Taxpayer dollars provide seeds for Scottsdale Canal Convergence expansion

A promotional Photograph meant to illustrate the celebration of water and light people can experience at Scottsdale’s popular Canal Convergence. (File photo)

Scottsdale City Council has approved a $650,000 subsidy of taxpayer dollars to support a public art event born through the minds at the municipality of Scottsdale, Scottsdale Public Art and the Salt River Project.

That confluence of ideas has been affectionately conceived as “Canal Convergence.”

Scottsdale City Council approved the General Fund budget transfer at its June 27 meeting at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. The dollars will come from the Tourism Development Fund derived largely from bed-tax remits.

Proponents of the plan hope to expand Canal Convergence by adding additional days and activities to the popular downtown event.

The event, which has been in existence since 2012, is a celebration of both acclaimed local and international artists who playfully display their works in the Arizona Canal surrounding portions of the Scottsdale Waterfront between Scottsdale and Goldwater roads.

This year there were nine large-scale artworks positioned both in the Arizona Canal and along its banks over a four-day period in late February.

However in 2016 there were 12 large-scale artworks positioned both in and around the Arizona Canal and additional draws in 2016 were listed as including an “Artist@Work” demonstration area, a series of free workshops with dance collective Pilobolus, a family-friendly arts and crafts station and live performances throughout all four days of the keynote event.

City officials contend 80,000 people attended the 2016 event but did not disclose at the June 27 public hearing the amount of attendees during the 2017 event.

But business and tourism professionals and aficionados agree Canal Convergence has great potential to emerge as a destination event that will ultimately further the billion-dollar brand that is Scottsdale.

Rachel Sacco

“We’ve been thrilled to see Canal Convergence thrive over the past few years,” said Experience Scottsdale Executive Director Rachel Sacco in a June 29 statement.

“The event’s success this past year proves it truly has the potential to become a signature destination event for Scottsdale and for our downtown. We’re excited for the future of Canal Convergence and the opportunities it provides as it grows and expands even further.”

Ms. Sacco sees new opportunities to bring more people to Scottsdale, which is the ultimate goal of any tourism enterprise.

“Canal Convergence has already captured the attention of both locals and visitors alike, and it has the potential to drive additional visitation to Scottsdale as it moves to the fall in 2018,” she said.

“Leading up to the event in February 2017, we promoted Canal Convergence via online and email marketing, social media, and public relations efforts. We look forward to continuing to promote this fantastic event in the years to come.”

Vision to reality

But to make that vision a reality, Canal Convergence needs dollars and cents, according to Karen Churchard, the city’s tourism director.

The Canal Convergence experience is unlike any other art installation pursuit in the Valley of the Sun. (File photo)

“It would require significant funding above and beyond in terms of us going out and getting sponsorships and grants to find the event,” she told Scottsdale City Council in explaining plans to move the event from

Following two studies conducted by New York-based Webb Management Services — which cost an amount not to exceed $72,700, records show — Ms. Churchard says she is convinced Canal Convergence can become the next big thing in Scottsdale.

“Since 2012 Canal Convergence has become a point of pride for residents and businesses and is a great event that brings together international and local artists,” she said at the June 27 public hearing pointing out 80,000 people attended the four-day event earlier this year. “It’s a one-of-a-kind celebration.”

Through its report provided to the Tourism and Events Department, Webb Management Services contends a destination event is needed in order to improve the economic vitality of the city’s downtown sector.

“Basically, they established that a destination event should activate your downtown by increasing foot traffic and activity,” she said of the golden rule of both tourism and economic development.  “It (the destination event) should expand the tourism season into a shoulder season event — it became more apparent to me that we already had the event here.”

Ms. Churchard said Webb Management Services identified downtown Scottsdale as having gaps in the area of art, culture and food. To create the shoulder season event, however, initial seed money is vital.

“We are requesting $650,000 from bed tax carryover for this transition. We would like to start that by this November by putting a temporary art installation similar to the Bruce Munro ‘Blooms.’”

Scottsdale Public Art commission’s “Blooms,” by Bruce Munro, was among 49 outstanding public arts projects created in 2016 through the Public Art Network Year in Review program that have been honored by Americans for the Arts, according to Independent archives.

Ms. Churchard says the new vision for Canal Convergence is a two-week event including six to 12 branded public art events to entice visitors to the spectacle.

“Canal Convergence will become an umbrella of what it actually is,” she said. “We are just starting to talk about this. What does Canal Convergence really mean? There are so many opportunities in terms of what this event can be.”

Embedded within the June 27 staff report is the proposal that, according to Webb Management Services, the iteration of what Canal Convergence can be would come with an annual budget up to $4 million.

“Depending on what kind of dollars we can bring in sponsorship, it is safe to say we will be back in November and need additional funding,” Ms. Churchard said. “We are asking for the full amount of the budget for the event as it was held in four consecutive days there will be increased costs because we are splitting out the event to two weekends.”

Ms. Churchard points out the Tourism and Events Department will reimburse Scottsdale Public Art as costs are incurred and there are plans for an art installation in March 2018.

Both the Scottsdale Tourism Development Commission and Scottsdale Tourism Advisory Task Force have given their unanimous blessings to dramatic expansion of Canal Convergence.

The proprietor perspective

Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Hiegel says he is a proud supporter of the arts in Scottsdale — and many business professionals, he says, share that same point of view.

“Canal Convergence has grown considerably during its first five years,” he pointed out in a June 28 statement.

Mark Hiegel

“This growth is a result of the national and international artists who are featured and the number of attendees — both the local community and visitors to Scottsdale. As a unique experience, focusing on public art and on the canal, there is the potential to continue to bring awareness of Scottsdale as a desert city and a vibrant arts and culture destination with many different facets of appeal through retail, restaurants, walkability and more.”

Mr. Hiegel has served on the board of trustees at Scottsdale Public Art; president of the Herberger Theatre and the Phoenix Theatre.

“I believe business owners do welcome this kind of experience — it brings thousands of people over consecutive days to the downtown, and as a free event encourages visitors to explore the area in its totality,” he explained.

“Fashion Square, the restaurants throughout the downtown and the Scottsdale Gallery Association all support the event and welcome additional visitors as a result of Canal Convergence.”

An expansion of Canal Convergence is a move in the right direction, Mr. Hiegel speculates.

“Growing Canal Convergence to 10 days in November 2018 certainly has the potential to engage multiple smaller events, all with the intent of activating the downtown for a longer period that includes weekdays as well as weekends,” he said. “This can only have a positive impact and will bring more attention to our downtown as well as potentially offer new experiences to visitors and residents alike.”

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane was one of seven votes that approved the budget transfer for the Canal Convergence expansion but offered a few reticent comments on the dollar amounts.

“I think it is something that at least is worthy of some conversation with the public as to what we are trying to accomplish here. Who actually owns this?” he said noting the financial connection between Scottsdale Public Art and the city.

“Why are we in this hybrid mode in regard to this? I am very concerned taking various different approaches to things that have been technically assigned to a contract agent, such as Scottsdale Public Art. And, it does gives me some cause for concern that you will have the same audience.”

Mayor Lane says he wants control measures in place to measure the success of taxpayer subsidies to tourism endeavors.

“I am concerned that we need to make sure we monitor this. Thus far, downtown continues to decline, which is quite the opposite to what the rest of the city is doing,” he said. “I think Canal Convergence is a great event. Can we see some kind of path to develop performance measures on this?”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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