June 26, 2020

Canal Convergence: An Origin Story

Scottsdale Public Art’s signature event Canal Convergence | Water + Art + Light is an annual, free event that celebrates the vibrant arts and culture community.

Aerial photo from Canal Convergence 2012, featuring Nodal Water Garden by Jeff Zischke. Photo: Dayvid Lemmon.

Each Canal Convergence, since the first official event in 2012, has featured large-scale art installations, created by local, national, and international artists. In addition to the artworks, the event has evolved over the years to include an array of educational programming, family-oriented activities, guided bike rides, art-making workshops, and artist talks. In recent years, Canal Convergence has grown even larger in scope and scale as it transitioned from a four-day event to a ten-day signature Scottsdale event.

Water Serpent by Walter Productions, Canal Convergence 2019. Photo: Chris Loomis.

But did you know that the origins of Canal Convergence go back before 2012? The roots of Canal Convergence grew out of a conversation between the city of Scottsdale and Salt River Project (SRP), a community-based, not-for-profit water and energy company that manages and maintains the canal systems throughout greater Phoenix. In exchange for SRP waiving a permit fee for events at the Scottsdale Waterfront, the city offered a “canal festival,” where SRP could educate the public about its history, water management, conservation, and more. This led the city to engage Scottsdale Public Art to create arts-focused events at the Waterfront in 2008, called Night Lights. Each night featured unique, light-based art installations, live music, and performances.

Night Lights sign from Scottsdale Public Art event in 2008.
Sound and projection installation for Night Lights, October 2008.

The seeds of Canal Convergence were planted. After the initial Night Lights celebrations in 2008, Scottsdale Public Art continued to bring art installations and events to the Scottsdale Waterfront. In 2009, the organization commissioned artist D.A. Therrien to create a two-night-only performance with the light- and text-based artwork Beautiful Light.

Beautiful Light by D.A. Therrien, 2009. Photo by John Romero.

In 2010, SRP drained the canal at the Waterfront for cleaning and maintenance. Where some might have seen an aesthetic issue, Scottsdale Public Art saw an opportunity. Approximately 800 people showed up on short notice—and with no advertising—to see the installation of a large-scale artwork, Flowing Overlapping Gesture by Fausto Fernandez, in the canal and performances alongside the canal maintenance. With that success, Canal Convergence | Water + Art + Light officially began in 2012.

Rachel Bowditch and Vessel perf Transfix performance alongside SRP draining and corralling the fish for canal maintenance.

In the next history of Canal Convergence post, we will take a deeper look at the evolution of Canal Convergence from 2012 to 2017.

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