Attendees of the 29th Annual Glendale Blues and Jazz Festival over the weekend weekend received an unexpected blast of interpretive dance, digital art, social commentary and marriageable dogs to accompany the slide guitars and saxophones on stage.
Something to Write Home About sent 28 ASU student artists, guided by Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts professors Angela Ellsworth and Gregory Sale, on a mission to explore the meaning of "home" amid two days of music, culture and beer.
Ellsworth says she and Sale, both practiced public artists themselves, have been talking about a joint student project for years, but "we've never really had an excuse." One presented itself in a public announcement sent out by the City of Glendale, asking for public art submissions for the Blues and Jazz Festival.
Both professors have worked with the festival before, Ellsworth says, but Something to Write Home About was pitched (in part) as an educational project for the student-artists.
Sale says the students had to help with the application and fund-finding processes, teaching them a practical lesson in public art. The project was accepted just four weeks before the festival, a narrow time frame to develop the project's unifying theme of "Home."
"We wanted to develop a temporary site that was rich with narrative potential," Sale says. "The more we landed on it, the more we started to unpack it, the more entry points we saw, both for the festival-goers and for ... the emerging artists."
The 17 projects ranged from improvised music and dance to group sewing projects to human-pet marriages in a makeshift steeple. (For more info on specific projects, click here.)
Most received three-hour time slots in one of two stage homes, placed near the festival's twin music stages and built by Herberger students in ASU's Art Warehouse Courtyard.
But a few student-artists took their projects to the heart of the festival: for example, Taylor Phillips with "QR Code Symphony."
Phillips, a 20-year-old Art (Intermedia) undergrad, handed out cards to festival goers both Saturday and Sunday. The cards had pictures of one of five musical instruments, and instructions to scan the QR codes with their smart phones at the assigned time. Different cards made the phones play different parts of a song based on "Take 5" by Dave Brubeck Quartet, turning the crowd into a sort of digital orchestra.
Phillips wanted a music-based project to suit the festival's theme, and because he's a part-time singer himself. It was also the young artist's first foray into a big public art project, an experience he explains as both daunting and eye-opening.
"This way of working was not even on my radar prior to this semester," Phillips says. "Most of my work has been rooted in photography, some video [...] so I'm interested to see how this goes over, because it would be an interesting [artistic] direction."
Amy Gochoel, who assisted Sculpture MFA candidate Bobby Zokaites with creating the stage homes, says the "most magical" part of the experience was watching the houses themselves go up in two days, after nearly a month of "cave-like living" in the studio, welding and cutting wood for hours on end.
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"People were like, 'Whoa, this is what you've been working on?'" she says. "'You've been building houses?!'"
A double major in Arts Education and Sculpture, Gochoel says she learned enough about both her artistic craft and the grant-writing world it operates within to justify the 100-plus hours she put into Something to Write Home About.
"It's half selling yourself, what you do, and that's something that doing a project like this teaches you," she says, covered in sawdust, sitting on a fold-out wooden porch she helped build. "It's hard to juggle, but it's all about priorities."