The Mesa Arts Center is a gathering space in Mesa not just for artists, or patrons of the arts, but for people who appreciate theater, art, music, live performance, and others – but most of all, it’s a place where people can go to learn something new, watch a performance, or enjoy an atmosphere teeming with creativity.
Mesa Arts Center is hosting its annual free and family-friendly festival on Sept. 8 to open the 2017-2018 season. This year’s theme, “The Good, The Bad and The Weird,” is based on the five exhibitions opening at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum housed inside the Mesa Arts Center and opening the night of the festival. Attendees can also enjoy food, performances, music, and activities from local artists, business owners and retailers.
The exhibitions include work from self-described Conceptual Realist, Los Angeles artist Robert Williams called “Slang Aesthetics,” on display through Jan. 21, 2018 inspired by underground cultures such as alternative comics, hot rods, graffiti and tattoo art. The Fantastical Worlds and Creatures of Contemporary Artists’ exhibition, “AltRealities,” on display through Nov. 26, brings together artists whose work explores the possibility of alternate universes outside our perception of reality. The exhibition “After Party” by New York-based artist Julie Heffernan on display through Jan. 14, draws on the artist’s dreams and subconscious to create transcendent narratives that function as social metaphors. Joe Sorren’s “The Dusk Parade,” on display through Jan. 7, features the artist’s evocative characters in dreamlike settings and by working in a palette inspired by desert colors, he creates narratives that have a mysterious quality.
In addition, on Thursday, Sept. 7, Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum will offer a screening of “Mr. Bitchin’,” an acclaimed documentary about artist Robert Williams. The film delivers insight into multiple American counter-cultures. The screening is $5 and tickets are on sale. Those who attend the screening will also enjoy a gallery talk and sneak preview of Robert’s Exhibitions, “Slang Aesthetics.”
“The artists in these exhibitions are often identified with the ‘lowbrow’ art movement, a self-deprecating term Robert Williams originally used to differentiate his work from the ‘highbrow’ Abstract Expressionist art that was in vogue in the late 1970s,” said Tiffany Fairall, curator of exhibitions, Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum at Mesa Arts Center.
“Williams defined his work as a ‘cartoon-tainted abstract surrealism,’ a description that could be used to describe any of these artists. Today, Williams shies away from this label, as well as the sister term Pop Surrealist, and proposed a new identifier ‘Conceptual Realism’ in 2009. The main thread of this exhibition is the melding of surreal and popular culture influences contrived in a twisted reality.”
Fairall said the festival is based on the exhibitions. She said when pulling elements for the festival, they looked primarily at Williams’ work, which is inspired by counter culture (hot rods, comics, surreal) and incorporated those elements.
“El Vez is great at merging humor and social commentary, which is also evident in Williams’ work. Vessel’s performance is directly inspired by the dystopian themes seen in Julie Heffernan’s work,” Fairall said.
“The festival adds to the value of the exhibitions,” said Patty Haberman, chief curator, Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum at Mesa Arts Center. “We stay true to our vision by organizing exhibitions that are socially relevant and featuring emerging and established talent on local and national levels.
In addition to viewing the exhibitions, attendees can enjoy foods from local vendors including Paleta’s Betty, Waffle Luv food truck and Pura Vida Grinds coffee cart, watch performances by El Vez, “The Mexican Elvis,” and rock ‘n’ roll trio, Come Back Buddy, pop-up performances by Cazo Dance, and atmospheric performances by Vessel Project, inspired by the paintings of Julie Heffernan.
“It turns into a big party and celebration, it’s an open house, it’s a night out, it’s really so many things wrapped into one,” said Casey Blake, director of public relations, Mesa Arts Center of the festival. “We were excited to bring those themes (the festival theme, ‘The Good, the Bad and Weird,’) out onto the campus with different elements of visual arts, performing arts, general entertainment and interactive elements,” Blake said, citing some of the local businesses, artists and retailers who will be attending the festival. “So, a pretty well-rounded representation of all of the many different talents and aspects of creativity that are alive here in Mesa.”
Part of the festival’s immersive experience for attendees is due to the effort the Mesa Arts Center puts forth to build meaningful relationships with organizations that work within the arts center, local businesses and city of Mesa leadership, Blake said.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to collaborate with people and businesses in the local community so that more people are aware of all the different things that are happening in downtown Mesa that make our community so vibrant,” Blake said. “I think Mesa Arts Center belongs to the residents of Mesa and to some degree everyone in the Valley as a cultural asset, as a gathering place, as a place to celebrate and learn about creativity.”
“The festival is a celebration of the arts and showcases the amazing programming Mesa Arts Center has to offer,” Haberman said. “We try to incorporate unexpected things at the festival that will add to the excitement. Who doesn’t love that?”
The festival begins this Friday, Sept. 8 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St. in downtown Mesa. The festival and the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum’s opening is free. Parking is free. To learn more about the Mesa Arts Center festival, visit: Mesaartscenter.com.
– Mesa resident Alyssa Tufts is a reporter for MyNewsMesa.com.