Downtown Mesa, that sleepy town that leans conservative and closes down shop at 5 pm on Friday. The place where people go if they’re interested in antique-ing or chowing down on some Mango’s Mexican food. Not the place to go if you want to socialize, connect with your neighbors, see beautiful art, and definitely not the place to go for nightlife or grassroots community driven events. Right? Wrong.
Downtown Mesa, however sleepy it may have once been, is a burgeoning arts scene on the brink of exploding with numerous free festivals at Mesa Arts Center, increasing monthly downtown events, unique and fresh exhibits at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, and the list goes on! Not to mention the growing number of arts activists who care about their community and work hard every day to make change happen and shift the dated perception of Mesa.
One of those people is Cindy Ornstein, Executive Director of Mesa Arts Center and Director of Arts & Culture for the City of Mesa. After visiting the Market Street Prototyping Festival in San Francisco in 2015, she made it her goal to add Mesa to the list of cities who are experimenting with the idea of prototyping within the community. She came home, reached out to key partners, wrote a grant, and was awarded said grant to put on the first Main Street Prototyping Festival in downtown Mesa in fall of 2017.
The festival is pretty straightforward: 20 local community members are selected from a proposal process to create prototypes of projects that activate space and invite interaction and engagement from the community. The process was kicked off with a number of input sessions that invited people to share their own ideas about what is missing in Mesa, what challenges and needs exist, and creative ways of how to address them.
One unique component of Mesa’s approach to creating a prototyping festival is the addition of two artist residencies at nearby organizations: CARE Partnership, and the Boys & Girls Club. Each artist is tasked with working directly with these communities to identify a need and to use a creative solution to address it through the development of a prototype. These two prototypes will live at the physical location of the organization and may also be debuted at the festival with the other 20 prototypes.
So why would Mesa do this? So why Mesa? One reason is that prototyping is a way to invite authentic community input and to involve neighbors in the civic process. Rather than identifying needs and prescribing solutions from the top down, this strategy provides a way for people to have a voice and participate in making a change in their city. Another reason is that we, as a city, have work to do to make our downtown even more vibrant and active, and we can do this by bringing people from all backgrounds and neighborhoods together to gain ownership and pride over their city.
Cindy’s vision to bring a prototyping festival to downtown Mesa fits right in with the direction of this not-so-sleepy city. How does a community design itself? Come out on November 17th and 18th and find out, you’re part of the story too. Be sure to follow the event on facebook and check out a preview of the 20 prototypes on our website!
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