Meet Phoenix's 2014 Big Brain Award Finalists

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Scott Biersack
The Big Brains are here.

We've profiled the 15 up-and-coming creatives who are finalists in the categories of performing art, culinary art, visual art, design, and urban vision.

We'll announce the five winners (one in each category) at Artopia, an evening of food, drink, and art, at Bentley Projects on Friday, April 25. Tickets are available now

In the meantime, meet your 2014 Big Brain Award finalists.


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Kristopher Pourzal: 2014 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Performing Art (VIDEO)

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Janessa Hilliard
Kristopher Pourzal, a dance student at ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives, and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch and Chow Bella will introduce the finalists. Up today: Kristopher Pourzal.

Kristopher Pourzal has an expressive personality. He talks with his hands, deliberate motions to illustrate his stories while gazing out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the Nelson Fine Arts Center. The large practice room is empty, save for a grand piano and a handful of chairs lined against the wall where Pourzal sits, barefoot, dressed in light layers for optimal movement.

When he dances, which he will shortly, the room remains silent save for his sharp breathing. He stares ahead, always ahead, even while rolling on the floor. Even when his arms and legs seem to flail and move separately from his body. When he finishes, the space seems to deflate of energy. He walks the lengths of it, hands on his hips, and catches his breath.

When he dances, he says, "those are the moments when I understand why I'm here, in a meta sense."

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Ashley Weber of against the grain: 2014 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Design (VIDEO)

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Becky Bartkowski
Ashley Weber sits in her small home studio.
You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives, and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch and Chow Bella will introduce the finalists. Up today: Ashley Weber.

Disembodied dragonfly wings, gemstones by the handful, teeth, and a variety of flora top the tables and fill the many tiny drawers in designer Ashley Weber's home studio.

The small space is jam-packed with baubles in various stages of completion and tools including dowels and a variety of colorful pliers that would look at home next to a dentist chair.

Despite the methodical laboratory vibe, the jewelry she makes for her company, against the grain, is inspired by the outdoors.


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Daniel Mills: 2014 Big Brain Award Finalist, Urban Vision (VIDEO)

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Katrina Montgomery
Daniel Mills founded Sprawlr to reimagine Arizona
You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives, and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch and Chow Bella will introduce the finalists. Up today: Daniel Mills.

Daniel Mills spends his time thinking about the big concepts: identity, sustainability, and place, to name a few. The 22-year-old ASU English department grad got his start as a blogger, covering the local art beat at www.phxtaco.com, but last fall he decided it was time to take his passion for telling stories to a new level. Thus, Sprawlr was born.


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Orange Theatre: 2014 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Performing Arts (VIDEO)

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Katie Johnson
The Orange Theatre group attending an evening rehearsal at Phoenix Center for the Arts.
You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives, and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch and Chow Bella will introduce the finalists. Up today: Orange Theatre.

Describing Orange Theatre is a bit difficult.

"It's cross-disciplinary," says artistic director Matt Watkins. "It's multimedia. It incorporates film and TV. It incorporates computers, technology, the Internet, dance, visual art . . ."

Orange Theatre can't be confined to a single genre of theater -- or even a single space for that matter. The troupe had lacked a permanent home for rehearsals and performances up until April 1, when it announced via Facebook that it had finally found a new downtown Phoenix home off of Grand Avenue at 1711 West Culver Street, suite 15.


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Mary Stephens of Phoenix Hostel: 2014 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Urban Vision (VIDEO)

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Becky Bartkowski
Mary Stephens sits in the common room of Phoenix Hostel.
You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives, and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch and Chow Bella will introduce the finalists. Up today: Mary Stephens.

For Mary Stephens, it's all about intersections.

Walking through the ever-changing courtyard of Phoenix Hostel & Cultural Center in the Garfield District, she meets a Peruvian jeweler staying the night. He's on his way to Los Angeles to sell his wares. "Mucho gusto," she says, as he wheels his suitcase around the incense-scented historic bungalow to get settled in his room.

Stephens, a Phoenix native who bought the 25-bed hostel from her mother in 2010, says she's passionate about "connecting things that don't necessarily go together."

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Alexandra Bowers: 2014 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Visual Art (VIDEO)

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Heather Hoch
Alexandra Bowers shows off the coyote skull that has inspired many of her pieces.
You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch and Chow Bella will introduce the finalists. Up today: Alexandra Bowers.

Alexandra Bowers stands on the back balcony of the north Scottsdale house she grew up in, a house that she moved back into after graduating from Arizona State University with an art degree in 2012. The house now serves as her studio and command station for her clothing and art brand Iron Root. She points out to the neighboring housing development behind the yard's fence.

"This all used to be expansive desert land when I was growing up and it's been paved over," she says. "It's kind of sad."


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Manny Mares: 2014 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Design (VIDEO)

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Janessa Hilliard
Mesa-based photographer Manny Mares.

You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives, and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch and Chow Bella will introduce the finalists. Up today: Manny Mares.

The one-story house is on the corner of a suburban neighborhood of south Mesa. The window is open slightly to let in a spring breeze, carrying with it the voices of neighborhood children playing outside. He has a radio on -- top 40 hits -- but the room is thick with concentration, and no one is really listening.

"Can you --," He gestures to a brightly lit stool in front of a white backdrop. The small room, otherwise barren, is bright with Christmas bulbs strung on the ceiling. "I want to test the light."


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Becky Nahom: 2014 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Visual Art (VIDEO)

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Katrina Montgomery
Becky Nahom hopes to create shows that the public will enjoy
You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives, and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch and Chow Bella will introduce the finalists. Up today: Becky Nahom.

Becky Nahom puts people first. The 23-year-old curator who co-founded Halt Gallery last fall spends her time creating shows that encourage connections between both visitors and artists in hopes of bolstering the art community and bridging the divide between high art and the public at large.

"It would break my heart to see people walk into a gallery and then turn around and walk away because they felt that they didn't belong there," she says.


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El Peezo: 2014 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Visual Art (VIDEO)

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Janessa Hilliard
El Peezo's version of Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before Christmas at Phoenix Public Market in downtown Phoenix.
You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives, and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch and Chow Bella will introduce the finalists. Up today: El Peezo.

For a guy who craves anonymity, El Peezo certainly is on a lot of street corners.

And walls of abandoned buildings, as well as occupied ones. And in parking lots and alongside bustling restaurants.

Since first surfacing on the street art scene by appearing on the concrete of downtown Phoenix, El Peezo has brought an increasingly popular and accessible form of public art to the Valley: wheat paste.


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