Chandler’s Downtown Crosswalk Beautification

This story is supported by a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Knowledge Building grant supporting a partnership between Springboard for the Arts and the International Downtown Association. See more stories from the partnership here.

The area surrounding Chandler, AZ’s Dr. A.J Chandler Park is one of the highest traffic neighborhoods in the downtown. Located in the heart of the original town square, and named after the city’s founder, the park plays host to many local festivals and is surrounded by retail shops, galleries, restaurants and office buildings. With its popular ramada walkways, A.J Chandler Park attracts thousands of visitors and residents each year, and also functions as the site for the city’s monthly Art Walk. But the park is also home a lot of vehicular traffic, as Arizona Avenue, the major thoroughfare through downtown, cuts the park into nearly neat halves placed on either side of the avenue.

For Beth Fiorenza, this unique challenge—a highly used public space by both pedestrians and cars—presented an interesting opportunity to, “combine safety and art.” Fiorenza, Executive Director at the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership, came up with the idea to beautify three crosswalks located along the busy Avenue with colorful designs. With no lights at each of the crosswalks, beautifying them would be a way to increase their visibility while testing out a new kind of public arts project in downtown Chandler.

“We were looking to do something that brought people downtown and offered that surprise of ‘Wow, look at this!” Fiorenza tells me.

Photo courtesy of Downtown Chandler.

With a grant secured, the DCCP, a nonprofit whose mission is advancing the development of downtown Chandler, set out to complete their first public arts project in over five years. Working in partnership with the City of Chandler, they put out a request for proposals (RFP) to local artists, asking for original design submissions that reflected the unique identity, diversity, culture, and history of downtown Chandler. Their RFP solicited 20 original submissions from artists across the city. To assist in narrowing down the winning designs, the DCCP relied on a City agency with its own experience with the arts, the City of Chandler’s Arts Commission. Using a five-person committee made up of members of the Arts Commission, the DCCP choose three colorful, vibrant designs by a total of four artists.

Noe Baez, a native Arizonan who counts the city of Chandler as a hub for him and his family, was one of the artists chosen to work on the project. A multidisciplinary artist who also teaches art sessions and workshops, Baez, came across the RFP and had his interest piqued. “An experience to connect with the community and create a public art piece together is something that I truly covet,” he says.

“I submitted my design and was overjoyed when I was selected! The experience was monumental.”

Noe Baez. Photo courtesy of Downtown Chandler.

With the winning designs selected, the next challenge for DCCP was how to execute the beautification project. After all, Arizona Avenue, an old highway, was one of the busiest streets downtown and getting approval to shut it down for the crosswalks to be painted was no easy feat. Working with a number of City agencies, including the Parks and Recreation Department and the Transportation and Development Department, the DCCP secured a permit for the street closure that would allow the crosswalk paintings to take place on March 25th, 2017—which also happened to be one of the City’s largest festivals; the Great American Barbecue & Beer Festival.

Now in its eighth year, and held at A.J Chandler Park, the event provided Fiorenza and her team with the opportunity to tack their project onto an existing street closure, avoiding further inconvenience to downtown commuters. The festival also provided the DCCP team with a chance to attract a larger audience to their project: residents and visitors who would then hopefully return to explore what other things were happening in downtown Chandler. Working with Great American Barbecue & Beer Festival event organizers, HDE Agency, DCCP organized its launch event around the Crosswalk Beautification. Featuring live paintings of the crosswalks and informal discussions with some of the artists involved in the designs, the event attracted huge amounts of foot traffic Fiorenza notes.

“People would just stand and talk [to us] for like 20 minutes. It was an amazing experience. One woman almost cried, telling us, ‘This is something we need to do more and see more of.”

Photo courtesy of Downtown Chandler.

Baez, who invited his son to paint alongside him adds, “The day was filled with tons of smiles and great interaction with the participants and those that just stopped to watch and take photos. The crowd really engaged and identified with at least something on the design. It evoked encouraging conversation and was followed up with hopeful anticipation to see more of our styled art in the area.”

Aside from the artists—and some of their family members, as in Baez’s case—DCCP also invited volunteers to help with painting the large designs, which included a blue ostrich, an animated robot and a light bulb and cogwheels design. According to Fiorenza, the response to the call for volunteers was tremendous. DCCP was able to successfully recruit approximately 50 volunteers who worked in phases to assist with painting and traffic control. As an incentive, each volunteer received a free ticket to the Great American Barbecue & Beer Festival happening a stone throw away from the launch event. Further, the traffic paint used for the beautification (which lasts six to seven months depending on traffic) was generously donated by Ennis-Flint Traffic Paint, allowing DCCP to further drive down the costs of the project and direct more of the budget towards the artists.

“It ended up being such a successful project, more than I thought!” Fiorenza tells me, reflecting on the project.

Photo courtesy of Downtown Chandler.

That is not to say that the project was not without its challenges. For one, “I probably wouldn’t paint on a highway again,” Fiorenza quips. While lucky to have been able to piggyback onto an existing event for the street closure, the process of getting the project approved was lengthy for DCCP. Based off the other successes of the project however, DCCP is considering replicating the Crosswalk Beautification on other streets with far less traffic, transforming portions of downtown Chandler into colorful reflections of its unique identity. Secondly, while the Crosswalk Beautification was meant to bring more attention to the crosswalks along this busy section of Arizona Avenue, for both drivers and pedestrians, what Fiorenza and her team learned was that the paintings were generally hard to see for drivers. Instead, they seemed to do a better job at improving safety for pedestrians.

Photo courtesy of Downtown Chandler.

In the end though, the project provided the DCCP with a chance to gauge both the interest of the community and artists in public arts projects around a vital area of downtown. The City has plans underway for a redesign of A.J. Chandler Park and DCCP is already thinking of creative ways to partner with them during the process.

“We have these large ramadas,” Fiorenza states, “with the redesign of the park, we’re talking about doing a live artist night to allow artists to come in and paint murals along the walls of the ramada.”

Currently, the Crosswalk Beautification has generated another creative placemaking opportunity. DCCP in partnership with the Arts Commission is working with a local artist to create a mural that will sit on the wall of one of their popular downtown restaurants, and adjacent to a highly used parking lot. “It’s gonna be our first mural!” Fiorenza tells me excitedly, signaling the start of many more projects to come to downtown Chandler.