Mi Art Casa Es Su Art Casa

Writer Fadi Sitto
Photography Courtesy of Alwun House

“Would you like a Coca Cola and a muffin?” Kim Moody of the Alwun House asks as we walk through a nostalgic front hallway toward a distinguished, sun-drenched door leading to the back yard. With the swoop of his hand, it opens to a rare downtown courtyard oasis that I wasn’t prepared for. It seemed to proclaim a serendipity existence: a Sonoran masterpiece in the center of Phoenix.

Welcome to Alwun House, the first art house in Phoenix. In 1971, the downtown arts scene sprang its first roots in the Valley of the Sun. The civic vibe of this house is undeniable; it’s a true Phoenix experience.

This volunteer-based, one-of-a-kind non-profit art organization exists to make the already-thriving downtown art community even better. The opportunities Alwun House creates for local classical artists, as well as visual and performance artists, is what makes it special. As the quintessential Phoenix art gathering place, Alwun House seems to be always one step ahead with its exhibits, events and ideas.

The reds. The yellows. You just can’t miss it. Whether you pull up on your lime bike, your electric car—or maybe your feet are your only carriage—you will surely notice “that house” at the end of the street.

Alwun House is located in the Garfield Historic District, on the northeast corner of 12th Street and Roosevelt in downtown Phoenix.

“We’re truly one of a kind. No one wants to do three or four things, a gallery, a performance space, a social event space, all in one,” he explains with a teacher’s conviction and soft pride. Did I mention Kim was a teacher back in the day?

This art house is the literal and figurative homestead for numerous local, national and international artists of all genres. From talented local hipster bands to an all-women poetry performance, to burlesque and circus shows that are sold out months in advance, Alwun House’s often risqué, always provocative art is all-inclusive, all of the time.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the art house walls whisper unapologetically: This is your house. You, the painter, the sculptor, the ukulele soloist jammin’ on the side stage in the courtyard. You, when you step onto Alwun grounds, are a Phoenician.

This colorful urban landmark humbly occupies the entire corner of Roosevelt and 12th. A generational home forever post-carded by the backdrop of the, dare I say, underappreciated Phoenix cityscape.

Built in 1912, this architecturally compelling house was purchased by a German immigrant named John Sedler. To this day, some people refer to Alwun House as the “Old Sedler House.”

The Sedlers lived there until 1948. Soon after, a gentleman by the name of Earl Brown and his family bought the house and called it home—for a while.

Then, it happened: the year that positively changed the history of the arts in Phoenix. It was 1971 when Kim Moody and Alwun House founders purchased the proud, but somewhat neglected corner property. They closed their collective eyes and took their leap of faith. It was the beginning of a groundbreaking, mindful restoration of what we see today.

On February 9, 2005, the City of Phoenix placed Alwun House on the list of registered historic properties for individual significance. Downtown Phoenix was about to have a rebirth.

“Art can transform communities. We’re not talking about a picture; we’re saying the creative process of art is used also in the creative building of a community,” Kim explains.

The courtyard habitat in this uniquely urban backyard radiates a bygone harmony. Walking on the dirt, gravel and grass here, I can’t help but feel like I stumbled into an Eden. The grounds are lush with fountains, a koi pond and black fig trees that drape shadily over the Moody’s head, as if protecting him from the afternoon August sun.

There is a comfort here. Maybe it was the eternal spring, unbottled fragrance of all the native flowers and roses. Maybe it was those three bees (I counted three) hovering over the pond.

The feeling one gets is that of life. Everything is alive in this backyard. The house and anything within striking distance of it breathes with an ease. I lost track of time, and I didn’t care where my phone was.

Alwun House is making a real difference, working hand-in-hand with the neighborhood association. Board members and volunteers are hands-on when it comes to the economic and cultural prosperity of the downtown area.

The Alwun House Foundation has transformed the downtown community through the arts on a grassroots level, helping the Garfield historic neighborhood gain grants and thrive. The people involved here at Alwun House are firmly “all in” when it comes to the city.

As beautiful as it is, it hasn’t always been this way. Not so long ago, the surrounding city blocks were infested with drugs and crime, and no one seemed to care. It was one of those areas you just didn’t go to at night.

“Downtown was basically empty at night, as recently as the eighties,” Kim said. “Yes, that recently!”

With the help of the City of Phoenix, private donors and a labor of love, the downtown arts district took shape. The Alwun House Foundation was at the forefront in the revitalization and safety effort. With help from the locals, it was only a matter of time before these once-forgotten neighborhoods realized their vibrant worth.

Future plans? “Boom! Bingo!” Kim says, as he perked up in his chair. His voice became crisper as he begins talking about Alwun House Green Art Park—quite possibly the crowning jewel project.

The City of Phoenix has finally approved Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the construction of a sustainably designed open space located in the empty lot behind the historic Alwun House. The vision is to provide a lushly landscaped urban, green area for visitors, artists and musicians in the Garfield neighborhood. Think festivals, workshops, food trucks and more. The park will also provide space for a community garden and much-needed additional parking for Alwun House events.

I get the feeling that this old but vibrant house in Central Phoenix will never physically or symbolically deteriorate or age ungracefully. It’s just way too busy letting artists share the random acts of artiness that move them.

People may not remember buildings or places or streets, but they will remember the stories behind them. The Alwun House story seems destined to be an iconic part of the Phoenix DNA remembered.

alwunhouse.org

The Greed Show by Tom Stephenson

September 7–26

Tuesday–Friday, Noon–6 p.m.

Cleodora Presents: Cabaret Noir

Friday, September 21

8:30–10:30 p.m.

$20 advance; $25 at the door

Banned Books Reading

Banned Books Reading

Thursday, September 27

7 p.m.

$5 advance; $10 at the door

Ladies On Fire X

Friday, September 28

8 p.m.

$9 advance, $15 at the door

Alwun House

Tuesday–Friday, Noon–6 p.m.

1204 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix

602-253-7887

alwunhouse.org

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