100 Creatives

Deer Valley Rock Art Center's Casandra Hernandez: 100 Creatives

Phoenix is brimming with creativity. And every other year, we put the spotlight on 100 of the city's creative forces. Leading up to the release of this year's Best of Phoenix issue, we're profiling 100 more. Welcome to the 2014 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today: 91. Casandra Hernandez.

"If I'm lucky," Casandra Hernandez says, "at some point my day will involve watching a snake swallow a bird, finding a chuckwalla bathing in the sun, or walking upon a coyote chasing a rabbit."

The 31-year-old works as the interpretation and programs coordinator at ASU's Deer Valley Rock Art Center. Her work "has to do with making connections between our desert environment, history, and contemporary social issues through public programming," she says. "An average day involves working on multiple projects at different stages of development. I'll be doing the creative planning on a festival, while doing the publicity and logistics for an upcoming performance event, while finishing a grant application for a youth program. I also teach public programs, so you may find me outside talking about the Sonoran Desert and the history of the peoples who were here before us."

See also: Ballet Arizona Artistic Director Ib Andersen: 100 Creatives Hernandez also works closely with recent Big Brain Award winner Mary Stephens to create such upcoming events as a concert featuring Mexican hip-hop artist Bocafloja on September 4 and 5 and a statewide public engagement project for NOGALES, a new play set to open in April 2015 about José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, a teenage boy who was shot by the U.S. Border Patrol in 2013.

"This season's work is all about border crossings and connecting ideas and politics across borders," she says.

As she gears up for this summer's National Association of Latino Arts and Culture Leadership Institute, it sounds like Hernandez will have plenty on her plate, and that means soon you'll have more must-attend events to add to your calendar.

I came to Phoenix with my mother, when I was 18 years old. She got a job and a visa to teach Spanish at Gateway Elementary and moved our family here from Hermosillo, Sonora. I had always thought I would go to public university in Mexico City or Xalapa after high school. I never imagined I would spend the next 13 years of my life in Phoenix, Arizona.

I produce cultural events because I believe artistic and cultural works reveal the tensions, contradictions and possibilities in our lives. Art is a way of knowing, a political act, a stand against the disimagination machine. I'm passionate about creating spaces where art and culture can help us become better thinkers, better lovers, better neighbors. I also believe that, if we're serious about creating new political narratives for Arizona, we're going to need a cultural strategy to get us there. That's what I want to spend my time and energy thinking about.

I'm most productive when I can process ideas and connect thoughts with others. I really enjoy working in partnership with other women. I've been incredibly fortunate to work with brilliant, talented and generous leaders like Mary Stephens and April Bojorquez, who have challenged and inspired the way I think about cultural work in Phoenix.

My inspiration wall is full of images of border art and the Sonoran Desert. I find the desert endlessly moving, a language I understand. And the border imagery is a reminder to think beyond binaries and reframe difference as possibility. I also have postcards from past events I've produced, which help me see how the work stands as a whole and where I may draw new connections.

I've learned most from the experience of being displaced. It has revealed the ideological constructions behind the "normal" and the familiar. It has made me sensitive to practices of social exclusion and belonging, and the ways that certain ways of being are discredited and invisibilized in our state. And it's empowered me to see that the more we understand how something is constructed, the better prepared we are to take it apart and build something new.

Good work should always offer an idea, be ethical, and engage us more critically with the world around us.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more structures of support for emerging creators and culture leaders so they stay in Phoenix. We need more public platforms for work that engage diverse racial/gender/political knowledges and sensibilities. We need more critical dialogue about the work that is happening in Arizona and more exchanges with national and international creators. And we need more daring on the side of testing new models and propositions for creative work in Phoenix.

See the 2014 edition of 100 Creatives:

100. Bill Dambrova 99. Niki Blaker 98. Jeff Slim 97. Beth May 96. Doug Bell 95. Daniel Langhans 94. Nanibaa Beck 93. Nicole Royse 92. Ib Andersen

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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski