Taking up the street: Herberger Theater Festival of the Arts

October 6, 2013

Vendors, performances, adoptable pets, and children’s activities crowded the street outside the Herberger Theater Center Saturday afternoon for the theater’s annual Festival of the Arts.

A family event that began as a way to showcase the theater after renovations that finished in 2010, this year’s festival was the theater’s fourth, according to Laurene Austin, the director of development and marketing and organizer for the event.

“It was such a big hit the first year, and every year it’s grown,” said Austin.

Before the first festival, the Herberger Theater was closed for two summers for renovations funded by a city approved bond, according to Austin. They wanted to open the theater back up with a huge event.

“What’s something really cool that we can do that really brings the arts together under one roof?” said Austin, remembering the first event. “So we thought, let’s have a festival.”

Herberger Theater worked with 25 Valley art groups that came to the event and performed. The festival gives people the opportunity to sample the arts, she said. The festival featured performances every 20 minutes on four different stages—one of which was outside—in addition to a pet adoption area and children’s activities.

“My favorite part is really working with all the different groups that I don’t get to work with throughout the year,” said Austin. “It’s so much fun to be able to work with all these kids’ organizations and pet groups and to really find a way that we can bring them together—and it actually flows, which is the really exciting part.”

People generally don’t think about seeing a show and then adopting a dog, but the combination has worked out well, she said.

“The timing is also really good because this is the official start of the arts season now,” said Austin. “So it gives the art groups an opportunity to promote their season—show people what they have coming up.”

Nearly 100 volunteers were recruited to make the event possible, she said. And they helped with the outdoor festival and the backstage area, handling much of the behind-the-scenes work on the day of the festival.

One volunteer stood on the outdoor stage in a pirate outfit, emceeing the event. Jim Aiken works in the independent film industry but started volunteering as an emcee for many of Herberger’s events a few years ago, he said. He loves volunteering at the event.

“It’s fun, the kids love it,” said Aiken. “It does expose a lot of people that maybe don’t live in the area down here to what’s going on in the downtown Phoenix area.”

Poranguí Carvalho McGrew, a Brazilian musician who performed the opening act for the outdoor stage said that he liked being involved with the theater and the festival. Phoenix can be a desert symbolically and culturally, according to McGrew.

“For me as an artist, I love events that make that effort to kind of create and make use and take back public space,” said McGrew. “It’s not just trying to sell you a Starbucks coffee.”

Events like the Festival of the Arts are important because they take up a street and stop traffic, actually making people get outside, he said. His mission as an artist is to help create a cultural hub in downtown Phoenix, and the Festival of the Arts is an event that helps.

“I think it’s a beautiful event,” said McGrew. “Phoenix can kind of lose its sense of a central cultural hub that most big cities in the U.S. have – Phoenix is still kind of in that way very much adolescent.”

The Festival of the Arts was sponsored by Arizona Public Services. The Herberger Theater is a nonprofit organization, and the money raised by the event will go toward their three outreach programs for children that serve children ages 3-19, according to Austin.

“It’s such a great partnership, I think, between us and all these other organizations,” said Austin. “I think it’s a win-win for everyone involved.”


Photo booth activism for immigration reform

September 28, 2013

A photo booth on wheels started conversations about immigration reform last Wednesday at Phoenix Job Corps in downtown Phoenix.

photo booth truck

INSIDE OUT 11M volunteers work outside the mobile photo booth.

The photo booth is owned and operated by INSIDE OUT, a project out of New York City that aims to help communities around the world raise awareness for social projects through art, according to Alejandro Morales, an organizer for INSIDE OUT’s first, mobile national project, INSIDE OUT 11M. “11M” represents the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants that are living in the United States.

“To the general public, immigration reform is just a news headline – they don’t realize how real, how personal, how important it is for this country and for everybody,” said Morales.

Immigration reform is a personal issue for Morales who is a DREAMer, an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U.S. as a child. He was able to register for Deferred Action a year ago, so he can legally reside in the country for two years, Morales said.

Before he realized the limits of his legal status, Morales wanted to serve the country by joining the Marines, he said. But when he realized in high school that he couldn’t get a driver’s license because of his status, he knew that he could not serve in the Armed Forces. Advocating for immigration reform through INSIDE OUT 11M and other projects is how he now chooses to serve.

“I’d like to think of this as another way of serving – spreading the word for immigration reform, sharing my story,” Morales said. “We all want to serve this country in our own way, whether it’s teachers, engineers, doctors; we all just want to give back and be part of society.”

