase wealth and income, rather than use funds for big entertainment centers. Because creative industries are invariably linked, multiple industries could flourish simultaneously.20 Florida cited Phoenix as an example of a failing effort to attract the creative class.

When some cities, like Phoenix, are not luring firms, they are investing in research and development and building office complexes – Silicon Valley on a suburban model.

Florida argued that these models prove unsustainable and contribute to the problems of sprawl, as they are models for the future based on what worked elsewhere in the past.

Further, the creative class prefers an authentic city, not a replica. Florida recalled a Phoenix business journalist who harshly told him, “We’re like Pittsburgh or St. Louis fifty years ago but without the world-class universities.”21 Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 6.

Ibid., 6-8, 319-320.

Ibid., 284.

Despite the efforts over the past decades, Phoenix has not reached the level of acclaim civic leaders hoped for decades earlier. However, Phoenix continues to evolve.

The funds from another bond measure in 2001 continued support for cultural facilities. In 2008 light rail began bringing Mesa and Tempe residents directly into downtown, with future plans to expand throughout the Valley. In addition, the creation of a downtown campus by ASU and the construction of additional residential projects, offer further signs that a new downtown is emerging. Although downtown is still not the commercial and cultural center leaders have wanted for decades, scholars stressed that downtown is not just a place, but also a process.

Historians maintained that Phoenix is an urban center and the model for the new American city. Luckingham began his book by immediately emphasizing that Arizona is one of the most urban states in the nation, with 80 percent of its population living in cities, and 60 percent in the Phoenix metro area. He argued that the sprawling, multicentered Valley is the “urban form of the future.” Some may see it as the “anticity,” but others enjoy the fragmented and dispersed metropolis. VanderMeer similarly began Desert Visions by observing that decentralization is the new urban pattern, and residents enjoy the economy, jobs, housing, and lifestyle Phoenix offers. Similarly Collins believed Phoenix’s roots as the modern American city took place in the postwar decades, demonstrating how all areas of city development created this new model.22 These authors found a discussion of arts and culture relevant to the history of Phoenix. The arts contributed to Phoenix’s position as the hub of economy, politics, Luckingham, Phoenix, 1, 9; VanderMeer, Desert Visions, 1; Collins, Emerging Metropolis, xvii.

society and culture, dominating the surrounding metropolitan area. Historians were concerned with how the arts fit into Phoenix’s narrative, but in order to determine how arts policy affected urban development, the issue needs further exploration. Marshall’s thesis was an excellent example of examining the relationship between government, business, the arts, and the community, and her prescriptive conclusions are useful. If Phoenix wants to build its economy, attract human capital, and prove itself as the new urban model, then these issues must be placed in their historical context. Understanding how the arts developed, why they developed, who developed them and how successful they were will better inform city leaders who wish to include the arts in an agenda of development.

Since secondary literature on Phoenix performing arts groups is limited, primary sources were critical in compiling the first survey of the performing arts. Phoenix Little Theatre has the largest archival collection with twenty-seven linear feet of board minutes, programs, and promotional materials from its over eighty-year history, housed at the Arizona Historical Society at Papago Park. The Phoenix Symphony Collection has two boxes worth of his thesis research, including clippings and interview transcripts.23 The Musicians’ Club and Orpheus Male Chorus also have collections that include similar items. All contain scrapbooks or clipping collections with articles from various newspapers. Programming and publicity materials contain information on the connections between the group and the larger community, such as specific individuals, Phoenix buildings, local organizations, membership incentives and community projects. Many The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra Collection was originally the Brian Carrol Stoneburner Collection and contains materials from his 1981 thesis research.

other theaters and organizations are represented in the Ephemera Collection, whose Arts & Leisure series contains materials too small to comprise an entire collection. The manuscript collections from Stephen C. Shadegg and Newton Rosenzweig provide administrative information on their performing arts endeavors. Finally, the Behavior Research Center Collection contains numerous research reports on Arizonans’ attitudes towards the arts and explaining the audience’s behavior.

Local newspapers The Arizona Republic(an) and the Phoenix Gazette offered additional information on events mentioned in the manuscript collections and provided insight into how the newspapers boosted the goal and how the community received these cultural offerings. Only specific dates relating to large events such as season openings/endings or building openings were reviewed in order to strategically assess such an abundance of material. Phoenix Magazine’s arts and entertainment section provided numerous previews, reviews, and profiles on Valley organizations and events from the 1960s until today, providing the harsh criticisms and institutional exposes excluded from the scrapbooks. Magazines Point West and later the Phoenix New Times also supplied similar discussions which delved deeper into the arts community than the newspapers.

In addition to the Phoenix histories, arts histories, and urban histories, institutional histories identified major periods of growth, change, and turmoil. Although their origins differ, they experienced the same pattern of growth in the 1950s and early 1960s, struggled with professionalizing through the 1970s, and had to find new funding models in the 1980s before becoming somewhat stable in 1990s. ASU School of Music students wrote histories of the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Orpheus Male Chorus, Phoenix Bach Choir, while other groups wrote their own histories, as the Phoenix Little Theatre did for their sixty-fifth anniversary.

Nonprofit and government agency reports produced in the late 1990s and early 2000s provided broad histories of Valley arts to contextualize data on funding, economic impact, attendance rates, policies, and popular opinions related to the local and state arts scene. Agencies like Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy prepared these reports to inform arts policy decisions and argue their positive economic impact, often citing Florida’s work. Combined, these sources illustrate how the arguments civic leaders used in the 1940s to create performing arts groups have morphed into policy arguments today.

The following chapters examine how each participant in the performing arts scene – the performers, the patrons, and the public – contributed to Phoenix’s cultural development and their role in the growth vision. Each chapter follows the same chronology, beginning with a historical background on each group through World War II.

The performing arts scene organized and developed from 1947 through the 1960s, helped by the patrons who wanted a more cultured city and the growing audience looking for entertainments. During this time group leadership and the city built venues to stage various groups and accommodate larger crowds while signaling the city’s increased maturity through the built environment. The mid-1960s through 1980s saw the struggle to professionalize while power shifted from civic to city leadership in the 1970s and 1980s.

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