Verde River Artwork

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Last April, 25 artists were sent by the Verde Valley Land Preservation organization on a 3-day, 2-night kayaking and camping tour down a 10-mile stretch of the Verde River. Artwork inspired from that trip is now a traveling exhibition that is currently at the State Capitol Executive Tower lobby. Steve Estes of Verde Valley Land Preservation and one of the participating artists Joanne Agostinelli, will discuss the effort and resulting artwork.

Ted Simons: Last April the Verde valley land preservation organization sent a group of artists on a kayaking and camping trip down a stretch of the Verde River. Artwork inspired by the trip is now a traveling exhibition and is currently on display at the state capitol executive tower lobby. Joining to us talk about all this is Steve Estes, of Verde valley land preservation and one of the participating ash 'tises, Joanne Agostinelli. Good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Joanne Aostinelli: Thanks.

Steve Estes: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Verde Valley Land Preservation, what exactly is that?

Steve Estes: In short we're all about preserving open space. Open space exists in many forms in Arizona, it's preserved in many forms in Arizona, federal government preserves open space, the state government preserves open space. We're interested in preserving the private open spaces as well and making that work with those others. And open space is all about in Arizona as much about water as it is anything.

Ted Simons: Indeed. And a river runs through us, what was that all about?

Steve Estes: This was an inspiration from one of our artists, Wendy Hartford, she had seen this done elsewhere, and up in British Columbia, so similar kind of a thing, it was to challenge a bunch of artists to get out there and create art for a good purpose. And the Walton family foundation has been working with us for some time, I have five projects I'm working on, this is one of them, and when we pitched this to them, this was probably the most exciting thing that they've done in a long, long time. This really spoke to them. So that's how it got started. We juried in 25 artists. We looked at their work, we asked them to submit work and the idea is that they would go down the river with us, camp, get to know each other, have an experience, and be inspired to make great art and to donate it to us for the purpose of ultimately taking it all around the state, and ultimately selling the originals in an online auction.

Ted Simons: Jo, why did you want to participate in this?

Joanne Aostinelli: This was a no-brainer. I live about a quarter mile from the Verde River. Moving water and reflection and all that kind of thing has always been a part of my artwork. When I heard about this, I jumped at the chance. And I thought it was just the perfect opportunity, both because this fit in with the kind of art I already do, and also because I haven't lived in Arizona that long, and the chance to just meet some other artists and get to share this adventure with them was a great thing.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, you've got 25 artists, 10-mile trip down the Verde river, three days, two nights, kayaking, camping. Did you drive each other nuts or did you all get a chance to separate and do your own thing with your art?

Joanne Aostinelli: It was more a communal experience. We were sharing the experience. There wasn't a whole lot of time to actually create art, though we did have some time, so it was more absorbing it. Taking reference photographs, whatever we needed so we could capture that and use it in our art.

Ted Simons: Is that what you found happened the most, people didn't work right there, they said --

Joanne Aostinelli: Although some did.

Ted Simons: They basically took it with them and used that inspiration at a later date?

Steve Estes: Exactly. We set a time frame for them to be able to produce this art. And it was a pretty decent time frame, I think about 90 days or more. But we did have a deadline, and then people summited by those deadlines and we were astounded by the quality of the art that came from this.

Ted Simons: And Jo, I think we have some of your work. You mentioned water is a big deal for you. And it is a big deal as far as this work is concerned. What is it, a business called Crest and Surge, I believe, what is it about water that moves you?

Joanne Aostinelli: A lot of the work I've done basically sort of refines the environment into the basic elements. Water, earth, air, and I've even done fire. I just want to feel that living pulse in those elements of the earth. And with water, yeah, I just want it to seem alive and vibrant, and just communicate to other people the feeling that I have about it.

Ted Simons: The trip itself, did it change your artistic vision at all?

Joanne Aostinelli: It more just flowed along with it. For me it was an opportunity to form lasting friendships with some of the other artists that were involved. So that has been a wonderful thing for me.

Ted Simons: From a distance I'm thinking, OK, this is another chance for Jo to do some work on water, but maybe taking a different look at it, maybe another artist sits out there and meditates or captures something and takes it back and changes -- Sounds to me like a social aspect was as important as anything.

Steve Estes: It was. And I would say too that the whole focus of bringing the Verde River and its beauty and its challenges and its importance to the public through the medium of art is something these artists really vibrated to. And I think they walked away feeling they've done something that they never had an opportunity to do before, with respect to what's good for our state, what's good for our environment, and what's good for the people and all other life forms that live in it.

