Mesa Community Urban Garden in July

Mesa Community Urban Garden in July

Update

Planning continues for the 21st Century Café Society, and there is a tremendous amount of activity bubbling up in the downtown area that surrounds our project—indicative of the new energy upon which our project will build.

We’ve received applications for our Project Coordinator position from lots of good candidates, so we should have that position filled next month. Construction is underway for our Alliance Pavilion Stage, and our first big planning meeting with ASU Polytechnic about design process for the project’s interactive components happens tomorrow. We hope to have the RFP for the Shade Sculpture artist completed and distributed by the end of August. So there’s lots of good momentum!

Wins

–Excellent press coverage for the project continues, with a great second article ran on June 25th in the East Valley Tribune with the headline “$300K Grant approval allows Mesa Arts Center to move forward with project.” The article included a good explanation of the goals of community engagement and ownership, and downtown activation. We continue to receive wonderful feedback from community members who really understand and embrace what we’re trying to achieve.

–Plans are heating up to use Mesa Arts Center’s Season Kickoff Event in September, Remix/Remaster, as an event to invite and welcome the college students to our campus and downtown Mesa. Held in conjunction with Second Friday Night Out, the event will have downtown Mesa hopping, and since we are forging an amazing partnership with ASU Polytechnic, and also have five new colleges opening satellite campuses in Mesa, we are working with the students to make this an All College Mixer. After enjoying all that the two events have to offer, the students will have a museum takeover at the Arizona Museum of Natural History, with a party on the rooftop terrace. This is a great opportunity to build the students’ understanding that these are their places, and we are excited to host the event.

–The grassroots activity that is developing community passion about downtown Mesa continues to grow. One of the great success stories is the Mesa Community Urban Garden, located just 1-1/2 blocks east of Mesa Arts Center. The garden, which features a lovely mural created by Mesa Arts Center adjunct studio teachers, has plots for community rental and cultivation, and hosts community gatherings. A very hip restaurant, Republica Empanada, has just opened right next to the garden, and Benedictine University Mesa, just north of the garden, begins classes this fall.

Insight/Provocation

How do we succeed at balancing our lives with this all-consuming work we do? This is really important not only among leadership, but especially for our staff members. As our efforts to serve our community cause staff to juggle dozens of tasks, events, programs and meetings, we here at Mesa Arts Center are also trying to be increasingly involved in community activities, boards and planning sessions. To do that requires spending time immersed in community initiatives and going to community functions. I always carry with me a principle from a great thinker on public leadership, Rich Harwood of The Harwood Institute, who talks about the importance of being a part of the community, and not apart from it.

We’ve tried to institutionalize this by encouraging staff members to participate in these activities, so that we have diverse engagement at many tables. Still, it’s such a balancing act, and we worry about staff burnout. One of the pathways is for leadership to set the example, and another is to seek and hire people for whom this is a personal passion, not an institutional edict. It’s been great to watch the community involvement of our staff grow, and even more fun to watch it bear fruit. Three of our MAC staff members are board members for Mesa Urban Garden, and so the relationship between the MUG and Mesa Arts Center has been like family from the start. That deep familiarity and commitment are what we are seeking in many of our community partnerships, and we know it will stand us in good stead for our work on the 21st Century Café Society.