21st Century Cafe SocietyMesa, AZ
In Mesa, Arizona, we’re creating an interactive gathering space for art, community dialogue and social gathering at the north end of the Mesa Arts Center, which is a downtown anchor and the largest multidisciplinary arts center in the Southwest U.S. The project, called 21st Century Café Society, will be located just opposite a major new station on the Light Rail extension scheduled for completion in late 2016. It’s been a whirlwind month since the announcement of the ArtPlace grant. The community is very excited about the project, and discussion around what we are planning has added to the growing anticipation for the coming of Light Rail, for which construction is underway. Currently, opposite our project site, the streets are full of barricades for Light Rail utilities work. The reality this brings home is the coming of Light Rail, which reduces greatly the annoyance over construction.
There’s a lot of work ahead for our project in the summer months. We’ve begun some of the initial research, and we are in the process of posting to hire our part-time Project Coordinator, which will be a key position in helping us keep the project on track. We’re already getting calls from artists interested in receiving the RFP for the Shade Sculpture Design when it’s ready, and there’s a strong positive buzz about the project among our citizens. We had some delays in getting the construction contract finalized for our new Alliance Pavilion Stage (a part of this project funded by the Mesa Arts Alliance and the City of Mesa), but that is now complete, and construction begins for the new outdoor stage on July 1!
–We have had a couple of initial planning meetings to talk about our major partnership with ASU Polytechnic’s College of Technology & Innovation that includes CTI students and faculty participating in the planning and design for our ArtPlace project interactive technology components. Our initial discussions have gone really well, and it is very gratifying to see an equal level of excitement on both sides about the work we are planning to do together and the potential benefits to our organizations and the communities we serve. All involved are committed to creating a long-term partnership plan that extends well beyond our 21st Century Café Society project.
–Press coverage for the project has been phenomenal—beyond what we could have anticipated. Some of it was regular news coverage about being awarded the grant with a description of our project, in places like the Phoenix Business Journal and the East Valley Tribune, about which we received tons of great feedback. However, most exciting have been some articles that talked in more depth about what we’re doing, why and what we hope to achieve. The Arizona Republic did a couple of great stories, and Phoenix Magazine featured the project in an article called “Painted Desert” in its July issue (written before the grant was awarded, but based on the announcement that we were a finalist).
–An important part of this project will be engaging new audiences in owning it, especially students, whether that ownership be in making art for our multimedia screens and or offering up questions and themes to be addressed through the art to be presented both live and digitally. So we’re pleased that the new universities coming to Mesa are excited about finding lots of ways to participate. We’ve recently spoken with Benedictine University—opening its Mesa satellite this fall—and had the chance to meet their freshman leadership students, who will be charged, in part, with stimulating student involvement in our project. In addition, for our Season Kickoff Event in September, which will be the debut event for the Alliance Pavilion Stage, ASU students from the Digital Culture Program on the Tempe campus are going to create large-scale building projections, which they’ll map onto Mesa Arts Center buildings and tie into the event theme: Remix/Remaster.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we institutionalize the work we do around the core values of engagement, community ownership and accessibility, and how we infuse that into the public square. Much work of this type is dependent on the leadership of a few individuals, and frequently wanes or disappears when those individuals leave or retire. I am hopeful that the work of ArtPlace grantees will prove to be a piece of the best practice for embedding the work within the community. Obviously, this will work in tandem with good partnership models, meaningful outreach and residency projects, and providing opportunities for staff, boards and patrons to have “ah ha” moments when they experience outcomes. I think this is an ongoing challenge for our field, and I hope to explore the best practices in communities that have truly made deep engagement through the arts an ingrained value and practice that defines that community and has helped shape its success. In other words, places where players changing seats doesn’t budget the commitment to this work. I anticipate that some of the best practice communities include those in which colleagues are working on ArtPlace projects.