Phoenix art gallery back in business after clean up of ‘The Zone’

PHOENIX — Joel Coplin has owned Gallery 119 since 2018, but this December he was able to have his first art exhibit in years.

“My clicker said 60 people came in to see it. So, we were quite pleased with that,” said Coplin.

“What was that like watching people walk through here and actually get to see the fruits of your labor?” asked ABC15’s Javier Soto.

“Of course, it was rewarding, you know, and it’s always difficult to guess what’s going to happen. But we were very pleased with the turnout and very pleased with what’s going to happen in the future,” Coplin replied.

Gallery 119 is on the corner of 11th Avenue and Madison Street, right in the middle of what was known as The Zone, the largest homeless encampment in Phoenix. For years, his business, which he also lives in, was caught up in the chaos leading Coplin to become one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city of Phoenix.

“In the back of your mind, does it anger you at all that it had to get to that situation in order for them to do something,” asked Soto.

“Well, it certainly should, but I’ve been such a part of it,” said Coplin, “There’s no reason for people to be out in the street like that and to be sleeping on the sidewalk, in this country and in this state and this city, with the amount of money there is, I would think that there’s a solution that can take care of everybody.”

The lawsuit led to a months-long cleanup of the area with most people moving into shelters.

“It’s so much quieter. I can’t tell you. It’s very peaceful at night. There’s no screaming and yelling and fighting and fires and cooking and you know, music. And so, we’re able to live a normal life,” Coplin said.

While Phoenix followed the court order to clear out the streets, Amy Schwabenlender, the CEO of the Human Services Campus, tells ABC15 the bigger issue of homelessness remains.

“There’s more people sleeping on the campus than there were five years ago by double. So, the traffic of people is more than it was when people weren’t essentially living around us. Now, people are living around us, they’re coming here for services,” said Schwabenlender.

Coplin says he still sees people sleeping on the sidewalks, but overall he’s looking toward the future of a nice neighborhood.

“What happens is when the galleries start moving in, just like Roosevelt Row, people start feeling less afraid and they start coming down and then the neighborhood changes and things open up. Cafes open up and business starts coming in,” said Coplin.

“You have one show under your belt. You got another one right around the corner. What’s the future for you in this gallery?” asked Soto.

“We’re hoping to make this gallery a sustainable working place to exhibit art and to show newcomers, up-and-coming people and established artists in conjunction with the Museum of Arizona artists,” Coplin replied.

Gallery 119’s next show is set for Friday, January 19 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., admission is free.

To learn more about the gallery and see what other exhibits will be opening you can follow them on Facebook.

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