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Phoenix public art on Grange gains approval

Courtesy photo “Phoenix Rising From The Ashes,” a 6-by-10-foot mural recalling the Almeda fire and community resiliency has gained the approvals needed from government bodies for installation on the Phoenix Grange.

Installation of a 6-by-10-foot mural recalling the Almeda fire and community resiliency has gained the approvals needed from government bodies for installation on the Phoenix Grange.

“Phoenix Rising from the Ashes,” created on the side of a burned van by artist Benjamin Swatez shortly after the Sept. 8, 2020, blaze, will be installed on the side of the grange. The piece was cut from the van and a frame has been created to support it.

The art will be in place for two years on the east side of the building facing the civic center and Main Street. The grange decided not to have a permanent installation.

“It’s a beautiful piece and means a lot to a lot of people, but two years from now it may not have the same kind of impact,” said Megan Murray Jones, a grange member and art steward.

San Francisco has adopted practices of having transient public art because adopted public art is subjective, and temporary installations allow new artists to display works, said Jones. Installation should be done around the end of the month, she said.

In the piece, a Phoenix spreading its wings crowns the head of a woman surrounded by smoke and flames.

Swatez graduated from Ashland High School and his mother lives in Phoenix. He travels the world to create art pieces to inspire healing in communities experiencing disasters.

Swatez painted the mural on the burned-out cargo van that was parked in front of Rogue Climate’s Phoenix office, which also burned. The van’s owner had loaned it to the organization. The piece was cut from the van and then displayed in downtown Talent for four months in a temporary wood frame after the fire at an assistance site run by Rogue Climate.

Rogue Climate, which owns the piece, approached the grange about taking the painting. The organization agreed if it could address concerns about safety and preservation.

The grange worked with Ibex Innovation of New York City to design a steel framework to support a wood mounting. Their engineer Andrew O’Keefe has worked with Jones on art installations for over 20 years. A system of fasteners will safely secure the 500-pound art work.

Metal worker Tom Sepe fabricated the backing frame, local woodworker Joshua Courter built a new exterior cedar frame, Swatez performed touch-up work on the art piece and then Chico’s Auto Collision applied a clear coat designed to preserve it for two years with added UV protection.

Workers have donated their services free of charge. Materials have been donated and money has also been given to pay for permits and other expenses.

Phoenix City Council approved the installation Dec. 6, acting as the Phoenix Arts Council. Among criteria in the public arts ordinance are an agreement with the city on conditions of installation, maintenance and removal, if required. Plans are also required. The public art standards are a part of the city sign code. An agreement between the city, the grange, Swatez and Rogue Climate is also required.

Phoenix Grange #779 has been located in the building, which was built in 1901, since 1931, said Jones. Work on historic buildings must be reviewed by the Planning Commission, which acts as the town’s Historic Preservation Commission.

“It’s pretty straight forward. There are no changes to the building itself. It doesn’t fall in the category of historical changes,” said City Planning Manager Zac Moody at a public hearing held Jan. 10 by the Planning Commission.

While a public hearing wasn’t required, Moody scheduled one anyway as this is the first time the public arts procedures and review ordinance approved in 2020 have been utilized. The applicant will still have to get a sign permit and a building permit to install the piece to ensure the installation is safe.

“Unless we have a wind storm and elephants come through, I think we are in pretty good shape,” Jones said during the hearing.

“We are excited to put it on the building and change Phoenix,” said Princess Erica Frank with Rogue Climate.

Commissioners said the mural will help draw attention to the grange as well as the town’s resiliency.

“We are rising out of the ashes, and things are happening and folks are helping to build it up,” said Planning Commissioner Catie Faryl during the hearing.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gamil.com.