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Later this month, Scottsdale Arts celebrate 50 years of public installations of the imagination

photo of public art at Scottsdale Arts
The renovated Scottsdale Civic Center has already captured the attention of various organizations, including the Arizona Parks & Recreation Association, which awarded it an “Outstanding Facility” designation, recognizing it as the state’s best newly constructed facility of 2023 for populations of more than 100,000. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)
Public art projects mark half a century at Scottsdale Arts
By Brian Passey | Scottsdale Arts

Scottsdale Arts and the city of Scottsdale will celebrate the oldest and newest works in the city’s Permanent Art Collection with a special event from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 26, at the newly renovated Scottsdale Civic Center.

The event will feature the dedication of “The Desert’s Garden,” a new mosaic artwork installed by Arizona-based artist Tammi Lynch-Forrest near Scottsdale City Hall, and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Louise Nevelson’s “Windows to the West,” the first large-scale artwork in the city’s collection. The two artworks are conveniently located just across the lawn from each other at Scottsdale Civic Center.

“This event will honor Scottsdale’s 50-year legacy of integrating public art into the building of our city,” said Kati Ballares, director of Scottsdale Public Art. “We know our residents and visitors appreciate how the city is so intentionally designed, but few people actually know that Scottsdale Public Art has played an ever-increasing role in this process since the early 1970s. The opening of the renovated Scottsdale Civic Center and the completion of our newest public artwork is a great opportunity to celebrate and tell this story.”

In addition to celebrating the public artworks, the event will also note the 55th anniversary of Scottsdale City Hall and its designation as a historic landmark. The event will feature dance performances, live music, food and giveaways.

The renovated Scottsdale Civic Center has already captured the attention of various organizations, including the Arizona Parks & Recreation Association, which awarded it an “Outstanding Facility” designation, recognizing it as the state’s best newly constructed facility of 2023 for populations of more than 100,000. Additionally, Engineering News-Record Southwest named Scottsdale Civic Center as the best landscape/urban development project in the region, which includes Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.

For many years, “Windows to the West” — more formally titled “Atmosphere and Environments XVIII” — stood at the southeast corner of Scottsdale City Hall, near 75th Street. During the recent renovations of the outdoor spaces at the Civic Center, “Windows to the West” was placed in storage.

Shortly before the opening of the Civic Center’s first phase in January, “Windows to the West” returned, but in a new location north of Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. This new placement is more appropriate for a sculpture nicknamed “Windows to the West,” as it faces the Civic Center’s West Paseo, a corridor stretching westward to connect with the shops along Main Street in Old Town Scottsdale.

Wendy Raisanen, curator of collections and exhibitions for Scottsdale Public Art, said “Windows to the West” started the city of Scottsdale’s permanent public art collection in the early 1970s when the Scottsdale Fine Arts Commission raised money, in concert with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, to commission the most esteemed female sculptor in the United States, Louise Nevelson (aged 73 at the time), for what was then the new Scottsdale Civic Center Mall.

“It was a bold move for the early 1970s, when nearly all public art in the country was created by men, and the other considered American sculptors for the project were men,” Ms. Raisanen said. “Nevelson was a real trailblazer in her art career and life. As a young artist at Scottsdale High School, I saw her as a role model and icon.”

Among the commission members making that bold move were two prominent Arizona-based artists: Philip C. Curtis, founder of what became Phoenix Art Museum, and Dorothy Fratt, whose work will be shown in a 2024 exhibition at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) in celebration of the museum’s 25th anniversary.

Another member of that commission was Katherine “Kax” Kierland Herberger, a prominent philanthropist to the arts and mother of the late Judd Herberger, who continued his mother’s philanthropic legacy alongside his wife, Billie Jo Herberger, in recent decades.

“In a way, it is fortunate that Scottsdale has attracted people who are so mature and realize how much it will mean to the environment to have good art.”

However, when “Windows to the West” was first installed in 1973, there were some vocal Scottsdale residents who didn’t appreciate the contemporary nature of the artwork, preferring western realism instead, Ms. Raisanen said. Eventually, many residents came to love “Windows to the West,” naming it the most popular sculpture of the collection in the late 1990s. It has also been recognized in recent years by Phoenix New Times as the “Best Permanent Public Art” in the publication’s annual Best of Phoenix awards.

Ms. Nevelson wrote to public art administrators in 1978, saying, “I would like to reconfirm that ‘Atmosphere and Environments’ was created for a more enclosed mall situation in which a continual flow of people would interact with the sculpture to complete my envisioned environment. The interactions of people with my work is the grace by which it lives a vital existence. The mall placement with its proximity to the vitality of the Fine Arts Center is also meaningful.”

Ms. Raisanen said she believes the sculpture’s new location — even closer to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and SMoCA and at a prominent entrance to the Civic Center — finally fulfills the artist’s vision.

Photo by Arianna Grainey/Digital Free Press
‘The Desert’s Garden’ of Scottsdale Arts

Just as “Windows to the West” was an artistic highlight of the original Scottsdale Civic Center Mall in the 1970s, a new public artwork was commissioned for the reopening of what is now simply called Scottsdale Civic Center this year.
Arizona-based artist Tammi Lynch-Forrest has created a colorful and detailed mosaic wall along a water feature at the southwest corner of Scottsdale City Hall.

Titled “The Desert’s Garden,” Ms. Lynch-Forrest’s work also acts as a timeline for the Scottsdale area, portraying three eras of the land through the plants and animals present. The artist said there are often misconceptions about the desert being a barren place, but this artwork highlights all the living things that make it a “desert garden.” Some of the tiles creating the expansive garden mosaic are smaller than a dime, and nearly all were hand-crafted by the artist.

When Ms. Lynch-Forrest first submitted a proposal for the artwork, the artist didn’t realize it would be in such a prominent place.

“I was just blown away by how beautiful the Civic Center was and how much happens there,” Ms. Lynch-Forrest said. “I’m beyond honored.”

The Oct. 26 event will begin at “Windows to the West,” with speakers and a dance performance by The Movement Source Dance Company, before moving to “The Desert’s Garden” dedication, featuring additional speakers, live music by Bad Cactus Brass Band, food and giveaways.

Other prominent public artworks located at Scottsdale Civic Center include Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” sculpture and George-Ann Tognoni’s figurative bronze works “The Yearlings” and “Winfield Scott Memorial.”

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