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Scottsdale Arts transcends beyond traditional with Canal Convergence — burgeoning music festival

Patrons from all over the Valley of the Sun — an estimated 200,000 at Canal Convergence and another 8,000 at the Dreamy Draw Music Fest — came to Experience Scottsdale in a whole new way thanks to the vision of municipal leadership at City Hall and Scottsdale Arts. (Photos Courtesy of Brian Passey at Scottsdale Arts/DigitalFreePress)
Scottsdale Arts presents Dreamy Draw, Canal Convergence to record crowds
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

A sense of place can be a powerful thing.

A sense of place can evoke powerful emotion that hearkens back to a time when you first encounter purposeful design — or reminds of a time when everything in the world around you felt alright — but transforming an existing area into a landmark that honors the past and salutes the future is more art than science, brick-and-mortar aficionados contend.

A sense of place offering a one-of-a-kind experience is something from the very beginning identified as the keystone goal of the revitalization of the Civic Center in Scottsdale.

For all intents and purposes, the vision at Scottsdale Arts then envisaged at City Hall years ago is coming to fruition.

“I think from the word, ‘go’ we are swinging for the fences — and clearing them,” said Scottsdale Arts President and CEO Gerd Wuestemann.

“I am so proud of our team for working very hard to produce all these amazing events each week at Civic Center, October through May. And so far — everything we’ve done has been smooth and successful.”

About five years ago, Mr. Wuestemann explains the rebirth of Scottsdale Arts began with a new vision and a new strategy to bring more events and a musical festival to ‘The West’s Most Western Town.’

“I feel very fortunate to see this vision come to life: when I started here five years ago, we envisioned that outdoor stages would really make Civic Center the cultural hub of Scottsdale again,” he said. “What’s happening right now — right from the start — exceeds even my expectations.”

In recent months, Scottsdale Arts has become a beacon of what a municipal arts program can aspire to be.

“A recent article in the Rolling Stone about Dreamy Draw surmises that this will become one of those ultra-high quality annual festivals where people discover the next big thing,” Mr. Wuestemann said of local and national attention gained from innovative efforts. “One of the most amazing aspects was how well the Civic Center layout worked: we designed it specifically so that multiple stages can play at the same time and there’s always a performance going.”

Funding for the majority of the $33.5 million Civic Center revitalization project was approved by Scottsdale voters in the 2019 bond election. Construction began in October 2021.

In broad strokes the revitalization project brought new life to the East and West bowls and the Civic Center Lawn, which most recently played host to the both the Dreamy Draw Music Fest and coveted Canal Convergence public art community event.

“We anticipate to land somewhere close to 200,000 in attendance over the 10 days,” Mr. Wuestemann said of events earlier this month, including the Dreamy Draw Music Fest, which featured Midland as one of its headline acts.


“Families and kids loved all the engagement with the artwork. From climbing on the giant octopus to riding light-up swings, painting on giant digital canvases or motion activating our big signature cubes — it really was all about The Power of Play! In addition, we produced almost 100 workshops and most were at capacity.”

1ON1 with DIG Studio founder Brandon Sobiech on the Scottsdale Civic Center revitalization

The landscape architect tapped for the Civic Center revitalization project was Phoenix-based DIG Studio — and at the helm of the design firm is Brandon Sobiech.

In all, the urban planning team at DIG played a lead role in the following efforts:

  • Creating the 2,700-person East Bowl Amphitheater — which is equipped with state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems — allows the Civic Center to host performances from national touring acts, like Midland, Wilco and Lord Huron;
  • A new Civic Lawn offering flexible space for hosting a variety of community events — from festivals like the recent Canal Convergence to movie nights and morning yoga; and
  • The upgraded lagoons with the inclusion of low-water-use drip irrigated plants slashing water use in half by 5 million gallons.

Mr. Sobiech sat down with the Digital Free Press to offer insights into his motivation to build things and the kind of effort he and his team put into the revitalized Civic Center at Scottsdale City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

This is what he had to say:

•When the opportunity came to provide designs for the Civic Center revamp project, what first came to mind? Why do you think your firm was ultimately chosen?

History. I think that’s the first thing that came to mind. There were so many layers to this public space, rooted in a legacy of Benny Gonzales design. But beyond that, this was a loved space, yes, it was dated and worn and had some functional issues, such as water use and access, but it was beloved. With this in mind, we developed an approach with our design partners, Lake Flato and Ardurra, of preservation, enhancement, and transformation. This approach started with not only physical attributes that should be preserved, but environmental and social considerations such as preserving the activity of strolling, the sound of water, and legacy shade trees. From there, we layered in opportunities to enhance the space, for example, the Marshal Gardens, and areas of transformation like the Children’s Garden outside the library doors.

Just as we started designing, the pandemic hit. Fortunately, we were able to quickly pivot to online collaborative tools, but that timing really reinforced for us how important engaging and activated public outdoor spaces were to our communities. One of the other major design influences when approaching this project was the diversity of uses that surrounded and considered the park its front door. Cultural landmarks like City Hall, the public library, Museum of Contemporary Art, alongside retail and hotel uses all influenced the planning and programming of the park spaces. The outcome of this is a series of linked spaces that reflect their immediate context in program and layout, that stitch together to create the civic center.

