Quick, Before It Melts! Saving the Icehouse

In downtown Phoenix stands the Icehouse, a unique building once used for ice storage and to stash crime-scene evidence. In 1990, Helen Hestenes and then-husband Dave Therrian transformed the building into a multiuse art venue, run not for profit but to nourish a community of creativity and an appreciation for art. For twenty years, the Icehouse has hosted imaginative exhibitions, grandiose installations, performance art, poetry, raves, and weddings.

A December 2010 article in New Times confirmed the closing of the Icehouse, quoting Hestenes as saying that she’s been “taxed out.” Over the years, she says, the county has allowed the old warehouses to be torn down and replaced with parking garages and a jail, creating a pedestrian dead-zone instead. No foot traffic has moved the Icehouse further off the beaten path.

Besides its venerability, the Icehouse stands out for its mammoth capacity and high ceilings, which combine to offer unique space for artistic exploration.

“It gives a chance for an artist to do a piece like they would for a museum when they are younger or even to try a new direction when they are older,” Hestenes says.

Hestenes often donates the building to be used for community events and photo shoots, projecting a sense of collective Valley ownership. When Bolivian-born sculptor and painter Hugo Medina discovered that the Icehouse was slated to close, he was sincerely pained.

“I was brought to tears because of what the Icehouse has done for Phoenix,” Medina says. “It has showcased so many up-and-coming artists. It was Phoenix, and from that evolved what we have here today.”

By Medina’s count, there are only about four nontraditional art spaces of the Icehouse’s stature in the entire country, and the Icehouse holds a special place in his heart. Years ago, one of his first showings was in an exhibition there. More recently, he and his daughter contributed to a father-daughter show at the Icehouse. He admires the venue for its noncommercial vibe.

“A lot of the art that has been displayed there is art you can’t show at other venues because there is no profit behind it,” Medina says. “A lot of the stuff that’s shown there is one of a kind.”

Medina is organizing a benefit show to raise funds that will aid in keeping the arts project alive. On May 27, Hugo will be showing his work along with the work of other painters, sculptors, musicians, poets, and street artists at the Icehouse. His goal is to fill the large rooms with performers and supporters. Artists will be selling some of their work to contribute to the cause, and donations will be accepted.

Helen Hestenes has not given up hope. “This is our last year of running the arts project, unless people like Hugo help keep it alive,” she says. “We need all the volunteers we can get. There is always a hope that a fund-raiser can build up enough support that we can try to stay open.”

Visiting the Icehouse this year for Medina’s benefit or any other event will be a way to save an endangered original and to pay respects to the selfless work of a matron of the arts.

“It’s gonna take a lot to save it,” Medina says. ”If we are able to raise enough money with benefit—awesome. We’ll have thanked the Icehouse for all it’s been and Helen for all the work she’s done. This project is her life.”

By Kevin Madness
Side Word: Art & Culture

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