INSIDE OUT 11M traveled around the country during the summer. The project traveled by a large truck that doubled as a photo booth, stopping in communities outside local buildings and organizations that partnered with them to allow their organizers and volunteers to print and paste portraits at their locations. Tuesday, the truck was in Tempe, then moved to downtown Phoenix Wednesday, and ended its tour in the Valley on Thursday in Scottsdale.

Organizers and volunteers approached or were approached by passersby to talk about the importance of comprehensive immigration reform. If they wanted, people could go into the photo booth to have their picture taken and printed on a large sheet of paper in black and white.

“We take their portraits to humanize immigration reform, make it much more personal,” said Morales.

Faces of all ages were pasted in a grid on the concrete floor of the Phoenix Job Corps courtyard, people walked over them and around, allowing the art to become part of the scenery.

portraits on courtyard ground

People walk around the courtyard at Phoenix Job Corps, looking at the giant black and white portraits on the ground.

One student at Phoenix Job Corps, Isaac Martinez, pointed to a picture of himself with his tongue out which was pasted next to a man in a hard hat and safety goggles. He was drawn to the photo truck when walking around and decided to ask what the truck was all about, he said.

“I don’t really like to get into politics myself,” said Martinez.

But he decided to get his picture taken anyway. Martinez looks at everything through a logical point of view, he said, but he does lean to one side of the issue: a path to legalization for the undocumented immigrants in this country.

When Martinez was young, he was present for a court case where his father, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, received the ruling that he would be deported.

Martinez has not heard from his dad in a year.

When his father was deported back to Mexico, Martinez couldn’t finish high school because he had to work, he said. Now he studies computer repair and engineering at Phoenix Job Corps, a no-cost vocational training center for low income students ages 16-24 according to the school’s website.

“It made me a better person,” he said.

He learned from his experience that things change quickly and drastically, said Martinez.

Martinez is not alone. The Census Bureau estimated that in 2010, 9 million people in the U.S. were part of mixed-status families – families with both undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens – according to the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project.

From January to June 2011, about 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported, according to USA Today when citing a report issued to Congress by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

INSIDE OUT 11M aimed to start a conversation this summer, according to Rhea Keller, an employee with the main INSIDE OUT office.

“INSIDE OUT doesn’t have a stance either way,” she said. “We’re just a platform for people to communicate a message.”

Keller said that people start talking about their own stories when they see their portraits.

“I think it’s really great when people come and get their picture taken,” said Keller. “When you see yourself that big, it’s a different experience.”

prints drying on courtyard sidewalk

Prints lay drying on the sidewalk before being pasted on the courtyard floor.

INSIDE OUT runs outside of the travelling truck and the INSIDE OUT 11M movement, she said. Since the project was started by French artist J.R. in 2011, it has sent over 150,000 posters to almost every country.

“Anyone can sign up and communicate a message of their choice,” said Keller. “And it’s not just about the truck coming to you, it’s also about you creating your own action—power is all about you.”

INSIDE OUT 11M tries to partner with local organizations in the cities that they visit, according to Keller. In Phoenix, the project organizers worked with Promise Arizona, an immigrant rights organization led by Petra Falcon.

If people don’t have immediate problems related to immigration reform, they’re going to be disconnected, according to Falcon.

“But this is an eye grabber – you’re going to engage this and then decide, ‘Okay, this is something I can do,’” said Falcon. “‘I can stand up and take a picture for immigration reform.’”

Painting the empty walls: alley beautification in Phoenix

September 21, 2013

Muralist painting chili pepper

Muralist Jesse Perry tries to keep out of the sun while spray painting a chili pepper in the Film Bar parking lot.

Phoenix muralist Jesse Perry stood under a large umbrella painting a chili pepper at the back of the lot next to Film Bar, Friday afternoon. He was planning to spend the entire night painting to finish the project, said Perry. His Film Bar mural will be the third mural painted for a new alley beautification initiative that is taking place downtown.

The rest of the wall was covered with pairs of cartoon depictions of desert creatures. Each pair represented a symbiotic relationship between animals with the pairs playing off each other. The mural is titled “How to: Sonoran Symbiosis.”

“And basically, it just, in a very fun, cartoony way, showcases odd relationships that animals in the desert have,” said Perry.

rooster and pigeon

One of the mural’s animal pairs shows a boxing rooster and a beat-up a pigeon.

Perry and the other painter of the mural, Carlos Rivas, approached the owner of Film Bar, Kelly Aubey, about painting over an old mural that had been on the wall outside of Film Bar for more than two years. The sun had done its damage to the painting, according to Aubey.

Aubey tried not to get in his artists’ way, he said. His only guideline was for them to create something that relates to the desert in Arizona.

“It’s my job to build a framework for the artists to move through to express themselves,” Aubey said.

Aubey was surprised by the painting. But that wasn’t a bad thing, he said.

“I think they’ve done a great job,” said Aubey. “I’m glad to see people enjoying it.”

Perry said people have come by to take photos while he’s been painting, so he has been able to see and hear different reactions.

“I try to give people something they haven’t seen before,” said Perry.

Perry and Aubey both said that they had observed people laugh at the images they see.

“And when they actually laugh – that’s what artwork is all about,” said Perry. “It’s about evoking emotions.”

The alley beautification initiative was an idea started by Carlos Rivas earlier this year, according to Perry.

“Carlos is an avid, avid community member,” said Perry. “He wants to benefit the community that he’s a part of.”

Perry was drawn to Rivas’ interest in the community and willingness to give back.

“That’s one thing I do appreciate about him and part of the reason we joined forces is he loves to give back,” said Perry.

The back door to Rivas’ studio is in a highly trafficked alleyway that is not well taken care of, said Perry.

“And I believe that’s why he had this intrinsic value, or this need to beautify it,” said Perry.

The beautification project is a way for artists to encourage the city to clean up alleyways so they can be safer for everyone in the city, according to Perry.

“When murals go up in places, those places are more trafficked, which brings more business,” said Perry, “and you’re less likely to have crime or any type of violation as far as graffiti, spray paint—those kinds of things.”

Perry sees a difference between graffiti and graffiti art, he said.

“Graffiti is somebody throwing their name up, like what you see on trash cans,” said Perry. “They’re marking their territory – they’re not beautifying an area; they’re not trying to benefit an area.”

Rivas and Perry are still working out a business plan to keep the initiative sustained, said Perry. Even though there are other muralists in the community, Rivas and Perry are the only ones currently involved in their project.

“One of the main grand schemes of it is that for every five murals that we get paid to paint, we’re going to give one back to the community—whether that’s a school, a church, a neighborhood,” said Perry. “Whatever area is deemed in need, then we’ll go there.”

They hope to eventually gather sponsors who will pay for their supplies, said Perry.

Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, where Perry works as a concierge, asked Rivas and Perry to paint the hotel’s north stairwell, which will be their fourth collaboration for the initiative.

Aubey hopes to see more growth with regard to street art downtown. He considers Perry and Rivas integral parts of the downtown art scene, he said.

“They’re part of the fabric of downtown creative work,” said Aubey. “They’re entrenched in the scene.”

Sex trafficking in the Valley: let’s talk

September 14, 2013

One in 20 men in the Valley buy sex.

At an East Valley Women and Politics meeting Tuesday night, presenter Katie Resendiz revealed that fact, leaving the room in stunned silence.

About 30 politically engaged women met at Superstition Springs Golf Club in Mesa to learn about sex trafficking in the Phoenix metro area.

East Valley Women and Politics is an organization of women who aim to educate themselves on policy and legislative issues, according to Jill Benza, one of the group’s founders.

The meeting centered on a presentation by Resendiz, the program director for Training and Resources United to Stop Trafficking (TRUST) and Sgt. Domenick Kaufman, a 17-year veteran of the Mesa Police Department who supervises investigations that involve sex crime.

After drugs, sex trafficking is the second largest moneymaker for organized crime, according to Kaufman. But victims of sex trafficking are not like drugs in that they are not used up after a customer has sex with them.

“I once heard a former pimp jokingly refer to his girls as a sustainable product because he could use them again and again and again,” said Resendiz.

One of the event organizers, Paula Wirth, worried that members would be turned off by Tuesday night’s topic.

“The people that are here will be touched in a powerful way,” she said in an interview. “I just hope that tonight’s topic didn’t scare some away, because it’s not a pretty topic.”

About 35 women filled the room, and the presentation sparked discussions about what they could do to combat the issue.

“One of the issues with trafficking is that it’s not something we want to talk about as a community,” said Resendiz. “We’re just starting to talk about it at community meetings like this.”

Research on sex trafficking is fairly new, said Resendiz. In the past, police focused on arresting the victims, but now they focus on prosecuting the trafficker and the buyer, said Kaufman who is part of a project to build coalitions and train enforcement officers about trafficking.

