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Virtual Telethon: Arizona Artists Get Creative During the Time of COVID-19

Gabriel and Isaac Fortoul are part of the virtual telethon lineup.EXPAND
Gabriel and Isaac Fortoul are part of the virtual telethon lineup.
Lynn Trimble

As venues temporarily have shuttered in recent weeks to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, creatives are looking for new ways to share their work.

A Phoenix-based arts advocacy group called Arizona Citizens for the Arts is bringing back the telethon. It's planning a 24-hour event designed to raise money for both its own efforts and participating creatives to include artists, musicians, chefs, and more.

That’s because the group’s annual fundraiser got pushed from late March to early September due to COVID-19 concerns. Executive director Joseph Benesh wanted to create a fun way to raise money in the meantime. “Like with so many things, necessity was the mother of invention,” he says.

Hearts for Arizona launches on Friday, April 3. The lineup includes performances, demonstrations, and talks, which will be livestreamed on the Arizona Citizens for the Arts website. “We’re excited about highlighting the diverse talents of artists around the state,” Benesh says.

He’s hoping the lineup will include 50 or so creatives, and says there’s still time for artists to get involved. All the basics are posted on the group's website.

Joey Burns (left) of Calexico is one of many musicians participating in the virtual telethon.EXPAND
Joey Burns (left) of Calexico is one of many musicians participating in the virtual telethon.
Jairo Zavala

Several have already signed on, including the Fortoul Brothers and Sareya Taylor, Phoenix's inaugural youth poet laureate. The music lineup includes Calexico and Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra.

Expect a Friday night "mystery" talent show, kid-friendly programming on Saturday morning, and plenty of conversations with Arizona creatives throughout. There will be demonstrations of yoga, cocktails, flower-arranging, and more.

“We want it to feel like a behind-the-scenes tour of the arts in Arizona,” Benesh says.

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Every performer will stream from their own location using Twitch, so nobody has to break social distancing guidelines. Even Arizona congressman and former mayor Greg Stanton will participate, offering opening remarks for the event.

Organizers will have virtual tip jars set up for participating creatives, as well as the Arizona Citizens for the Arts. The telethon will also include a silent auction.

Benesh says the telethon isn’t just about the money. It’s also a way for artists to rally around a shared project and support each other’s work. “The arts aren’t immune to competition for audiences and funding,” he says. “But we’ll only survive through collaboration and solidarity.”

Hearts for Arizona is planned for 5 p.m. on Friday, April 3, through 4:59 p.m. on Saturday, April 4. Visit azcitizensforthearts.org.

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