Mesa’s Arts & Culture District, needs more arts & culture

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Mesa’s Arts & Culture District, needs more arts & culture

Yes, we have the Mesa Arts Center (MAC), the i.d.e.a. Museum, Mesa Contemporary Arts, and the Second Friday Art Walk, so why does it still feel like something is missing? That question can be answered with two words: Creative Placemaking.

You may be asking yourself, what is this thing, this placemaking? In the words of Springboard for the Arts, “Placemaking is the act of people coming together to change overlooked and undervalued public and shared spaces into welcoming places where community gathers, supports one another, and thrives. Places can be animated and enhanced by elements that encourage human interaction – from temporary activities such as performances and chalked poetry to permanent installations such as landscaping and unique art.”

In July of this year, the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO) hosted a Creative Placemaking workshop. Carefully selected leaders in Arizona’s art scene participated in three days of training to learn how to administer this workshop to others in the future, representing the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Mesa Arts Center, Childsplay AZ, the i.d.e.a. Museum, and the Mesa Art Bizarre. Along with these leaders, over a dozen artists from Mesa and the Valley participated in the eight-hour interactive course, learning how to begin using their art as
a tool for community engagement. Jun-Li Wang, from Springboard for the Arts in St. Paul, used activities, visual examples, and animated discussion to teach artists about placemaking, collaboration techniques, leadership, and teamwork. The workshop wrapped up with Jennifer Disbrow, from NEDCO, answering questions and reviewing the requirements to apply for a mini-grant for artists to fund their own placemaking project.

The sense of connection, engagement, empowerment, and overall excitement coming from those who attended was undeniable. Artists were inspired to start working on their projects to make an impact in Downtown and that is what they did.

Jaime Glasser, a local artist whose craft is iphonography, stated “It has given me an opportunity to think of how public art can bring art in different ways to more people and help connect people with their place and encourage interaction too between businesses, people, places and art. I am really excited and empowered to see what I can do to engage more people this way!”

The Mesa Art League was well-represented at the workshop too, and Loralee Stickel, president of the Mesa Art League, shared her excitement about the experience. “I had no idea this workshop would make a difference. How wrong I was. Not only was I able to network with other artists and business owners, but I was presented with opportunities to work with them. They taught skills on how to cooperate with diverse individuals and what real collaboration is. Thanks to NEDCO for sponsoring this workshop.”

Kyllan Maney, “I found the Placemaking workshop to be a gathering of artistic minds seeing downtown Mesa in a new light. I have a greater appreciation for the historic quality of the area. I was enlightened by the projects I saw in other cities presented. It helped me see how Mesa can keep it’s historical roots and move forward with the progression of the area. I also liked the aspect of the workshop on communication and collaboration.”

The program is called Ripple, inspired by Springboard for the Arts’ Irrigate program in St. Paul. Ripple applications were due on September 1st and will be reviewed by a collaborative group representing NEDCO, MAC, the Downtown Mesa Association, and downtown businesses. Five artists will be funded to do their project in collaboration with a local business.

We expect the results to be a hit – encouraging a blossoming relationship between artists and downtown, and bringing the arts to the Arts & Culture District in an exciting and reimagined way. NEDCO is a Community Development Financial Institution based in Mesa, offering microloans and technical business assistance. NEDCO also organizes the Mesa Entrepreneurial Artist program which spans eight weeks and teaches artists business basics and provides networking opportunities. Find out more about NEDCO and this program here:


Participants discuss leadership styles.


The winners of the tallest tower building contest, demonstrating exceptional teamwork!


More passionate discussion about leadership!


Councilwoman Terry Benelli, on leave from her position as Executive Director of NEDCO, stopped in to speak with participants.


Jun-Li Wang and her exceptional facilitation skills engage participants in discussion about placemaking and collaboration.