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Artist helps urban renewal portray project progress

Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency Executive Director Jim Sharp wasn’t happy with the 16-foot-wide sign on Main Street showing the agency’s $3.5 million town center project, so he called in local artist Judy Grillo for her opinion.

End result: The sign is undergoing a transformation, and the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly will be used to illustrate project progress on the display.

“It was pale and anemic and had bad lettering. Even the font was bad,” said Grillo, describing the original sign. She’s added deeper blues to water areas and bolder greens for trees and put cars in empty parking spaces in an overhead view of the project area.

Sharp had a new slogan, “Center of the Rogue Valley,” put up in place of the previous “Building a Better Future for Phoenix.” The slogan stands out more, with white letters in a red stripe.

Grillo worked off a scaffold to do the upper reaches and used a step ladder for lower elements of the 8-foot-tall sign. She has lived in Phoenix five years and served on the Planning Commission. Grillo has illustrated 10 books and created more than 1,000 posters and program covers under the name Judith Karen.

More color is coming to make the sign “pop,” said Grillo. The life of the monarch butterfly will be portrayed on the sign as portions of the project are complete.

When road work is finished in November, caterpillars will emerge from eggs at the bottom of the sign. Next-stage progress will show butterflies emerging from their chrysalis. As buildings are finished, 3-foot-wide monarchs will be suspended in front of the sign.

“We’ll add 3- to 4-foot caterpillars crawling up the sides,” said Grillo. “Butterflies will eventually cover the billboard.”

“I’ve been trying to get exposure at all levels,” said Sharp. “We are going to use the board to convey a message, as subtle as it is. It will be a constant source of updated information.”