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Scottsdale, SRP project merges art, canal maintenance

Ashley Macias (right) and Isaac Caruso spray paint their temporary artwork, "Canal Creatures," along a quarter-mile stretch of the Arizona Canal at the Scottsdale Waterfront. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Cortney Bennett)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If only for a short time, the concrete walls of the dried up Arizona Canal along the Scottsdale Waterfront will be adorned with brightly colored creepy underwater creatures.

The dry-up has given a handful of artists the opportunity to create beauty during a maintenance check by Salt River Project.

Isaac Caruso and Ashley Macias, both of Phoenix, have a little more than a week to spray paint their temporary artwork, "Canal Creatures," throughout the quarter-mile stretch. The duo are using Montana 94, a chlorofluorocarbon-free spray paint that will wash away when the canal refills on Feb. 4.

Caruso and Macias are two of the artists that Scottsdale Public Art selected to showcase in "Canal Convergence/Art + Maintenance."

"It'll be a bunch of imaginative, slightly abstract creatures that the public might be interested in," Caruso said. "And the cool thing is it'll be submerged in water when we're done."

Once the water begins to return, San Antonio-based artist Casey Cooper will be installing "Untitled -- Floating Triangles." The 20-25 inflated steel triangle sculptures will symbolize the strong foundation the canals provide to the Valley. As Caruso and Macias' murals disappear with the rising water, the sculptures will rise and float on the surface.

"It's almost like we take water for granted," Cooper said. "We don't realize where it comes from and how many hands are involved."

Macias said she and Caruso took a leap of faith to do something more creative on a grander scale.

"We're pretty excited to be part of something big, especially in Scottsdale, and incorporating our style of art into (the canal)" she said. "This isn't something you typically see in Scottsdale or in general."

The murals are a mix of surrealism and street art.

"It's really exciting because I think most artists want the opportunity to work bigger and challenge themselves," Macias said. "So we're really excited to be challenged by something this big and be able to share it with the community."

Sophie Hook, waterfront events manager for Scottsdale Public Art, said the effort is to help educate the community about the canal system while also bringing a waterfront festival to Scottsdale. Scottsdale Public Art has partnered with SRP before to do similar events.

"This is a much more interesting event because of the engagement about maintaining life in the desert," she said.

Jim Duncan, principal engineering analyst at SRP, said the company's interest is educating the public about what is required to maintain and operate a canal system, with Scottsdale Public Art helping to draw the crowd through the artists.

"All of the artwork somehow relates to the canal or what the canal has done for the development of the metro area," Duncan said.

Duncan added that the canal system, now more than 100 years old, was part of the social fabric of Phoenix in its early stages. People would swim in it prior to air conditioning and when it was allowed.

"(Canals) were gathering spots to recreate and socialize," he said. "These events are to remind people that water is a resource but also to regenerate that ability for people to get together, socialize and get educated as well."

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