Originally published in Pocket Magazine, (April 2005)
The Paper Heart has carved out its niche among downtown art spaces providing art patrons with a true multimedia experience. It has everything you would expect from a live music nightclub including an extensive wine list and a wide range of microbrewed and imported beers. But make no mistake; the Paper Heart distinguishes itself as an artspace with a bar, not a bar with art. Complimenting the requisite art and photography adorning the walls, the venue serves up a diverse cast of performances such as live bands, theatrical acts, spoken word, dance troupes, and film/video viewings. It is first and foremost an art gallery, but after receiving high praise from Phoenix Magazine (2002 Best Alternative Entertainment Venue), NewTimes (2003 & 2004 Best Alternative Performance Venue), and The Rep (2004 Best Small Venue For Local Music) it has proven itself as a contender in the live performance arena. There is a segment of the crowd who come to drink and dance and another segment coming to critique artwork. But for the most part, the venue attracts a very eclectic mixture of people who come for both, giving the Paper Heart a charmingly sophisticated ambiance.
The gallery’s humble beginnings started at the original 2,000 square foot art space at Fifth Avenue and Van Buren. The “Heart” started in Y2K but it was September of 2001, a very emotional time for Phoenix, when Scott and Jen Sanders eventually opened their doors. Scott said, “I was an artist going to galleries and trying to get my work shown with little success. So, fine,” he said, “I’ll do it myself.” Sympathetic to the challenges faced by new artists, The Paper Heart made a concerted effort to consider submissions from new or overlooked artisans to help promote and sell their creations. “It gives artists a lot of encouragement when they sell something,” says Scott. It proved to be a formula for success and the Paper Heart grew to three times its original size, just like the animated heart of the Grinch at the end of the Dr. Seuss story.
In February of 2004, the gallery relocated to it’s current location at 750 NW Grand Avenue, a building rumored to have been owned by renowned crooner Bing Crosby. In the thriving early 60’s, it was the elegant showroom of Midway Chevrolet. Many years before becoming the mayor of Phoenix, a young Phil Gordon bought his first car here…a Corvair. The spot on the showroom floor where his brand new Chevy might have been parked is now occupied by a movable performance stage that Sanders installed. With a background in construction, he was able to open up the 8,900 square foot building and install new walls and specialty lighting to accent the artwork. It is now a fully functional mini art mall that gives the community a place to meet and socialize while absorbing the sights, sounds, and actions of valley artists, but Sander’s vision for the place is not yet completely realized. “A couple of things I have in mind are to bring in a small café and possibly add a patio out front,” he said. “Our sound techs may be converting the basement into a recording studio, nothing definite right now, though.” He also plans to re-install the multiple webcams which were popular at the original location.
Scott is very successful at booking artists and talent to make each night a unique experience of performance and live talent exhibitions. There is a well-maintained calendar of events that can be found on the website at thepaperheart.com that includes descriptions, show times, and links to all of the upcoming bookings. The calendar of events kicked off 2005 with the 5th annual Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll exhibit as part of Artlink’s First Fridays in January. The walls were filled with a risqué blend of art and photography. Live rock-a-billy bands, a body painter, and tattoo artist provided performance art, while a published author was available for a book signing. With Valentines Day falling in February, the Paper Heart capitalized on incorporating its name in several exhibits this month including their first annual Heart Show on First Friday and Dark Heart at the end of the month. The Heart show is a statewide juried exhibition exploring the timeless theme of "heart" and all that it might mean and the Dark Heart show is an evening of performance art and spoken word.
March will be a special month as the Paper Heart takes part in the annual Art Detour exhibit. This collaborative exhibition of downtown galleries takes place on March 5th, 6th, and 7th and draws a national audience to the soul of the Phoenix art district. First Fridays will not be held in March in order to “create a stronger awareness of the Annual Art Detour weekend.” First Fridays will resume in April as the Paper Heart features a solo exhibit of local studio artist Jeff Falk, a creative force in the Arizona art scene since the mid 80’s. Later in the month the stage will be set for a performance by the Downtown Chamber Series.
When asked about the health of the Phoenix art scene, Sanders said that the growth spurt was overwhelming. “Just 2 years ago there may have only been 20 - 30 spaces you could go to on a first Friday, now there are over 60. The city,” he continues, “is preparing to bring an ASU campus downtown, they're creating livable spaces, and working on other small shop places for inner city growth. I believe most of this has been due to the arts being downtown.”
The Paper Heart is typically open from 1:00 p.m. till 1:00 a.m. on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Artists’ exhibitions are rotated monthly and you are always welcome to come experience this phenomenal art explosion at its focal point. Whether your purpose is to buy art, network with contemporaries, dance to music, or socialize with friends, The Paper Heart is your one-stop-shop for great audio, visual, and emotional stimulation.