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Big Brain Awards 2014: Meet the Finalists and Our First Urban Legend Winners

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But that's only a fraction of what Stephens calls her work-driven life.

"At any given time," she says, "I am working on four or five projects that, in general, deal with border issues, whether that means geographical borders or identity borders."

Stephens, 34, works as a professor at Arizona State University's School of Film, Dance and Theatre and serves as producing director of the university's Performance in the Borderlands program, which presents performances often at the hostel. The initiative has presented previously banned plays like Hungry Woman and Ubu Roi, acclaimed Japanese dance duo Eiko & Koma, and Colombian street theater group Nemcatacoa.

She admits that standing at the crossroads of so many projects is exhausting, but there's nothing else she'd rather do.

And there's no other place she could do it.

Arizona's an epicenter of controversial laws, she says, where cultures come together regardless of whether people like it. But that mishmash of ideas and people can be a beautiful thing.

Stephens says the borderlands can be understood as a freeing proposition, as opposed to a battle, in which diverse cultures and world views can inform each other. That's central to her work: melding social issues with art to enhance understanding.

She points to a mural she commissioned from La Muñeca on the south side of the hostel. It features an Oaxacan pattern and a portrait of a woman in bright blue, burgundy, and red. Not your typical color combination, but, much like Stephens' view of culture in the borderlands, it comes together to create something utterly unique and surprising. — Becky Bartkowski


Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. | Culinary Art
Arizonans are accustomed to seasonal beer trends: hefeweizens in the summer, pumpkin ales in autumn, and the occasional holiday cider.

But thanks to one up-and-coming brewery, Arizona is finally experiencing a trend that's truly fresh.

In the seven months since opening, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. has produced 65 beers in 44 styles. It's a turnover rate that earns the Gilbert-based beer business both devoted followers and frustrated fans. But brewery co-owners Jonathan Buford, Patrick Warem, and Brett Dettler wouldn't have it any other way.

At Arizona Wilderness Brewing, beer culture is as protected as it is intertwined with the environment around it. Using locally sourced ingredients like farro from Hayden Flour Mills, coriander from Somewhere in Thyme Spice Co., and Sel Gris French sea salt from Go Lb. Salt, the brews distilled at Arizona Wilderness are about quality rather than quantity and, as such, their time on tap is brief.

"Think about our brewing company like walking through the wilderness," Buford says. "You're going to go through your seasonal changes. You're going to go through your different climates and different terrains, and that's kind of what we model our beers after."

It's a model that the trio developed less than three years ago in Buford's Gilbert garage. The longtime outdoorsman had left his window-cleaning business to pursue what he describes as "art meets creative science." After absorbing every podcast and book on brewing (including John Palmer's How to Brew, which he still views as the beer Bible), Buford turned to Ware and Dettler to fill what he considered the voids in his beer-making operation.

Despite initial financial challenges (Buford had to dip into his wife's 401(k), and Ware sold his car), the trio managed to turn their passion into a reality, transforming the outdated former space of a Godfather's Pizza into a packed East Valley restaurant and distillery that hardly sees an empty seat during lunch hour.

"We knew we would be great," Buford says. "We had that in us. I said, 'Give us a moment to shine and watch us shine. It's going to happen fast' . . . And it did."

Suffice it to say the brewery's quick success has gained the attention of beer festivals and brewers alike, including Danish brewer Mikkeller, which is set to produce a collaborative brew with Arizona Wilderness in June.

With that success also come investor proposals for Valley expansion. But Buford's not interested.

"We have not had to change our ethics or values at all," he says. "No one demands that of us. I think people come in looking for us to not do that. If we came out and said we're going to open a production facility and brew five beers, people would be appalled."

Appalled? Perhaps. But can we really blame the Valley for wanting more access to Gilbert's best kept secret? Certainly not. — Katie Johnson


Aisha Tedros | Culinary Art
"Anyone can do it," Aisha Tedros says as she prepares a cup of strong coffee flavored with ground ginger, a specialty from her hometown in Africa. "I was always told that about America, and it's true."

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