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Roosevelt Row continues to undergo cultural shifts

The arrival of new housing in the area has changed the overall feel of the district, some say

Roosevelt Row.jpg

Found:RE hotel cultural curator, Mike Oleskow, works in the lobby in Phoenix, Arizona, on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018.

Growhouse. Lawn Gnome. Jobot. 

These businesses, among many others, were once landmarks on downtown Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row. Inside, patrons could find art along with a strong sense of community. Now, some have closed their doors entirely, some have relocated and some have changed their form of production. 

However, in recent years, the Roosevelt Row district has seen a change in its demographics as new developments have been built, sending some businesses packing. 

Spearheading these changes are factors such as gentrification and an increased need for overall housing in the area. 

“Gentrification can be a good thing for everyone if it preserves the culture of a neighborhood,” Carol Poore, a faculty associate in ASU's School of Public Affairs, said. 

According to the real estate website, Trulia, housing values in the area have increased by almost 25 percent in the last three years. 

So what’s next for Phoenix’s art scene?

“Roosevelt Row still has some charm," Poore said. "It hasn’t all gone away. I don’t know if Phoenix will have only one arts district anymore.”

Since getting involved with the Phoenix Community Alliance, Poore has seen a shift in the district's tenants in the last few years. 

One shift that stood out to her in particular was the relocation of the Wurth House, which was organized by gallery-owner Kimber Lanning. In 2015, after Lanning saw the historic property on a list to be eventually demolished, she became determined to save it from developers converging on the area and buying out old houses. 

Partnering with other businesses in the area, she took the entire house off its original foundation and moved it next to her gallery, Modified Arts.

Despite the challenges and changes that have affected Roosevelt Row throughout the years, Poore said one of the up and coming arts enclaves is Grand Avenue, which is a few blocks west of Roosevelt Row and runs at an angle, starting at Van Buren Street and 7th Avenue and continuing into Glendale. 

As First Friday becomes more commercialized, more and more people are flocking to Grand Ave to have a more art-focused experience.

Lucretia Torva has made art around the city and has murals featured in popular Valley-area attractions, such as Tempe Marketplace and the Found:RE Hotel in Phoenix.

“People just migrated up Grand (Ave.),” Torva said. “More spaces opened up, and First Friday is beginning to just become jammed.”

However, there is one spot on Roosevelt Row that continuing to ensure that art remains an integral part of its experience.

The Found:RE hotel, located on Central Avenue, has been open since October 2016 and is equal parts hotel and art gallery.

“I think (visiting the hotel) should be an experience,” the hotel's cultural curator Mike Oleskow said. “I want our guests to feel something about the art.”

Since the end of the 2008 recession, Oleskow said he has seen a focus on making the city and the businesses that inhabit it more vibrant. Additionally, he was part of ArtworksPHX, an initiative to help businesses partner with the arts.

Even prior to its official opening, Oleskow has been working at the Found:RE to guarantee that its featured art has something for everyone.

“I also want to not only like the art but the artists,” Oleskow said. “I want our artists to meet our guests and staff.” 

He has also helped foster relationships with non-profits in the area, to give artists a chance to have their art showcased when they normally wouldn’t have the opportunity.

One partnership is with Kids in Focus, a program that pairs at-risk children with professional photographers and allows them to focus on photographing moments in their life. The hotel also works with Circle the City, which gives previously homeless people the chance to practice art.

“We’re not just an art gallery, but we’re also working with the community to show their art,” Oleskow said. “We all benefit when the community benefits.” 

Reach the reporter at or follow @barbarasmiith on Twitter.

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