Photography by Ellie India Rose Carty
Interview by Esme Carty
Blu is an event coordinator and voice for the people of Phoenix's art community. From the very beginning Blu has had a strong sense of community and love for the arts, ultimately resulting in events and shows that are for the people by the people. We were privileged to sit down with Blu at Nue Coffee House, the coffee shop they opened earlier this year, and speak about their journey to where they are today.
I: You have coordinated some incredible events held in Phoenix for the creative community, what drew you into event planning in the first place?
BE: I’m naturally someone who likes to coordinate things; I’ve always been very community-based. What got me into event coordinating specifically, I had just turned 18, just graduated high school, and I had a ton of friends in the art community that were trying to elevate themselves and start doing art shows, go to First Friday, things like that. I had a friend who went to First Friday and ended up getting put on a completely different street than Roosevelt and nobody came to her booth. So you know what, instead of depending on people to put on these events for my friends, I’m just going to do it. I started putting on shows from there on and fell in love with it.
I: When you started event coordinating, did you think this would be something you would be doing in the future on a larger scale?
BE: I think so. Reasoning is, I always knew I wanted to be a part of the art community but I’m not good at any specific medium. I was doing photography at first and was shooting different things for that but it wasn’t something I could see myself being in love with forever. So I was like, ‘How can I be involved in the art community but also have all these creative ideas and be able to produce it?’ Coordinating was the best route because I can come up with an idea and have ten other people be able to do it. If I wanted to do a clothing drop, I know who to coordinate.
I: That way, in the same instance, pressure is on but pressure is also off because you get to work behind the scenes pulling the strings. I know you briefly touched on it but have you always had a sense of community, a greater compassion for those around you? What instilled that in you, if not an innate feeling?
BE: I’m from the southside of Phoenix, so growing up there the stereotype was always that it’s scary. I’d always thought that was weird because when I think of the southside, I think of all of my family’s generations that have lived there. My Nonna went to high school at South Mountain, my Dad and all his brothers too. There’d be times growing up where someone would hear my last name and be like, “Oh! Are you related to my Dad/my tio/my grandparents?” and I’d be like, “Yeah, I am!” It felt like we were all interwebbed, it’s just a close-knit community; people don’t realize how powerful and beautiful that is. I’ve always had a deep love and passion for the southside. That’s really where my sense of community began, even just within my family community; we were very close growing up, with my cousins, tías, and tíos. We’d show up together on Sunday’s at my Nonna’s house. I always had community embedded in me outside of just my immediate family. As I got older and left areas I was safe in on the Southside, I started realizing, one, the way people saw it and two, the lack of community in other spaces. I’d just think, well this is lame. I want to build it. Even now I’ve gravitated more to do stuff downtown but in the depth of where I began, it was just to put on art shows for the southside. I came back here [downtown] and I’m doing shows here but donating to schools on the southside and trying to figure out ways I can incorporate building up the community out there. I’m trying to use my platform now to do those things.
I: That’s super admirable. You do see, in the places that are lower income or perceived as ‘scary’ are the places where people are tight knit, and no one’s ever shining a light on that. The fact that you’re moving outside of where you came from but still shining that light and putting good into it is so cool. I also want to touch on Nue, your coffee shop, is that something you’ve always wanted to do? Where did the idea come from and why?
BE: I feel like it was something that was always bound to happen. I started working in coffee when I was 18/19 and my first job was at a local coffee shop, I remember thinking ‘this is fun!’ I would always come up with different marketing plans and got more invested in the business side of it. When I ended up leaving that job, there would be different moments throughout the years where I would be like, ‘Maybe I can start a coffee shop now,’ I’d make a whole spreadsheet, plan the numbers, the breakdowns, and then something would happen that would make me be like, ‘nah.’ Then it was just a perfect alignment, the guy whose studio I’m in currently, he wanted someone to share the space with him, thinking like food or something. I said I’d been wanting to do coffee, so we worked together to get the concept going and align everything: it’s my coffee shop and his gallery.
I: It’s such a testament to who you are as a person, the way you revealed the coffee shop and the amount of people that shared it on their story. Everyone is so behind it. Below the coffee shop was the temporary gallery for Para La Familia. You had a hand in planning Para La Familia, what was that like? What does this exhibit mean to you?
BE: Originally Josh, Castañeda, was the one who pretty much brought all of the artists and myself together to put this on. I met Josh years ago because he was in one of my first gallery events and since then we’ve built this relationship. In 2019, he was doing this series called ‘Stay Busy’ with a few other artists, that’s when I started getting to know him more. We’ve then been growing in different spaces but parallel to each other. He approached me, telling me about the idea [Para La Familia] and how it’s all brown artists, people of color, and showing their side of Phoenix and what they’ve done through their mediums and how it plays into Phoenix’s culture. I was like, “Bro, yeah that’s hard as fuck.” I have a lot of respect for Josh, him as a person in general is very respectable. I wanted to be a part of it and I let him know I will be involved in as much as he wanted me to be. I became his right-hand person, anything he needed at all: going over designs, bouncing ideas off of each other. This experience was–I don’t think he realized he did this for me–but it validated me as an event coordinator because Josh is known by so many people and respected, that before people just saw me as, “Oh this person is doing shit here and there,” you know? It showed what I ultimately want to do. I want to be the business person for artists, I can make it happen for them. Josh allowed people to see the first glimpse of what I can do. It was a really cool experience, I don’t know what it will lead to for me specifically but I feel like the show itself, for Phoenix, was a huge deal. I’ve never seen that many niches all in the same room.
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Thank you again to Blu for featuring in Zoned, find them on Instagram