The arts are alive in Ajo!

Sep 3, 2015 by Morgana Wallace-Cooper

The spring and summer seasons were bustling with new and exciting art activity and the summer and fall will serve up some new work too. But it’s not only the festivals, local fairs, and live music that most towns are familiar with. Ajo is celebrating the community arts – art carried out in collaboration with diverse members of a community to promote social change. Art of this kind is equally beautiful and powerful, having a lasting impact on a community. Ajo has been celebrating the community arts for years now, initiated largely by the non-profit International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA), as a way to honor and unite our three prominent cultures – Mexican, Tohono O’odham and Anglo. We are proud to recognize the following community art events and hope to see more people engage in the arts with us!
The first bi-annual Community Arts Gathering was held in March hosted by ISDA. A coming together of diverse community based artists from this region, across the country, and from Mexico, the Gathering, as it is now referred to, was a multi-day celebration of live performances, presentations, street art, hands-on workshops and delicious culinary experiences. Participating artists described it as an intimate event, small enough to make deep connections but large enough to witness and participate in a wide range of unique and significant work. And most important, the artwork was all community based, speaking to social issues impacting the community.
But the event wasn’t just for artists. Non-artists were thrilled to see live performances open to the public and to participate in workshops where all ideas and skill levels were welcomed and celebrated. In addition to the conference-like aspects of the Gathering, participants also had the chance to be part of a street art happening. An alley adjacent to Ajo’s historic downtown Plaza was transformed by street artists from the region. Now exhibiting more than 20 murals, the alley was animated with live music, great conversation, dancing, and more impromptu activity as artists painted murals about the this region on the walls. A glimpse of the alley can be seen from the road heading from Rocky Point through Ajo, just across from 100 Estrella Restaurant and south of the Plaza center. All are welcome to walk the alley and see the fantastic outcome of the Street Art Happening. The Community Arts Gathering was a great success and will happen again in March 2017. There are few other opportunities in the Sonoran Desert where so much talent and energy comes together in one place. All are welcome and encouraged to participate in the 2nd bi-annual event.
The Street Art Alley is only one example of fantastic artwork available for the public to enjoy. An Ajo Art Brochure is available at our Chamber of Commerce and local Print Shop. It highlights the location and description of many public artworks found all over the streets of Ajo. From large murals and outdoor sculpture by our local professional artists to funky yard art by untrained, non-residential artists, the Ajo Art Brochure includes a map that guides visitors to each site and provides an overview of the artwork and how they were created. ISDA created and maintains this local art guide. For a glimpse of the brochure go to http://isdanet.org/ajo-art/.
The Ajo Council for the Fine Arts (ACFA), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and nurturing the cultural environment of Ajo, took first place for the third time in a row in one of Ajo’s largest community events – the 4th of July parade. The theme for this year’s parade was Founding Fathers and/or Youth Groups of America. They decided on the Boston Tea Party and created a ship the size of a trailer with masts, rigging, and waves that moved up and down. ACFA members wore time period costumes and took the first prize after six years of float making in the 4th of July Parade. Their time and energy spent brainstorming ideas, planning, and constructing is a great example of the communal arts process. You can read more about it and other ACFA activities on the Ajo Artists blog, https://ajoartists.wordpress.com.
Coming up September 4th Ajo will host a very special performance by artist Nicolas Valdez. Brought to us by Borderlands Theater in Tucson, Valdez will perform his work Conjunto Blues, a history of conjunto music told through live music, spoken word poetry, and documentary footage. Valdez’s work speaks to the Mexican-American working class experience and has been supported by numerous arts organizations and foundations, allowing him to bring his work to much of the southwest and across the country. This performance is co-sponsored by the Ajo Council for the Fine Arts and will take place on Friday September 4th at 7 p.m. at the Chu Chu Club located at 811 N. 2nd Ave. There will be a raffle and other chances to win prizes at the door and the bar will be open for drinks. Tickets cost $5 per person.
And our busy fall season kicks off with two art and fun-filled events that you won’t want to miss. AVita Boutique in the Raven’s Nest is hosting the 2nd Annual Day of the Dead Arts Festival, Sunday, November 1st from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.at 801 N. 2nd Ave. The festival has been enhanced this year to offer more El dia de los muertos ritual traditions. The work of artists and crafters will be for sale and food, live music, folkloric dancing, face painting, children’s activities, beer garden and more is being planned for this colorful day of activities.
The second community arts event coming up in the fall is the first annual Ajo Pomegranate Festival, celebrating this wonderful tree and fruit, and honoring the rich biological, historical and cultural diversity of Ajo and the surrounding region. This festival will also mark the 6th anniversary of planting the heirloom orchard in the Curley School Orchard, which is now a part of the Many Hands Urban Farm and Learning Center, operated by the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture (ACSA). This orchard represents the largest number of heirloom species varieties in one location in Arizona, including pomegranates dating back to the 16th century Spanish missionaries, as well as Ajo’s own varieties. The festival will be held on October 31. We will kick off activities on the night of October 30th with a dinner featuring local foods. The day of the festival will feature activities for families and enthusiastic tree growers and presentations and workshops by top experts on heirloom foods Gary Nabhan and Jesus Garcia, and the original designer of the orchard Gregg Dugan, plus the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s team. We issued a call to Ajo’s artists to design art work for this year’s festival, featuring their representations of pomegranates. In addition to the ACSA, the organizing committee and sponsors include ISDA, the Sonoran Desert Conference Center, ACFA, the Desert Senita Community Health Center, Ajo Regional Food Partnership, Ajo Chamber of Commerce and other community groups, making this a collaborative arts event. Fun, educational and full of tasty treats for the whole family. Don’t miss it!

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