I have to bring my kid to Mesa, she said. She’d been thinking about checking out the free spark! event at the Mesa Arts Center. I told her that was fine with me. Nolagirl always finds the quirkiest, funkiest, grooviest, all-around-most-fun activities in the greater metro area, and I’m pretty open to trying new things. If Nolagirl likes a cultural event, I’m probably going to like it too.
I looked up spark! on the internet. The event’s website says,
This year’s Festival of Creativity will feature an exhibition of 16 art cars, multiple hot rods and lowriders, and interactive arts experiences for people of all ages. spark! celebrates the imaginative spark in all of us, by showcasing Arizona artists and performers and inviting visitors to explore and enjoy live music, aerial dance performances, hands-on experiences, live art-making, installations, demonstrations, a variety of foods, a beer, wine and cocktail area and more.
We arrived at the event around noon. The crowd consisted of a lot of families with kids, but there were plenty of adults without children out there too. I was glad to see the event wasn’t packed; we could still move around just fine and experience everything that was happening.
We entered the festival from Main Street. We could hear the music of the 1950s being performed by Come Back Buddy as we approached. The music was good, and I’m sure I was tapping my foot and swaying my hips, but it was The Night Garden by Jenneva Kayser of Tempe, AZ that really got our attention. We were fascinated by the cacti created from what the aforementioned website calls “woven recycled fabric and translucent porcelain clay.”
As we moved through the Shadow Walk between the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum building and the Ikeda Theater, we encountered another stage where Rising Youth Theatre thespians were performing Light Rail Plays. According the theatre’s website,
Teams of youth and adult artists work together to explore the public transit experience with original plays from a youth perspective…Performers…travel between platforms to maximize the number of people who can experience performances!
We didn’t stop to watch the performance, although we did pause briefly to see the vast array of “food” that festival participants had molded and shaped. The sparks! website calls this participatory activity led by Elliott Kayser a “Community Still-Life in Clay.”
A dining room table set in the style of a classical still-life painting, complete with ceramic serviceware, [was] created prior to the event. During the festival, colorful clay [was] given out to festival-participants with a prompt: to make food that they associate with family tradition. Performers dressed as waiters…compose[d] and arrange[d] the finished “food” within the still-life.
A little farther down was a chalkboard car folks could decorate with colored chalk. This interactive experience was the brainchild of artist Kyllan Maney. The sparks! website says this 1981 BMW 528 was
pre-installed with chalkboard paint on the exterior and black lights in the interior. Festival goers [were] invited to color the car in a pre-planned design with chalkboard markers. Vinyl chalkboard shaped birds [were] temporarily adhered to the ground making pathways to the interactive art car, to mimic shadows [of] the birds flying overhead.
When we walked up, volunteers were cleaning off the chalk so newcomers could experience the fun of coloring on a car. We didn’t linger to do any decorating of our own.
The next cool thing we saw was the construction of an art car under the leadership of Harrod Blank, and (apparently very busy) artist Kyllan Maney. The spark! website explains the finished result will be an art car called “Desert Marlin” which was
inspired by the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert. The exterior will be covered with cactus and succulents ranging in size and texture, created out of metal, glass and painted directly on the car. The interior, inspired by the “heart” of the Mesa Arts Center community, will be created by visitors to the festival. They will be invited to create and add a piece to the car during the event.
It was probably when Nolgirl said art car while telling me about the event that I was totally in. It had been a long time since I’d been to an art car event, but I think it’s really cool to take something as ordinary as a motor vehicle and turn it into something original and unique. Nolagirl and I spent probably the next hour looking at each of the sixteen art cars and two art cycles on display in the Arts Center parking lot. (I’ll be sharing photos and info on my favorite art cars in upcoming blog posts.)
After looking at the art cars, Nolagirl and I went off in search of a restroom. Before we found the restrooms, we found magnificent wobbly chairs. Based on Weeble Wobble technology, the chairs swayed, tipped, and rolled, but never dumped the occupant on the ground. Nolagirl and I both tired out a chair, but I think I enjoyed my experience more. Once I realized I was safe in the chair, I relaxed, leaned back, and had a good ol’ time. I would have played in the chair for the next half hour if little kids hadn’t been waiting their turn.
(I made up the part about Weeble Wobble technology. I mean, yes, there is a certain technology that allows Weebles to wobble but not fall down, but I don’t know if the chairs worked on the same principle.)
We were directed to a restroom in the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. I was surprised to see a proclamation of “free admission” on the door. Admission wasn’t just free on that day, but all the time! Wow! I will remember to take advantage of this free admission if I’m ever in Mesa again.
After our visit to the (very clean) restroom, we decided to spend some time with the museum’s exhibits. I was glad the museum was a manageable size. I go into art overload rather easily, so I was happy to see three rooms of current pieces and be done.
When we left the museum, Nolagirl was hungry, so she ordered some food from the Short Leash Hot Dogs truck. I found an umbrella-shaded table, and ate a LÄRABAR® while I waited. After our lunch, we thought we’d seen it all and started heading back to the car. When we got to Main Street, I asked, Is there more to see over there? so we walked over to check. Yes, there was more to see!
There were more cars over there. They weren’t art cars, but they did have bright and shiny paint jobs and they weren’t like the average cars on the street. These were hot rods and low riders representing different car clubs. I couldn’t find any information about these cards on the sparks! website. Although I’m not a huge car buff, I did enjoy the bright, shiny colors of the automobile exteriors.
We were heading to the corner when we saw a crowd gathered against the rail above the museum’s courtyard. What’s going on over there? we wondered, then saw the women sitting on the museum’s roof. Oh! It looked like we’d be able to catch the last performance of the Dark Sky Aerial theatre company.
It was a mesmorizing performance both above and below us. (I’m confident the dancers performing on the ground were part of CaZo Dance Company, but I couldn’t find any information online to confirm this assertion.)
While six performers in white dance and tumbled in the coutyard below, five women in black used the outside walls of the museum as their vertical stage. They flew through the air, harnessed to ropes that both tethered them to the stability of the building and allowed them to soar through the air. In about a dozen minutes, the show was over. Lots of people were still having fun at the spark! event but for me and Nolagirl, the performance of Dark Sky Aerial and CaZo Dance was a magnificent end to a fun time at the festival.
I took the photos in this post, unless otherwise noted.