Flagstaff Wednesday night the Flagstaff Arts Council invited the public to explore how to foster a stronger creative economy, what makes Flagstaff unique, and how to promote cultural equity.
In January 2019, Jonathan Stone came on as Executive Director of the Arts Council. Then, in April the Board of Directors put this visioning process into motion, culminating in the first step during last night’s event. Flagstaff Arts Coalition publishes the First Friday Artwalk map, conducts the Viola Awards every year and holds numerous events and art showings at the Coconino Center for the Arts.
Danielle Foushėe a member of the Design Faculty from ASU co-led the event with Stone.
Over 90 people showed up to the Community Vision Meeting. Elected officials attended including City council members Adam Shimoni, Austin Aslan, Jamie
Whelan, and Michele Ralston, who attended in place of District 1 County Supervisor Art Babbott. Other notables were Greg Clifton, City Manager, representatives from the Flagstaff Pride organization, Ballet Folklorico, Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, Dark Sky Aerial, Theatrikos, The Murdoch Center, and about half of the Arts Council’s 20 board members.
The first exercise of the evening was to engage our creativity and for each table of about 6-8 people to create a collective collage of what speaks to us when we
think of the arts and sciences in Flagstaff. The physical location of the mountain, the history of arts and culture and the desire to position ourselves as a arts and science destination, much like Sedona, Santa Fe or Scottsdale were highlighted.
From the need for aerial arts space to a 3D printing center for the public, there were as many ideas of how to increase the collaborations between Flagstaff’s science and art communities as there were people who attended. Consensus was that Flagstaff’s sense of place, it’s of scientists and artists, and it’s cultural heritage create a wealth of opportunities for collaboration.
Mr. Stone stated, “ultimately the Arts Council doesn’t do everything by themselves and the buy-in and agreement from partners is essential”. He spoke of the need for being pointed in the right direction by all the players in Flagstaff, and getting specifics on how to find an appropriate end goal for all involved.
The next activity was for each person to jot down specific ideas on post it notes and put them under the headings of Include, Inspire and Support. Then major ideas under each heading were condensed and displayed.
A major common thread was the reality that many of our local arts organizations do not have a permanent location. There were a number of local arts and entertainment organizations that were identified as un-housed. Flagshakes, Flagstaff Musical theatre, The Flagstaff Foundry, Circus Bacchus, and surprising to some was the fact that the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra does not have a permanent home and instead relies on it’s relationship with Northern Arizona University to use their performance space.
Stone indicated one of the major issues that need to be addressed through this visioning process is the broken engagement or ability in respect to diversity, both on the board of Flagstaff Arts Council and the event and art show offerings. The reality that both the Arts Council board as well as the arts and sciences in general in Flagstaff need more diversity was a major talking point during the entire evening.
Deborah Harris, of the Murdoch Center in the Southside neighborhood of Flagstaff said that out of town people see the beautiful mural on the side of the building and often stop in and ask what it’s all about. She said, “Flagstaff doesn’t have any spaces that honor black Americans, such as an Martin Luther King boulevard, or other easily identifiable signs, banners, or street names”. The Murdoch center stands alone in honoring the Black Americans that helped create the city of Flagstaff. Flagstaff needs to do much better to highlight the efforts of black Americans from history and today that help shape our city.
One statistic stood out – Lowell Observatory only gets 1% of it’s revenue from the Flagstaff community. This indicates that the marriage of arts and sciences in Flagstaff could be strengthened with money for scientific endeavors that also include an artistic component.
A woman named Angie, who has a PhD in a science field and is now working as an artist, stated, “Scientists and artists both take risks every day in their work, creative and experimental risks. There was wide vocal support for this as many echoed similar beliefs. One woman shared a quote, “Science is discipline with passion and art is passion with discipline”, indicating that the divide between the two spheres is smaller than we may think.
“I feel very optimistic after the visioning meeting. I’m encouraged that the Arts Council is taking the lead on expanding Flagstaff’s focus on both art and science and emphasizing the connections between them”, said Michele James, biologist and artist who teaches both subjects to first year students at NAU.
The final activity of the evening was to create a headline that the New York Times or other major news outlet might use to describe Flagstaff’s burgeoning STEAM presence ten years from now. This one seems to sum it all up. “Cosmic Collision: Sciences and Arts Combine in new STEAM center” The end goal of this visioning process is to have a 2030 Strategic Plan to unveil at the 2020 Viola Awards.
There will be another planning meeting Jan 8. For details go here…