“Distritanced but not Separated"

One way the arts center tried to engage people during the pandemic was with its windowed exhibit called “Distritanced but not Separated".

After more than a year, Mesa Arts Center is reconnecting with the community in person as masks become optional June 24 at all city buildings.

The center recently released its lineup for its Fall 2021-Spring 2022 season that will include live audiences watching live performances on stage. And its staff has set up four neighborhood workshops to generate feedback for its annual Prototyping Project.

Cindy Ornstein, Mesa arts director and the center’s executive director, said the pandemic forced her staff to turn to video productions and ingenuity to keep a cultural-artistic connection with residents.

“One nice thing about being an organization that’s all about engaging people with creativity is that we have a lot of great creative people on staff,” said Ornstein.

The center turned a theater into a video production unit to develop digital content, not only for the center but also for the i.d.e.a. Museum and the Arizona Museum of Natural History. 

“We created a wide variety of digital programming,” said Ornstein. “Creating some hands-on activities and virtual tours of exhibitions that were now no longer open to the public so that people could still enjoy them.”

Even while shut down, the arts center still offered online classes and its special engagement program for veterans. 

Arts center staff found they were reaching people they had never reached before – such as the homebound or and even people living out of state.

“We got one email from an arts and services participant,” Ornstein said as her eyes teared up. “And I always get choked up because the subject line was, ‘Thank you for saving my life.’”

The center didn’t stop there. 

It offered curbside pickups for family engagement projects and window-side exhibits.

“We had space all along the entire theatre building,” Ornstein explained. “So, we asked Mesa Contemporary to mount an exhibition in the windows.”

From September to January, ‘Distanced but not Separated’ was the title of this windowed exhibit with work by artists associated with the Mesa Arts Center’s studio programs.

The exhibit was still display as the museums started to open. In October, the Arizona Museum of Natural History and i.d.e.a Museum opened with limited capacity and timed entries. In December, Mesa Contemporary Art Museum opened with the same guidelines. Classes opened in January and in September, the theatres will open again.

This month, the Mesa Arts Center started reconnecting with the community in person through the Mesa Prototyping Project.

 “It’s based on the idea of trying to give communities the opportunity to experiment with ideas,” said Ornstein. “To make their neighborhoods more activated and more connected.”

The goal is to get the ideas of the community for temporary art installations. 

This year, Mesa Arts Center will host group workshops in different Mesa neighborhoods before the Prototyping Festival on Nov. 13. 

The Mesa Prototyping Festival features temporary installations created in response to neighbor comments and feedback collected during community walks. The installations will be available for community interaction during the one-day festival in downtown neighborhoods southeast of Mesa Arts Center. 

The first workshop for getting feedback for the festival will be at 6 p.m. July 8 at the Catholic Charities Care Campus, 466 S. Bellview, Mesa. 

Others are 9 a.m. Aug. 15 at Que Chevere, 142 W. Main St.; 9 a.m. Sept. 19 at New Horizon School, 446 E. Broadway Road; and 6 p.m. Oct. 15, Mesa Urban Garden, 212 E. 1st Ave. 

Orstein is excited that staff can now reach out to people beyond a digital landscape and engage them in workshops that have food, drinks, local artists and music.

“It helps people meet each other, see their neighbors, and feel more connected,” said Ornstein. “Empowering the people to have a voice and make the community better.”


To sign up for a workshop: mesaartscenter.com/mesaprototyping.

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