Sonoran Desert Retreat Center & Residencies

International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA)

Funding Received: 2013
Ajo, AZ
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
January 27, 2014

Photo by Jewel Clearwater

This month, we are continuing to reflect on the “creative placemaking is a juggling act” theme, and are realizing that making your living as an artist in Ajo, AZ is also a juggling act. Our photo this month is clay work in process. Clay artist Karen Sucharski lives and works at Curley School Artisan Housing in our town center (our first project). Each month she and her partner Mike Heinrichs make their rent from their creative work. Along with other artists, the two sell their wares each month at the Farmers Market in the Ajo plaza. They manage our clay studio (developed by clay artist Armando Hernandez) keeping it open for all community residents each Saturday, and they watch over supplies and ensure the safety of the space the rest of the week. They teach workshops for small fees. They sell their work in our Art Stop gift shop in the plaza. They drive hours to sell at other Arizona festivals and to deliver their work to urban shops and galleries. Heinrichs supplements their income by making and selling artisan bread. Like so many artists they live a very enterprising life—but unlike many, they really do manage to live on their art work. Karen also finds time to write and teach poetry.

One of our jobs at ISDA is to help artists make it economically, so we operate a gift shop and print shop, employing artists and selling their work. We provide an IDA matched savings account program where artists who save money toward a purchase to further their art business can get a two to one match. We provide jobs around the Curley School Artisan Housing to help residents reduce their rent. You cannot just create a vibrant town center from an empty one through the arts unless artists are able to survive and thrive. Naturally in an artist community, most of the incremental work I was thinking about in our last blog is people work.

Recent Wins
March in our region of the desert is going to be incredible. Our very productive Ajo Regional Food Partnership has decided to host its first annual “Authentically Ajo” Food Festival March 8th in the Ajo Plaza. The next day the Carpetbag Brigade arrives for a week-long residency, culminating with a performance in the town center on March 14th. And on March 17th people begin arriving for our week-long third Tri-National Symposium "Celebrating the Sonoran Desert," which ends with the Sonoran Shindig desert festival in the Ajo Plaza. Photos to come in March!

We're thinking about juggling acts; creative placemaking; building an artist community, and surviving and thriving as an artist.