Steve Farley's photographic murals on the Broadway/Aviation underpass are one of the best things to happen to the central city in quite some time. The idea behind them was ingenious. The photos of strolling Tucsonans were snapped by a roving Congress Street photographer decades ago and stored away in the townsfolk's albums until Farley got wind of them. He chose his favorites from the dozens contributed by locals, and translated them into crisp, black-and-white tileworks. Walking along larger than life on the walls of the Broadway underpass, these denizens of the past evoke the days when people flocked to the downtown. The not-so-subtle subtext is that maybe, just maybe, that can happen again. And by the way, taxpayers, these fine artworks, following the one-percent for art rule, accounted for only a small amount of the money the city Transportation Department shelled out for the new underpass to accommodate the all-powerful automobile.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: I-10 and Miracle Mile. It used to be that once I-10 hit Tucson from the direction of Phoenix, the first comparatively attractive things you'd see were junkyards. Since 1995, though, the Miracle Mile interchange has provided a more artistic gateway to Tucson, thanks to Gary Mackender's series of desert-themed tile murals. Three cool blue-and-purple panels greet you on your way into town, and a trio of hot red-and-yellow images bid you adieu as you head out. The 35-by-20-foot subjects are simple enough to assimilate at 55 miles per hour: things like a Spanish-style mission, a pictograph medley, and -- best of all -- a Gila monster gasping with alarm at the metastasizing metropolis before it. Mackender appropriated 18,000 tiles for this project, which explains why you can't find the right color for your bathroom anymore. Ah, the price we pay for public art.