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Artist Joe O’Connell will be creating work for a Valley Metro light rail station that was originally slated to feature a Fortoul Brothers design. The news follows allegations of sexual misconduct made against artist Isaac Fortoul, which were first reported by Phoenix New Times in June 2020.
Gabriel and Isaac Fortoul create artworks together as the Fortoul Brothers. In recent years, their work has been shown at numerous festivals and creative spaces in and beyond metro Phoenix, including FORM Arcosanti and Phoenix Art Museum.
Before allegations surfaced, Valley Metro featured Fortoul Brothers designs on a bus wrap and a temporary mural in Roosevelt Row, and commissioned art for a future light rail station at Central Avenue and Lincoln Street.
Gabriel Fortoul discussing an early Fourtoul Brothers light rail rendering during a community presentation.
Early renderings for the station incorporated animals, plants, people, and natural elements made with materials such as stone, concrete, and metal. “We want to create something that will become iconic to this part of Phoenix,” Gabriel Fortoul said of their design for the new light rail station in 2018.
Instead, O’Connell will be doing design and fabrication work for that station, according to a Valley Metro spokesperson who shared details with New Times in a March 12 email.
Station artists are selected through station-specific stakeholder art review committees, who also choose alternatives in case something happens to designated artists. O’Connell, a Tucson artist who founded Creative Machines, a multidisciplinary design and fabrication studio, was the first runner-up for this station.
O’Connell spent time “meeting safely with about a dozen residents and studying the site” in recent days, according to his March 12 email to New Times. “I have a clear concept in mind, but it will take some time to make that work with the established structure and constraints of the station stops,” he wrote.
A pre-pandemic meet-and-greet held with artists working on light rail artworks.
The news comes several months after Valley Metro announced that the Fortoul Brothers would not be creating work for the new station. “Valley Metro has concluded the South Central Extension/Downtown Hub artist agreement with the Fortoul Brothers,” a Valley Metro spokesperson told New Times on December 3, 2020.
Instead of directly citing the allegations against Isaac Fortoul, the spokesperson explained that “the work was not advanced beyond the design phase due to a shift in community sentiment on a publicly-funded and community-driven art project.”
The creative team has lost other projects, although both brothers have denied the allegations. The City of Phoenix halted plans to have the Fortoul Brothers create two public art projects, one at the airport and another at a water services facility. Several Fortoul Brothers murals, including works at a local elementary school and a Roosevelt Row media building, were painted over.
Moving forward, O’Connell will be working through the design process with Valley Metro and the stakeholder art review committee for his station. Public meetings to share design plans will happen in April and June, according to the artist.
Valley Metro confirms that plans are underway to share O’Connell’s vision for the project. “We are going to have a virtual ‘meet the artist’ event where people can watch an introductory presentation from Joe then answer some questions he has created to get feedback.” The date for that event has not been announced.
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