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HortiCultured Infuses Mesa Urban Garden With Art

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When we first popped in to see the Mesa Urban Garden a couple of years ago, it was a relatively simple affair. Raised beds had just been filled with dark, moist soil. Kyllan Maney and Lauren Lee had painted the first of many murals to don garden walls. Community members were just beginning to buy plots, and plant them with vegetables and herbs.

Nowadays the non-profit community garden, which is governed by a board comprised of Mesa citizens, is readying to celebrate its third anniversary with a mash-up of art, music, and garden love called HortiCultured. The free event kicks off at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, January 16, and continues through 11 p.m. It's free and open to the public, so now is the time for Phoenix Third Friday regulars to exercise their logistical prowess.

See also: Your Guide to IN FLUX Cycle 5 Public Art in Metro Phoenix

Folks familiar with Tato Caraveo's surrealism-kissed murals in Roosevelt Row will delight in seeing his work, and that of more than a dozen additional artists, exhibited in the garden during the event. Artist James B. Hunt, famous around these parts for hiding artwork with a generous "finders, keepers" spirit, has been busy rounding up artist to participate. Expect plenty of new works exhibited on garden pillars, says Hunt, and several artists doing live painting during the event. "Some artists will be wearing their art," he explains, "and some will be installing it."

The visual artist line-up also includes Dump La Rock, Zachary Dean Glover, Disposable Hero, Such Styles, Michael 23, JB Snyder, James B. Hunt, Dain Quentin Gore, Shona Crawford, Rhondi Reardon, Margarete Beeson, Ellie Craze, Mene Tekel, Charles Wilkins, Thaddeus Mace Wike and NO3MAD 9. Elena Vega signed on to do live art plus performance.

Today the garden is filled with plants galore, and makes a fabulous gathering place for everything from barbeques to concerts. "The plants have grown to the point that the garden is almost like a maze," says Hunt. There's a tiny house packed with garden supplies, a little lending library for the free exchange of books, and enough space for bands to do their thing. The HortiCultured music line-up features DJ stylings by KNS bookending acoustic sets by Andy Warpigs and The Haymarket Squares. Dance away, but do try to avoid the delicate plant fare.

HortiCultured is being presented by Media Tempe and NXOEED -- better known to some as Evan Liggins of "Art-a-Gogh-Gogh" fame and the artist James B. Hunt. They've put this whole baby together in just over one month's time, according to Hunt, who recalls being the first artist ever to exhibit works at the garden. "I did a show with MUG two years ago," says Hunt. "They're really sweet people."

When Ryan Winkle, vice chairman of the garden board, approached Hunt and Liggins about doing a group show for the third anniversary, they ran with it. Now they're inviting folks from far and wide to join them for an "enchanting evening" filled with all sorts of merriment. Think "installations, collaborations, lights, colors, sounds, hidden treasures, moving shapes, things that fly and people who catch them as they land." Winkle envisions a lot more arts and music making its way to Mesa, which is already home to the Mesa Arts Center that sponsored all the garden's marvelous mural art.

"Mesa is hungry for more community driven art and cultural events in its downtown," says Winkle. He's hoping the advent of light rail in Mesa will facilitate "migrating parties of art and music attendees" moving through Mesa, Tempe, and Phoenix - and envisions a "tri-city" area that serves as a "regional art and culture" hub for the Southwest." Sentiments were different several years ago, when some business owners along Mesa's Main Street worried years of light rail construction might be the region's death knell.

Instead, the area has become home to Mesa Urban Garden and an intriguing mix of alphabet soup from the community group RAIL (Retail, Art, Innovation & Livability) to the alternative funding group NEDCO (Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation). It's even garnered the investment of ArtSpace, a Minnesota-based firm that operates 35 facilities in 13 states. Their developments are designed to provide affordable live/work spaces for artists and their families, plus non-residential space for creative enterprise.

Turns out Mesa artists and potential residents of a new development called ArtSpace Mesa Lofts, located at 155 South Hibbert and scheduled to open in 2017, can hit the HortiCultured festivities a tad early on January 16 to participate in a 6 p.m. "Artists Design Workshop" with ArtSpace Mesa developers, who'll be gathering input about ways interior design features can serve the needs of potential residents. That Thursday night, January 15, they're holding a 6 p.m. "Neighborhood Workshop" at Lo-Fi Coffee, where neighbors and the community at large can learn about how the development's design phase is moving forward.

For folks who haven't been paying much mind to what's growing these days in Mesa, the HortiCultured shindig seems to signal the fact the Mesa Urban Garden isn't the only exciting thing that's taken root. For more information, visit the HortiCultured Facebook page.

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