After Mesa Arts Center executive director Cindy Ornstein attended San Francisco’s first Market Street Prototyping Festival in April of 2015, she started imagining a similar festival happening in downtown Mesa. The California festival engages creative types and other citizens in creating engaging public spaces. Now, thanks to a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, her vision is on its way to becoming a reality here in Arizona.
Mesa Arts Center is one of three Arizona arts and cultural organizations recently awarded an Our Town grant from the NEA, a federal agency founded in 1965 to increase citizen access and participation in arts and culture. Desert Botanical Garden was awarded $100,000, and Tucson-Pima Arts Council was awarded $75,000. Recipients were announced on Monday, May 9.
This latest round of Our Town grants includes $4.3 million for a total of 64 projects in 36 states. Since 2011, this NEA program has awarded more than $30 million to 389 different projects.
The grants are designed to foster creative placemaking, which integrates arts and culture into community revitalization efforts. Previous Our Town projects funded in Arizona include the Ajo Master Plan and the Tucson Warehouse District.
Mesa Arts Center’s award was given to support the Downtown Lab (D-Lab) Project, which involves a series of temporary artist projects and design prototypes intended to activate downtown Mesa. Working with community partners, Mesa Arts Center will issue a call to artists and other creatives for prototypes to be featured in the first D-Lab Festival, taking place at Mesa Arts Center in the fall of 2017. People attending the festival will get to vote on which prototypes they’d like to see developed for downtown Mesa, Ornstein says.
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Desert Botanical Garden’s Our Town funding will support a project called Spaces of Opportunity, which involves transforming 20 acres of land in South Phoenix into a community-based food hub and cultural gathering space. Working with community partners, they’ll create a performance stage and outdoor classroom, commission murals, and establish an arts education program in conjunction with local schools. It’s all designed to “enhance an underserved community by providing access to open space that enables residents to celebrate their cultural heritage, engage in arts activities, and produce and consume fresh produce.”
The Tucson-Pima Arts Council is collaborating with several organizations outside Arizona for its Our Town-funded project, which is called Cultural Belonging and Transformation: Placemaking from the Community Up. They’ll work with Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY, LA Commons, Arts & Democracy, and Kentucky Cultural Organizing Alliance on workshops, training, and learning exchanges in different parts of the country – and research issues relevant to underserved populations – in order to foster civic engagement and community capacity to participate in local planning processes.
“It’s all about connecting creativity and civic resources,” Ornstein says.
Correction: This post originally stated that Mesa Arts Center received a grant of $750,000. The correct amount is $75,000.