Ted Simons: When you started the program, were you expecting to see or have a certain reaction by the artist and see their results in a certain way, and wind up with something different? Or have you been surprised by any of it?

Steve Estes: We were totally surprised.

Ted Simons: How so?

Steve Estes: Some things we got, we got 3D pieces, we got a sea serpent, we got all kinds of things. We got things that are very, very abstract. That speak in a language that you could never, ever understand until you saw that piece. And what that might mean to you with respect to what's going on inside this river or with -- About this river.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, did anything surprise you? We're looking at other artists, anything surprise you out of all this?

Joanne Aostinelli: Because I've worked in the art field for long enough, I'm just always overwhelmed with the diversity, and how everyone has a completely different approach to the same subject matter. So that's always surprising. And fun. And we're able to inspire each other with that.

Ted Simons: And the Verde River is especially important to you, or moving water in general?

Joanne Aostinelli: Well, now that I live here and I live so close to it, that's where I walk. That's where I recreate. That's -- It's an important part of my life. It's what makes this valley so beautiful.

Ted Simons: Is this the first year you've done this particular program?

Steve Estes: Yes, it is. We're not anticipating doing another one--

Ted Simons: There's the dragon. All right.

Steve Estes: However, this has inspired another aspect we're moving into right now, we're promoting right now. We're taking policymakers on the river. The elected officials and emerging leaders in our community, all from both sides of the mountain, everybody that impacts the Verde river, and we're taking them out in April. And we've got some very well-known experts who are going to be presenting around the campfire. And then we're going to start a conversation with these folks with the emerging leaders and the present leaders and follow up some months later and find out what they've done. The idea is to have policy continuity across the many jurisdictions that influence the river.

Ted Simons: Again, that kind of reminds me of something I wanted to ask. That is, describe the day. Do you float, stop and have a lunch, float, stop and draw a dragon? I mean, what happens out there?

Steve Estes: Well, Jo --

Joanne Aostinelli: They gave us a nice variety of activities, so we would paddle part of the day, stop, they fed us very well, and then there were -- We had archaeological tours of some ruins, we had someone lead a birding expedition, some photography; a little of everything, just all the things that would spark us and help feed into our creativity, and enrich the experience.

Ted Simons: Here I am thinking everyone had a chance to plop down an easel --

Joanne Aostinelli: We had one afternoon to do that.

Ted Simons: And what did you do?

Joanne Aostinelli: I just did some sketches. I work mostly in pastel but I brought some charcoal and colored pencils and did some reference things I could look back on later.

Ted Simons: As an artist, the pace of that kind of day as compared to a regular day you might have in your studio or at your home, they differ all that much?

Joanne Aostinelli: That kind of immersion is something I try to do periodically. I've done residencies in national parks where you're in the park for several weeks, and can really just absorb everything. And this was that kind of an experience. Much different from oh, I think I'll just do -- Work on this theme or this series in my studio. It's that kind of really immersion that you need to feed your artwork. So it's the kind of thing I need to do periodically for sure.

Ted Simons: OK. So we had Jo describe the day. Now back to you describing a day. If you had policymakers out there, what kind of itinerary would you have?

Steve Estes: We're going to float them down the river, get them outside their comfort zones, yet them wet, we're going to get them cold. We're going to get them angry. We're going to get them thinking about what this river really means. In the Verde Valley, I don't know if you've noticed but it's hard to see the river unless you're on it. You can go over it many times but you don't see it because the foliage is great and there's a lot of -- It's a forest that follows the river. So yeah, that's what we're going to do. We're going to get them outside their comfort zone. I do want to mention, Sedona Adventure Tours did a great job with this, and we had an award-winning videographer. We have hours of video that's outstanding.

Ted Simons: Is that on the website?

Steve Estes: Yes, it is actually. We have a 10-minute piece, it was a final -- A finished piece, beautiful.

Ted Simons: Give us that website address.

Steve Estes:

Ted Simons: OK. Jo, last question for you. What do you want your art to say about the Verde?

Joanne Aostinelli: Just to inspire people to want to preserve it. I want that river to be there for the rest of my lifetime, and for many generations to come. So we need people to engage in that.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. We'll stop it there. Good discussion. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us.

Both: Our pleasure. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Tomorrow on "Arizona Horizon," we'll have our weekly legislative update with the "Arizona Capitol Times." And we debut "Southern Exposure," a new "Arizona Horizon" segment focusing on issues affecting Tuscon and southern Arizona. That's tomorrow, 5:30 and 10 right here on the next "Arizona Horizon."

That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Steve Estes:Verde Valley Land Preservation; Joanne Agostinelli:Artist;

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