By Alex Gallagher
It’s hard for the team at Scottsdale Public Art to believe that 10 years have passed since the first Canal Convergence was held.
It began as a conversation in 2008 between the city of Scottsdale and the Salt River Project. SRP offered to waive a permit fee for Scottsdale Waterfront events. In return, the city created a festival at the canal where SRP could educate the public about its history, water management and conservation.
From there, the city of Scottsdale engaged in discussions with Scottsdale Public Art — a nonprofit arts organization that contracts with the city — about creating an arts-focused event at the waterfront featuring creative light-based installations, live music and various performances that became known as Night Lights.
Night Lights was an early success and, in the coming years, it would attract esteemed artists like D.A. Therrien and Fausto Fernandez, who installed grand pieces. In 2012, the event morphed into what would become known as Canal Convergence | Water + Art + Light.
The first Canal Convergence, which was hosted on November 10 and November 11, 2012, featured interactive, light-based and inflatable art installations. It included Scottsdale-based artist Jeff Zischke’s “Nodal Water Gardens,” which floated atop the canal, lighting up the water with a series of light hues — artist workshops, vendors selling locally produced goods, a Saturday night happy hour and a Sunday morning bike ride along the canal.
During the next nine years, the two-day arts festival changed to multiple days in January, March and November in 2013, settling into spring celebrations from 2014 through 2017 before reverting to being a fall festival in 2018.
“There was some interest (from) the city in creating a real draw to Scottsdale in the fall,” Scottsdale Public Art spokesperson Brian Passey says. “When we were doing it in the spring, it was aligned with Spring Training, and we benefited from that with our event but the city just needed a really good event that would be something to draw people in during (the fall) and (the city) saw the potential with Canal Convergence.”
To make it an event that would draw a crowd, Scottsdale Public Art expanded the event to 10 days and brought in more artworks, including a gas fire display installed in the canal created by Walter Productions — which has become a staple at the past five events.
With the past two events altered by pandemic safety measures, this year will be an ode to the original Canal Convergence while bringing the gusto of last year’s celebration back to the waterfront.
“This year is a little different, being our 10th anniversary, because we typically only approach maybe two or three artists each year directly to ask them to create an artwork for us and then the rest of the artworks come through an open call that we put out in the springtime,” Passey says. “Because it’s the 10th anniversary, we wanted to reach out to more artists who had appeared at Canal Convergence in the past to honor that history.”
Zischke was among the list of artists that Scottsdale Public Art reached out to for this year’s event. He was looking for another challenge for his artwork.
This year, he was tasked with creating a series of suspended artworks that would hang above the canal, casting a barrage of bright lights onto the flowing water, called “SunDrops.”
“I’ve done tons of stuff all around the world (like) temporary sculptures with fabric and different kinds of natural materials,” Zischke says. “So, the challenge — of course, that’s what I live for — is having artwork that is suspended.”
Zischke is not the only artist who embraced a challenge. The team at Walter Productions will position 10 orbs as part of a work titled “ORB” in the canal attached by an underwater structure suspending the orbs just above the surface.
“We have this long-standing partnership with Scottsdale Public Art, and in that relationship we are always asked to think out of the box on how to make the next year’s project exciting and unique,” Walter Productions founder Dr. Kirk Strawn says.
This year’s installation will have two unique features, according to Strawn.
“One is this new method of positioning the sculptures in the water and the second is the interactivity that we will be doing through a kiosk that will be on the (Soleri) bridge,” Strawn says. “There’s a lot more lighting this year than in prior years and we’re going to give people the opportunity to interact with the lighting system.”
Strawn and Zischke are far from the only artists who will have eye-popping pieces at Canal Convergence. Passey says B!g Art from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, will bring back its crowd-favorite door from last year “The Door(s).” When opened, it had a screen that would show videos of another dimension — including one video where a Tyrannosaurus Rex was running toward the door.
B!g Art will also install a similar work at the Scottsdale Fashion Square, giving guests two places new experiences.
“One of the doors is going to be set up in Scottsdale Fashion Square and that door is going to be connected to one of the doors at the waterfront,” Passey says. “When you open up the door at the mall, you’ll be able to see through a portal to whoever’s opening up the door at the waterfront and vice versa.
“So, it’ll be kind of like a Zoom call without sound between the Scottsdale waterfront and the mall.”
This year’s event is set to include 15 large art pieces, live music, workshops and a slew of entertainment during the 10-night art festival that begins on Friday, November 4.