Roosevelt Row Arts District

Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation

Funding Received: 2012
Phoenix, AZ
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
August 29, 2012

Roosevelt Row CDC is a 501(c) 3 non-profit community development corporation
established to further the unique cultural character and creative assets of the Roosevelt
Row Arts District, to advocate for the continuing presence and role of the arts, and small
business in the revitalization of the district, and to foster a dense, diverse and walkable
urban community.

Roosevelt Row CDC is deepening its community engagement through ArtPlace support in order to foster a community-driven consensus vision for future development of the area, piloting an urban infill and business incubator program through shipping containers as a tool for temporary activation of vacant land and collaborating with the ASU Art Museum and a range of community partners and stakeholders on “Feast on the Street” that will bring a half-mile long dining table to downtown Phoenix with artistic direction from London-based artist Clare Patey and Phoenix-based artist and fourth-generation farmer Matthew Moore.

ArtPlace spoke with Roosevelt Row interim director Cindy Dach about transition, engaging the dynamics of inevitable change and planning for an unknown and unknowable future.

ARTPLACE: What do you have to do really (really) well to achieve success with your initiative?

CINDY DACH: Communication, organization and engagement. To achieve success, we must continually dialog with our community and have an understanding of where we came from while we vision our future. It takes time and commitment to have insightful dialog. Everyone is committed to an arts-focused district, but what has to be kept in mind is that implementation of new projects will have many translations. I might liken our efforts to a hybrid (which is the new normal) between ethnography, choreography and inspiration.

Written articulation of our goals is critical to the future success of our initiatives and priorities. Many of the wild and crazy aspirations that we had for Roosevelt Row a decade ago (and that we now take for granted) started as scribbled notes on cocktail napkins and expired art opening invitations, but they started with committing them to writing. As a grassroots, community organization, we don’t have the resources that large corporations do to bring in planning and visioning consultants or leadership training and capacity building experts. We are catalyzing and leveraging many of the resources and areas of expertise that are already invested in the success of our community. The arts bridge so many aspects of our diverse communities from visual art, poetry, theater and live music to community gardens, temporary art and murals.

The arts are part of the DNA of this place, from Dr. Eugene Grigsby who started teaching art classes here in 1954 and who is still creating and exhibiting new artwork in this neighborhood to the Alwun House Foundation which was established in 1971. We need to clearly articulate the importance of the arts to the future of the area. Without the clearly expressed intent to retain the arts and diverse small businesses here in the future, we could easily follow the mistakes of many cities where local businesses were lost to national chains that later vacated large retail spaces.

Roosevelt Row was a diverse, walkable area fifty years ago connecting diverse neighborhoods and that history informs the success and vitality that we have today. Our vision for the future of Roosevelt Row would include the ability for a new artist or business owner starting out here today to come back in fifty years and recognize and feel welcome in the environment that will exist here in 2062.

ARTPLACE: How do you expect the community to change as a result?

Our community will change in many ways, but one of the greatest changes will be the growth of community with increased density. This will bring in new voices who are committed to our district and whose history starts at a later date. We have never articulated in a formal way that the arts and cultural vitality that we take for granted today should be fostered into the future. It has been an assumption and a secret gem to our district. As we grow, we must take our secret gem and turn it into a clear vision, so that it is protected.

The model of economic development that says that any development is better than no development isn’t appropriate in this place, a community of people with deep roots and vision. The core stakeholders in the future vision of this place may be under-resourced financially in terms of building the type of community today they would like to be a part of, but the percentage of commitment to that vision in terms of overall available resources, and in terms of what each person is willing to commit to foster that vision far, far exceeds the percentage of financial risk that any typical developer or financial institution would ever take.

We are collectively the people investing our own money and credit (and the money and credit of our friends and family), picking up the garbage, repairing and renovating existing older buildings, planting trees and doing everything that our limited resources allow to create a constantly improving place and community for each of us. As a result, we expect our community to change incrementally, and to change in partnership with new investors in our shared vision for the future.