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Next time you find yourself near 1st Avenue and Monroe in Downtown Phoenix, you might encounter a large friendly-looking robot, just sitting on a park bench reading a book under a street light. Your might ask yourself: Why would a robot be taking the time to read a book? The answer lies within the story inscribed onto the book’s pages.

Both the story and the robot are creations of local artist Doug Boyd, who said during a phone interview that he was inspired to create the piece after a sort of eureka moment on the John Muir trail, which is a backpacker’s route that runs about 210 miles through California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains:

“About 130 miles in, I realized as I was pulling out my phone that I was still connected, checking GPS, taking pictures, etc. It made me think about how someday we’re all going to be so connected we’re just going to become robots. Also another thought on the concept is that with the world full of robots we forgot about the stuff the we can actually touch and see, and that’s kind of why I put a book in his hand. Robots and computers have endless amounts of data storage, so to hold a physical book was something that maybe a robot had never done.”

Doug Boyd is the owner of Artfully Rogue Studio, which is located in the Deer Valley Airpark and specializes in metal and industrial art. The project on Monroe took about a month and a half to build and features a solar panel which powers lights in the eyes and chest during nighttime. This robot is the second in a series of three; the first piece, which is much smaller, is located at Boyd’s studio and features a robot taking stock of a butterfly perched on its outstretched hand. The location of the last robot hasn’t been decided yet, but it will be “much taller”, Boyd said, adding that he wants to incorporate a real plant into the piece.

The Monroe project came about while Boyd was attending a meeting for art submissions for Artlink Phoenix. He was speaking with that organization’s President, Catrina Kahler who’d seen his earlier piece with the robot and the butterfly. She wanted to know if he could create a new piece for Downtown Phoenix Inc that incorporated a robot on a bench. Boyd happened to have a drawing on him featuring nearly that exact concept, and the whole thing took off from there.

Downtown Phoenix Inc is a public-private partnership whose stated aim is “attract more businesses, residents, and visitors to Downtown Phoenix.”, and it coordinates activities between several downtown-focused organizations. Public art like Doug Boyd’s reading robot are important to the development of a walkable urban core that can attract those businesses and residents to Downtown Phoenix, in addition to being a very nice and welcome improvement to the streetscape.

Please join me in welcoming this new friendly giant to Downtown Phoenix, feel free to go and visit him (or her?), just be sure to being a good book and don’t dare check your email.

Art installation at the intersection of 1st Avenue and Monroe. Artist: Doug Boyd, Artfully Rogue Studio

Anthony Previte