Resendiz and Kaufman asked participants to develop personal definitions of sex trafficking after giving their own examples.

“To me, sex trafficking is child rape for profit, plain and simple,” said Kaufman. “When you talk about not a minor child, it’s rape for profit.”

Resendiz defined sex trafficking as slavery.

“We teach our students about slavery prior to the Civil War,” said Resendiz. “But there are more slaves now in the world today at this very moment than there were in the entire combined history of legalized slavery.”

The federal definition of human trafficking, as outlined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, is the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt-bondage, or slavery,” said Resendiz.

One audience member said people told her that sex trafficking is overblown in the media.

“How many is too many?” Resendiz said. “How many is enough?”

People don’t realize how prevalent sex trafficking is because it’s not walking up and down Main Street, Kaufman said. Much of it happens online.

“We just gave strangers the key to our house,” said Kaufman referring to the Internet.

The main page for sex trafficking is a website called Backpage, said Kaufman. It is similar to Craigslist’s old personal ad section.

Why is Backpage still legal, one audience member asked.

The main argument made is freedom of speech, said Resendiz. It’s a legislative issue that the police can’t do much about.

“Do you know who can do a lot and be really loud and stomp their feet?” asked Resendiz. “A group of thirty women who are involved in politics and have an interest in the subject.”

Both presenters urged the women to talk with family and friends.

“These are poor girls, rich girls from broken homes, in and out of foster care, to middle class, hard working, good, grounded families that get caught up in this to the very wealthy,” said Kaufman. “These traffickers don’t discriminate.”

The inevitable task of aging: a First Friday exhibit

September 7, 2013

A provocative exhibit on aging and Alzheimer’s disease premiered at R. Pela Contemporary Art Friday night during Phoenix First Friday.

The show, “Silver Blue: New Work on Old Age,” by artists Eric Cox and Constance McBride, featured a topic that people don’t normally want to think about, according to gallery owner Robrt Pela.

Although young, Cox looked like he came from another era: shoulder-length hair sticking out from under a straw hat encircled by a red-white-and-blue ribbon with light blue-and-white striped pants and shirt punctuated by bright red shoes. On his face was a thick beard and waxed handlebar mustache.

McBride sported a green-and-brown blouse with geometric shapes and mustard-colored pants, her lively face framed by a tailored gray bob haircut.

Cox and McBride stood in the middle of the gallery, continuously surrounded by patrons.

The crowd was predominantly middle-aged, with a few younger people speckled in.

One patron, Deborah Partington, said she came to the show because she is a fan of Pela and was personally interested in the exhibit.

“Aging is not one of those things we look at as art,” said Partington, whose mother has Alzheimer’s. “I’m about to turn 60, so it’s kind of resonating with me.”

Pela and McBride both said they have mothers with Alzheimer’s.

In the center of the gallery stood McBride’s sculpted busts of elderly women with Alzheimer’s, coiled wire bursting from their cracked open heads. On the back wall hung portraits of aging men and women, with curves and folds made to look like landscapes, according to McBride.

“Let’s give this group a voice; they have no voice now,” McBride said she thought when she began creating the pieces.

She said that her mother was her inspiration for the art.

“We’re all going to age,” McBride said. “Everybody’s going to face this.”

Her work is about respect and loneliness from a women’s perspective, she said.

“For me it’s helped me move through my own issues,” said McBride.

Many of the women that make up the current elderly generation are widows of World War II veterans, she said. Some of them, like her mother, now only live in one room and have no one who pays attention to them, she continued.

“We’ve got this youth-focused culture,” said McBride.

This was McBride’s first event at First Friday, but Cox said he has exhibited work at many of these events over the years.

Cox’s work featured portraits of elderly faces sketched and painted on top of pages from medical textbooks. People were moved but almost repelled by Cox’s work, said Pela.

Behind Pela hung one of Cox’s pieces in which an older man’s face lay against the backdrop of a page describing the use of Catheters and medical diagrams of penises.

“For people going to medical school, this is just another day for them,” said Pela.

People were coming up to him and saying that their hearts were breaking while looking at the work.

“It’s emotional,” said Cox.

People go up close and read the medical text then step back and look at the sketch of the faces, he said.

“There’s a point when you realize that everything’s going to be different with your health,” Cox said.

Pela said that he was pleased with the exhibit which he specifically scheduled for National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in September.

Sometimes skill and talent don’t match an artist’s idea, but with McBride and Cox they match up, said Pela.

“We don’t want to depress people,” said McBride. “The fact is we’re living in this society.”