News from the Front (SAVE Cyphers)
I couldn’t help but recall the image of a battleground, watching the sweat hit the floor in the reflections of the mirror-wall at Cyphers Center for Urban Art.
The canal rippled with the shockwaves of the 200+ locals gathered to celebrate the 2 year anniversary of the studio. I stood by, amazed, watching what could only be described as bottled fury being released from AZ Krump, Cypher Squad, Drop Beat Kids, and others taking center floor. It was something close to a riot, (but all in the name of passionate art). I could feel an extra ounce of energy behind every movement. The idea that this place is closing soon did nothing but hyper-charge the performances. Each dancer existed only in those split moments between the beat, giving it everything they had in them, with the addition of their very spirit that is normally beyond the use of ordinary athletes.
I got a lucky chance to talk with House Magana, owner of Cyphers, (with Skooby Morales, of course) hip-hop veteran and black belt in breaking, about the story behind the studio, some golden moments from the past 2 years, and plans for the future:
House (who has been dancing for longer than I’ve been alive) is originally from Mexico City, moved to Chicago, and finally settled down in the Valley in the 2000’s. Not surprisingly, there were no hip hop studios in his area (near MetroCenter), and his soul was itching for movement. Along with partner Skooby Morales, they jumped on the opportunity to rent out the space for what would soon be Cyphers. The room was originally an MMA gym (quite fitting), and then a record shop, so it makes sense in sort of a heavenly-logic sort of way that a hip hop studio would come next.
Cyphers opened its doors in 2011, with what was initially a good response from the community. Kids curious about the pounding bass emanating from the building would wander inside and be captivated by what they had previously only seen in movies. The first few months were no doubt an exciting time for House, Scooby, and the neighborhood.
The original goal was to operate as a non-profit, for Cyphers to exist purely for the good of the locals. Of course, this is quite a difficult thing to achieve at such a location in these times. It took several months before the center could decide on monthly rates, but with the help of volunteers and the constant influx of newcomers, Cyphers was able to offer free programs for schools, in public spaces, and put on special events fairly often. What started as a dream for House & Skooby soon grew to be a cherished corner of Phoenix, by all who had seen what their hard work was amounting to. Their reputation began to grow as a serious studio where kids of all walks of life could enrich their lives with the passion & culture of Hip Hop.
One such local was Graffiti artist (now intern and assistant Graff instructor at Cyphers), Trublz. I spoke briefly with Trublz about his introduction to graffiti and how he came to be involved with Cyphers. Trublz said he fell in love with the colors of graffin’ as a freshman in high school. He said he was attracted to Cyphers because of the graffiti letters on the front entrance, marking Cyphers as a stronghold of youth culture against the burning Phoenix sun. He took the opportunity available to him & soon became steeped in Hip Hop. House & Skooby digged his artwork (which he had been practicing for years at this point) and let him intern as assistant instructor for a Graff Class offered by the center.
Trublz said the chance to practice regularly (& legally) with spray paint at Cyphers helped him grow immensely as an artist. The Center had allowed him to perfect his lines and also spread his passion to other local kids who wanted to try their hands on the cans.
Part of the beauty of Cyphers is that it plants the seeds of Hip Hop in our valley’s youth. Trublz said he plans to be a full time teacher in the future and will continue to do Graffiti art as long as life will allow. House spoke to this concept as part of the reason of why he loves what he does so much. Kids come to Cyphers to learn Hip Hop, ingrain it into their identity, and then take it as their own and spread it in their own way to the world. This growth of culture & art is essential to the health of our community and kids. Shout out to Trublz. (do your thang man)
Within the 2 years of its foundation, I asked House about some special times, favorite memories, and “golden” moments of learning. What he told me spoke volumes of the power of Hip Hop:
Cyphers was the first place one student went to after learning that his mother had passed away of cancer. The peace & comfort he gained from his connection to Cyphers goes light years beyond love. I could sense that this is exactly what House meant when he told me that Cyphers is a home to outsiders, where anyone is accepted, and a real community is formed.
House’s favorite memories of Cyphers include watching his younger students grow and develop as artists, find passion, and experience life in a brand new way. He loved watching his students gain self-confidence and learn to believe in themselves regardless of the outside world. There is no substitute for such a place in our community, this is absolutely essential.
Halfway through our conversation, I realized it was wrong of me to talk like this was the end of Cyphers. Something that meant so much to everyone involved would surely be immortal in the hearts of its students. They would remember this place for the rest of their lives as something that saved them from the Arizona Dust.
Asking about the future of Cyphers, today was indeed not the end at all. House & Skooby have already secured a new location at the Phoenix Center of the Arts, as the 7th program added to their roster. The duo has formed a good relationship with the center and there is talk of Cyphers as finally being able to operate as a full nonprofit.
I was inspired by how House & his Cyphers army had flipped the tragedy of ridiculous rent into a positive situation. Their new location downtown is more accessible to those without a car & will be a more suiting space to accommodate all forms of Hip Hop. Come March, the light rail will be packed with Bboys & girls, Graffers, DJ’s and MC’s, as well as anyone curious about what all the racket is about in the Center of the Arts.
Throughout our talk, I could sense that House is not the type to worry. He has learned to roll with the punches, deal with the stress, and flip anything to his advantage, for all of our benefit. What started as a dream shared by two, has formed a solid foundation in the heart of the Valley’s Youth, and become a dream shared by hundreds (& counting). I told House that there is no way he can fail now. He has himself an army of kids who love what they have learned at Cyphers and will follow him no matter where they relocate. Much Love to House, Skooby, & all the instructors and volunteers who bleed, sweat, and no doubt shed plenty of tears to make a dream come to life. Coming from a local kid, you guys are making this city a much better place to live and grow up in for everyone involved. You have given chances to those who otherwise would have none, made leaders of those who would be following a rough path in our desert. Stay up Cyphers.