What do you think downtown Scottsdale means to the people who live there? What do you think it means to the people who work and play there? How do those two distinct regular inhabitants of downtown Scottsdale shape the design of a civic center campus?

It was very apparent from the previous master planning effort that creating a space for families was high on the list of priorities for the park. This goal really reflected the immediate community of south Scottsdale. Simultaneously, the Civic Center is also a major draw for tourists visiting the area. There are numerous events, from spring training to art festivals to concerts, that would draw crowds to the space, and with it a demand for infrastructure and flexible space to support these events. It became apparent quickly that our team needed to carefully balance the community’s desire for a day-to-day public space that’s welcoming and park-like with new family amenities within a context of supporting and creating a magnet for tourism and events.

•How about modern design, how was that incorporated into what ultimately unfolded?

We strive to create structures that were contemporary and forward-thinking without competing with the historic surroundings. This was achieved by using color palettes that harmonized with the existing architecture, for example, as well as using more fluid and organic forms influenced by motion and performance rather than rigid angular planes. Along with featuring a more modern design, the Civic Center has also been equipped with an incredible array of modern amenities, including free public Wi-Fi and high-tech audio/visual systems and performance lighting capabilities. These new features allowed the space to adapt to various events, from local community gatherings to performances from internationally recognized artists.

Modernizing the park to align with Scottsdale’s commitment to water conservation was also a key component of the design. We were able to slash the city’s water usage by 5.8 million gallons of water every year by eliminating two water features in need of significant repair and resizing the lagoon to minimize water evaporation, along with right-sizing the turf use in the park to focus on programmed spaces. The project’s commitment to responsible water use is further reflected through other elements like the inclusion of low-water use drip irrigated plants highlighted by the garden on the bridge and reusing water from the splash pad to refill the lagoon.

•What is the No. 1 thing for visitors and residents ought to know when they come to the new civic center in Scottsdale?

One essential aspect for residents and visitors to understand about the new Scottsdale Civic Center Park’s design is that it will only get better every year. We very intentionally sourced and supported ideal growing conditions below pavements for specific trees which will all culminate into a beautiful tree canopy throughout the park. We employed some pretty innovative techniques to ensure that stormwater goes to supporting the tree roots, which will lend to a bigger, healthier tree canopy, faster. The best is yet to come, and I’m excited to witness the Civic Center’s transformation over time.

A vision realized in more ways than one at Scottsdale Arts

The staff at Scottsdale Arts is abuzz with the recent success at Canal Convergence and the Dreamy Draw Music Fest — but for Mr. Wuestemann, the most recent bevy of successful events served as a litmus test of sorts.

“We wanted to find out this year if we can handle two major events like Canal Convergence and Dreamy Draw at the same time,” he said.

“This is such a great time of the year to produce these outdoor festivals, so it made sense to push ourselves. Our amazing staff worked incredibly hard, and both Canal Convergence and Dreamy Draw were executed flawlessly. Our Dreamy Draw partners from Oh Wow and Spoonful, of course, carried a big share, and it was an incredible success for us. Scottsdale Arts is really a very different organization now from just a few years ago.”

Furthermore, Mr. Wuestemann points out during the 10 days of Canal Convergence the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts hosted the premier event at the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce — the Sterling Awards. Also, Scottsdale Arts produced an early Veterans Day celebration coupled with the LuLu Lemon 10K, which featured some 8,000 runners.

“Over the past five years we have also re-grown this board to its full 32-member capacity,” Mr. Wuestemann explained of the new makeup at Scottsdale Arts leadership. “It is a rare thing to have such a powerful, engaged and united board backing an arts organization — we are truly fortunate. A number of our trustees came to Canal Convergence and Dreamy Draw, and all were just blown away. I think my favorite comment came from one of our more revered trustees, who — after seeing our Rolling Stone article — said: ‘wow, we’ve really done it — this is now a hip, modern and forward-looking organization that manages to bring the next generation into the arts.’”

Mr. Wuestemann explains how satisfying it is to see a well-designed plan come to life because he says so many people played a role in the ongoing success of Scottsdale Arts.

“One of the most amazing aspects was how well the Civic Center layout worked: we designed it specifically so that multiple stages can play at the same time and there’s always a performance going,” he said. “Until you really test it in a true festival setting, you just don’t know — and it worked perfectly. Add to that the sense of place – you really feel like you’re on this beautiful Southwest campus, with great architecture and brilliant views of Camelback Mountain — it just makes it special. Parking and rideshare worked incredibly well with little to no congestion and the entire thing had a truly laid-back family vibe.”

Mr. Wuestemann says he believes there is opportunity in today’s nonprofit arts world — even if some challenges still exist.

“This is a very interesting time for arts nonprofits across the country,” he said. “We are fortunate to have reinvented ourselves at the right time – we are here to serve our ever-growing community and are fulfilling this mission with the new Civic Center in a fabulous, casual and accessible setting. As a result, we continue to grow and connect better and better to our patrons.”

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