Grassroots gallery Firehouse gets freaky with My Little Phobia, Cigar Box Art

It's sometimes easy to forget that Phoenix is the sixth largest city in the nation by population. Along with this amount of people it is only natural that some will rise as artists, writers, comics, musicians and print-makers. 

However, as the city becomes increasingly gentrified and rent prices shoot up in urban areas that are popular with artists such as the well-known Roosevelt Arts district, many arts cooperatives and venues are facing tough times.

Firehouse Gallery is a longtime downtown Phoenix fixture. It operates as a live and work house for artists and also as a gallery for their works. Every Friday of the month, it hosts a different event in the backyard of the venue, which used to be a house before it was converted to law offices in the 70s and finally was taken over by current tenants, Firehouse, in 2001.

Every second Friday, Firehouse changes up their inside exhibit, letting the show run through the next First Friday so artists can get maximum exposure.

My Little Phobia and the Cigar Box Art Show were the two dual exhibits which made their debut on the evening of Oct. 9 and will run for the rest of the month.

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By Reilly Kneedler | The State Press

Cigar Box Guitar, created by Jason Youngdale, was on display at the Firehouse Art Gallery on 1st Street in Downtown Phoenix during the My Little Phobia Art Show on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015.

These two exhibits displayed the uniqueness that is quintessential Firehouse. My Little Phobia adopted the themes of phobias and fears mixed with some freak-show art such as dolls and sculptures, while the other half of the gallery featured creative uses of the box, not simply just cigar boxes.

When I first arrived at the gallery, I didn't know what to expect since it was my first time at Firehouse. As the night progressed I started to get a better idea about the group of people who inhabit and surround the gallery.

When someone dressed up in a clown costume showed up, I knew they would be the perfect person to talk to about the Firehouse scene.

The clown ended up being Brenda Flaven, resident costumer for Firehouse's First Friday Night Live comedy show.

When asked about which costume was the most fun for her to design, she fittingly thought back to a phobia show, where a group of kids dressed up as what they feared the most.

"A bar of soap with a hair on the back of it," she said referencing the costume. "One of the kid's was a germaphobe and that was the scariest thing he could think of."

Although someone dressed up as a clown may raise eyebrows in other places around Phoenix, Flaven perfectly blended in at Firehouse.

"It's one place where you can dress like this and nobody looks at you weird," she said.

One of the most intriguing pieces in the show was Jason Youngdale's cigar box guitar.

"This show came up and it was a good opportunity to try my hand at cigar box guitar making," he said. "I was surprised I was the only guitar because actually cigar box guitars are quite popular."

Youngdale has been exhibiting with Firehouse for about three years, first contributing a post-card sized art piece when the gallery was in dire straits about acquiring a new air conditioning unit.

"Their air conditioning unit was actually broke," he said. "They did a post card art show, where you made some art on a postcard that you could put in the mail. (Artists donated their art) and they sold all the pieces and used the money to buy a new air conditioning unit."

The post card art show is an example of the strong community Firehouse has built for itself over the years.

Michael 23, one of the founders of the gallery and current director, spoke about the goals and intentions of the Firehouse.

"We aim to be a community art space," he said. "A community center for artists who live and work downtown. We're one of those long standing institutions that is of the arts and for the artists."

However, due to rapidly increasing rent prices and other complications, Firehouse is attempting to relocate.

"The neighborhood is completely gentrifying around us," 23 said. "So we're working on getting our next venue put together."

Related links:

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Reach the reporter at lsaether@asu.edu or follow @looooogaaan on Twitter.

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