This month Ajo celebrates and encourages art for social change, as it supports work on the topic of diabetes prevention and eating healthy. The artwork tackles a very hard assignment: how to talk to teenagers about obesity. In September and October at the Plaza Gallery in Ajo, community artist Morgana Wallace Cooper partners with The International Sonoran Desert Alliance, The Arizona State Museum (ASM), and other community activists to bring this work to the Ajo community.

Nearly one-third of adults and children in the United States are overweight or obese, and that rate is nearly doubled among American Indians/Alaskan Natives. Half of Native American children born today will develop type 2 diabetes, and the death rate for Native Americans with diabetes is three times higher than the general U.S. population. The epidemic of obesity and attendant health problems afflicting the Native American community is not something they, nor we, can ignore.

The Arizona State Museum (ASM) took action and looked for ways to connect culture and history to community, and to provide perspective on this issue. A couple of years ago, with a lot of community input, the museum developed exhibits, programs and materials dealing with diabetes awareness and Native culture. One exciting part of the project was the creation of a comic book calledIt’s Up 2 You! And we are bringing an exhibit of it, along with the artist, to Ajo!It will be on display at the Plaza Gallery from September 27th to October 19th 2013.TheIt’s Up 2 You!Comic book engages youth in making healthy decisions. It is available as a free iPad app and a limited number were printed. The comic book was developed out of consultations with Native American and Latino teens and was co-written by Lisa Falk, ASM’s Director of Education and with Native American artist/educator, Ryan Huna Smith who is also the illustrator.

Teens helped to make the comic book feel authentic and content experts helped ensure that the story was also accurate. The writers consulted with Agnes Attakai (Navajo) at the University of Arizona College of Public Health to make sure it reflected the right messages. Alicia Eller of the American Diabetes Association of Southern Arizona helped assemble facts and myths about diabetes and questions for a healthy challenge game included in the app. The Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School recorded students and elders speaking the parts of the characters Samantha, Brandon, Tomás and an elder in Tohono O’odham, in Spanish and English for the digital version. Ha:san teachers also provided the translation into O’odham.

The purpose of the exhibit is to encourage visitors to think about being more active, and inspire them to focus more eating healthy, and making others aware of how to live healthfully. In addition to viewing the exhibit, Smith, the artist, will be available for workshops on comic book-style writing and art design. There will also be a number of activities and additional programming to support the community in talking about the exhibit and how the topic of diabetes and healthy eating relates to them personally.

The Plaza Gallery is located in the southeast corner of the historic Ajo Plaza. It is open Monday through Thursday 10am to 5pm, Fridays 10am to 6pm, and Saturdays 11am to 3pm.

For a sneak peak, look for theIt’s Up 2 You! Comic book on the web or as a free app on iTunes for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad (keyword: It’s Up 2 You!).

For information on workshops, art activities, and Ajo exhibition details, please contact Ajo Project Facilitator: Morgana Wallace Cooper,