Sonoran Desert Retreat Center & Residencies

International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA)

Funding Received: 2013
Ajo, AZ
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
December 6, 2013

Major capital projects and commercial development can so easily soak up every hour and day of attention a small organization has to give. And then there's still the work of keeping the nonprofit funded, reported, and paid up while paying attention to all the people involved in our work. This "never enough time" context is the biggest obstacle to creative placemaking. Just as "waiting for time and inspiration" is the unmaking of so many artists.

Creative placemaking takes daily work and attention, whether we are in the lead or playing any of the many supporting roles. In our case, apart from the two churches, ISDA owns the community gathering places in our town center. At the center is the plaza park, and in many ways its use is the best measure of the success of our work. To encourage and boost community use and "ownership" we eliminated all but a cleaning deposit and spread the word. Slowly the number of events has been growing—now there are several each month. And some of the people who enjoy the plaza during events now return in the evenings to walk or sit on the benches during the day while their kids play on the grass.

In the background of growing vibrancy in a community space is the work of maintaining the infrastructure—providing public bathrooms and keeping them clean, providing benches and keeping them clean, changing the light bulbs, weeding, digging grass out of cracks in the sidewalk, making endless repairs (of fixtures that are 90+ years old), and—very important—decorating for holidays. This work is essential and can't be neglected either; but intensive as it is, it is only the backdrop for building a vibrant community space.

Recent Wins
New York, New Orleans, San Francisco . . . and Ajo, AZ! In October, the extraordinary Nemcatacoa Teatro visited us from Bogotá, Columbia who produced their Landscape Reinvention Society at an Under the Arches event and in our plaza park (see photo above). They mesmerized people of all ages who followed them around the plaza and they interacted and created a story with our buildings and park. After sunset, the bi-national US/Mexico group Verbo*Bala projected desert scenes on a giant barrel cactus tent and performed a poetic monologue on US/Mexico border injustices. The Carpetbag Brigade brought these groups to Ajo from San Francisco, and they have performed twice before in our plaza. Now they are planning to return next spring to our retreat center (in construction) to perfect new work and perform locally!

Authentic community is the source of its own transformation.

 111513_NemcatacoaTeatroUnderTheArches2Nemcatacoa Teatro Under the Arches; photo courtesy of Jewel Clearwater