Culture

Tempe’s cultural amenities invite residents and visitors to be part of the scene.

The Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA) offers innovative programming that enriches, enlightens, inspires and expands the artistic horizons of the community. The TCA’s lakeside location offers breathtaking views that provide a splendid backdrop for business meetings, banquets and other social and public events.

From chamber music to rock and roll to symphonies, the TCA offers a mixture of musical opportunities for performers and guests. The Walk-in Wednesdays Open Mic series, featuring singer/songwriter Walt Richardson, offers patrons a free evening of performances by locals in a relaxing setting. The series culminates in a Songwriters’ Showcase, filmed for PBS, government access and Internet, which offers musicians a venue in which to perform original music with a professional back-up band in a concert setting. The LakeShore Jazz series provides monthly concerts featuring a wide range of accomplished jazz and blues artists.

Additionally, the TCA showcases visual art and all performing genres, including theater, lectures, poetry and dance. The center is home to award-winning Childsplay, a professional company of adult actors that takes the form and substance of theater for young people into new territory. The group, founded in 1977, has performed for more than 750,000 children and adults throughout the Southwest.

An architectural hallmark is the world-famous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Gammage Auditorium on the campus of Arizona State University. Gammage, which seats 3,000, attracts many of the world’s greatest performing artists and finest theater productions to Tempe. The Nelson Fine Arts Center houses the splendid ASU Art Museum and the Galvin Playhouse, which are adjacent to the ASU Music Theatre. All of these facilities are readily accessible from downtown Tempe’s main street, Mill Avenue.

The TCA enhances downtown Tempe’s reputation as a cultural center. The spring and fall Festival of the Arts, held on Mill Avenue, each draw nearly 250,000 people who browse the myriad of booths while enjoying a variety of food and free live entertainment. The events, sponsored by the Mill Avenue District, occur on the first weekend of December and March and are the second-largest juried art festivals in the nation. Downtown Tempe also showcases nationally recognized stand-up comedians at the Tempe Improv, a branch of New York’s famed comedy club.

South of downtown is the Edna Vihel community center, which is located in the city of Tempe’s Community Center complex. The facility opens the door to participation in the arts to hundreds of children and adults each year and offers a variety of classes in the visual and performing arts and other special interests.

On the same grounds is the beautiful $12 million Tempe Public Library which contains close to 405,000 volumes, plus videos, compact discs and books on tape. The library features excellent business reference services, an automated library system that is accessible via the Internet and public Internet access on 23 computers. The Tempe History Museum, also in the complex, is an exciting facility whose renovation is aiding in the collection, preservation and exhibition aspects of Tempe’s history.

Also in Tempe, the Arizona Historical Society Museum at Papago Park covers the changes that have made Arizona what it is today. The museum is full of exhibits with a focus on Arizona in the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as engaging multimedia displays, children’s activities and a variety of educational programs.

Papago Park is also home to the O’Connor House, which Sandra Day O’Connor moved into in 1958 when she was a young, self-employed lawyer starting a new life. The house, which has been relocated to Papago Park, is not open to the public for tours. However, community leaders and committees affiliated with the O’Connor House meet here periodically to address ways to improve the state.