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Julian Sodari’s love for public art was sparked at a young age. Unable to visit art galleries as a child, Sodari said his neighborhood murals and graffiti served as his own personal art gallery.
In 2013, Sodari graduated from Arizona State University with his master’s degree in geographic information systems and his bachelor’s degree in urban planning from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
A year later, he combined his love for street art with his technical expertise in mapping, urban planning and geographic information systems and founded Murals of Phoenix — an organization that supports and promotes Phoenix artists by providing them a platform to share their work.
As a first-generation college student, Sodari said the importance of education was instilled in him early on by his parents, both Mexican immigrants. Because of his dad’s background in construction, he initially considered pursuing a degree in architecture at ASU, but ultimately decided that urban planning was more aligned with his interests.
The idea for Murals of Phoenix originated when Sodari met Sam Gomez, the owner of the Sagrado Galleria in south Phoenix. As a gallery owner, Gomez was often asked questions about murals in Phoenix, including where they were located or which artists created them. This inspired Gomez and Sodari to create a mural mapping application that would help interested individuals find murals and learn more about them.
“For a couple months we were developing the web map with location points for all the murals in the Valley. We would photograph them and then add personal artist stories about each piece, and that’s kind of how it all started,” Sodari said. “It’s become a priority for us to give back to these artists. Murals are free art — someone pays for it, but we all get to enjoy it. By providing services to the artists, we want to ensure they get paid so they can make a living doing what they love.”
Over time Murals of Phoenix evolved from a mapping application into an organization that plans and hosts events to benefit artists as well as a resource that helps connect artists with those who are looking to commission a mural. The organization has become established in the arts community, with a large following on Instagram where it showcases recent work by local artists.
“What Julian’s organization does is incredibly important to the mural community,” local artist Isaac Caruso said. “By showcasing Phoenix talent to a large audience on Instagram, our abilities and styles gain notoriety. These good people who catalog the murals, promote talent and facilitate some things on the administrative side are a crucial part of our city’s thriving art community.”
Along with running Murals of Phoenix, Sodari also works full time at EASi, a local utility engineering firm. Sodari said that The College equipped him with the tools he needed to succeed in the real world.
“My program provided me with a good foundation that I was able to build upon, evolve and apply to my current work,” he said. “My master’s really prepared me the most by giving me the knowledge I needed to think analytically about using geography as a tool.”
Although a recent Murals of Phoenix event was canceled due to the coronavirus, Sodari has found new ways to continue to connect the community with artists through livestreams and virtual events.
Story written by Emily Balli, Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences