Culture News

Here's Everything You Need to Know About the Spark! Festival in Downtown Mesa

Become one with the art. That’s pretty much the crux of this year’s Spark! Festival of Creativity at Mesa Arts Center, which happens from noon to 10 p.m. both Friday, March 18 and Saturday, March 19.

Mesa Arts Center has presented the free festival, which typically blends interactive arts experiences with ways to interact with artists working in different media, for several years now.

This year they’ve put together an eclectic assortment of installations that respond to movement or sound. Think electronic trees, spandex membranes, and musical shadows.

And they’ve got a new mural by internationally-renowned artist El Mac (Miles “Mac” MacGregor), who just painted the figure of a pregnant woman holding a red rose on a wall that towers two stories over a courtyard just off the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum on the MAC campus. Mac at MAC. Cool, right?

The festival also includes opportunities to interact with local artists, including Danielle Wood and Kyllan Maney of Tempe, and the chance to watch artists with MASSIVart in Quebec, Canada, making aerosol and chalk art. Several local artists, including father-and-son team Such and Champ Styles, will be on the scene doing live painting as well. 

The entertainment lineup includes Phoenix bands 76th Street, The Love Me Nots, and Vintage Wednesday, plus Tempe band Dry River Yacht Club, and several more. Cyphers Urban Art Experience will perform street dance, DJ scratching, and street art demos.

Interactive offerings include Vibrant Lives by Jessica Rajko, an associate professor at ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre whose art practice includes performance, choreography, and digital media. Her piece I’m Not as Think as You Drunk I Am was well-received when it premiered last November at the Crescent Ballroom.

For Spark!, Rajko is presenting Vibrant Lives with fellow artists Jacqueline Wernimont, Eileen Standley, and Bobby Zokaites. They’ll be inviting festival-goers to literally get a feeling for how much data their cell phones and other digital devices produce using something called touch-based (haptic) feedback.

They’ve created three sculptures that people can sit, lay, or climb on – and each one delivers vibration feedback reflecting what Rajko calls “the massive amounts of data we shed from out personal devices.” And Rajko is doing free atmospheric performances from 7 to 8 p.m. both nights.

Here’s the rundown on other interactive offerings, including two by Purring Tiger, whose interactive orbs were one of the best-received works during Scottsdale’s recent Canal Convergence event.

Sonic Forest by Christopher Janney of Lexington, Massachusetts
Touch one of 16 electronic “trees” to trigger a series of events — from an original score of melodic tones, environmental sounds, and spoken or whispered expressions to an ever-changing color palette of LED lights.
The color of things by Iregular (Daniel Iregui) of Montreal, Quebec
Enter an immersive room with a structure made of back-projected elastic tubes. Interact with the tubes to leave a color and sound trace or to make words emerge. The piece explores the concept of perception and point of view.
MIZARU by Purring Tiger (Aaron Sherwood & Kiori Kawai) of New York City 
Press the membrane of a large transparent box with a large white spandex wall. Watch it spring to life with fiery visual patterns and music that shift according to the depth and pressure of a person’s touch. 
Pop-up! Street Installations by Purring Tiger
See visual projections on exterior walls at MAC that respond to passersby who interject themselves into the projected visuals.
The Sensatorium curated by Sensebellum of Seattle, Washington
Enter an interactive environment under a large geodesic dome and play with four different technology-driven art experiences, including Sandboxes of Life.

Spark! also includes several interactive works by Arizona artists. Owen Fritts of Flagstaff led a team of artists and community members in creating temporary nest-like structures using reclaimed wood, which festival-goers will be able to walk through during the event. Watch for a community dance performance created by Elizabeth Johnson, who previously danced with the Dance Exchange, a group founded by Liz Lerman, who’s now a faculty member at ASU. You’ll find them near the nest.

Elizabeth Hellstern, also of Flagstaff, used an old-fashioned telephone booth to create her Telepoem Booth, where you can pick a poem from the Telepoem directory and hear it read by an Arizona poet. Joe O’Connell of Creative Machines in Tucson created something called the Living Tree, featuring tree branches with light and sound effects that festival visitors can control.

And two Tempe artists will be doing hands-on activities with people who pop by their art stations.

Danielle Wood, whose biology-infused ceramic forms have been shown in several Phoenix galleries including {9} The Gallery and the shipping containers in Roosevelt Row, is bringing a project called Amalgamations with a hands-on component to Spark! Visitors will be able to create take-away clay artifacts by pressing dry air clay into natural objects, and rearrange coral-like pieces that form a larger work.

Kyllan Maney, whose symmetry-centric paintings include a mini-mural installed along Main Street in Mesa, and a large-scale mural at The Dhaba in Tempe, is leading an interactive art project called Kaleidoscope Fusion. She’ll be working with festival-goers to make a giant community mural comprising small designs created using small plastic beads.

If you’re into taking selfies, walk along the north side of Main Street just west of MAC to pose with her bird- and map-themed selfie station painted for last year’s opening of the Central Mesa Valley Metro Light Rail extension. Walk, bike, or light rail farther west to Country Club and Main, and you’ll see a new pocket park complete with public art by Mary Shindell and sculptural pieces by Joe O’Connell (creator of Spark!’s Living Tree).

It pays to wander from the MAC campus now and then, because Main Street in Mesa has several arts and culture offerings of its own — including several new murals, public art along the light rail, and an impressive collection of sculpture. Newer murals include a flower-infused wall at Tre Bella, painted by David (Dski One) Osowski.

Nowadays a fun assortment of painted, playable pianos also dot the streets of Mesa. They’re part of Street Pianos Mesa, which features pianos painted by local artists and community members with some pretty cool themes including spoken word poetry, outer space, wildlife, and baseball.

Back at the MAC campus, you can participate in the testing phase of a new permanent tile installation called Musical Shadows, currently in development by Daily tous les jours. Visitors can make music by moving their shadows across the tile, then offer feedback to installation creators working to fine-tune the piece.

If you've got $5 or $10 to spend, you can sign up for one-hour art workshops led by MAC teaching artists, who'll be sharing techniques for everything from mosaics to juggling. Register online ahead of time if you're game for learning some new tricks. 
Find the full lineup and schedule for Spark! Festival of Creativity on the MAC website
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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble