Arizona Artbeat: AZ ArtWorker Initiative

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The Arizona Commission on the Arts will present a series of artist workshops and artist-led community conversations in Douglas this month as part of its AZ ArtWorker initiative. AZ ArtWorker aims to facilitate dialogue and knowledge-sharing between Arizona, national and international artists and residents of Arizona communities. Casandra Hernandez, artist programs coordinator for the commission and Douglas artist Jenea Sanchez will tell us more about the program.

TED SIMONS: Tonight's Arizona artbeat focuses on the AZ artworker initiative, a series of workshops and artist-led community conversations led by the state commission on the arts and designed to facilitate dialogue between artists and residents of Arizona communities. Here with more is Cassandra Hernandez, artist programs coordinator for the Arizona commission on the arts, and Douglas artist M. Jenea Sanchez. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us. Is it A to Z A-Z is it art work? What are we talking about here?

CASANDRA HERNANDEZ: We're talking about Arizona and Arizona artists and a new program that is designed to support their creative practice and really create opportunities for them to learn new tools, create connections with national and international artists and really support the work that they do in service to Arizona.

TED SIMONS: Facilitate dialogue -- What does that mean?

CASANDRA HERNANDEZ: Absolutely. In Arizona, we have artists that are working in many community settings. They are in decision-making positions. Working outside of the art sector to improve the life of Arizonans. So, it means that we really want to create a conversation about the value of this work, the value that artists bring to communities and also, you know, ask artists what it is that they need to be supported and to continue this important work.

TED SIMONS: And what do you, as an artist -- I mean, you're from Douglas, all of the way up here from Douglas, what do you need as far as -- when a conversation or dialogue gets going with other artists, with communities, what are you looking for?

M. JENEA SANCHEZ: Well, living in a small community, sometimes the access to the international artist coming to town, or giving workshops, or trainings are limited or non-existent. For the Arizona commission to come in and provide that is a huge deal for us.

TED SIMONS: Biggest road block is what, a fact that it is a somewhat rural or remote area?

M. JENEA SANCHEZ: Absolutely. Yes, it is on the southeast corner of the state. Some Arizonans don't know we exist yet, but we're trying to change that.

TED SIMONS: Long time Arizonans know you are down there right by the border. It sounds like it has in many ways been professional development for artists.

CASANDRA HERNANDEZ: It is. What I think is very unique is we have a phenomenal partnership with two Arizona State University initiatives. We are working with ASU art museum international artist residency program, and performance in the borderlands, and both initiatives bring some of the most incredible contemporary artists who are working at the front lines of art. And, so, you know, there is a unique opportunity to create engagements, trainings, conversation, community events to engage the work of these artists with the kinds of questions that Arizona artists are asking.

TED SIMONS: Well Jenea is right here, I will ask her in a second. You tell me for an artist like Jenea in Douglas, what can help her, what can assist her? Art is a very personal thing but it also needs a little bit of a sense of community. What can help her?

CASANDRA HERNANDEZ: Absolutely. We have been in conversation with Jenea and artists organizing a movement in Douglas to create a Binational arts community. And we have asked them the same question. And we hear a desire to have more opportunities to network with other artists, with people outside of the arts sector, to learn new tools, build different capacities and also, you know, to creatively express and be able to do their work in community settings in connection to community needs and desires.

TED SIMONS: Sounds like something that would interest you.

M. JENEA SANCHEZ: Absolutely, yes, absolutely. It has been a true gift to have an arts organization of, you know, this Arizona commission on the arts come to us, you know. Usually with those types of relationships, artists have to write long grants and it is a process, but it was great just to create the relationship and create this movement.

TED SIMONS: Is there entrepreneurial training as well that goes on with these programs?

M. JENEA SANCHEZ: Yes, there definitely are. I think Cassandra can speak more about ASU's involvement --

TED SIMONS: You as an artist, you want to get your art out there be successful and get it seen and heard and have an audience. Are those things listed as well?

M. JENEA SANCHEZ: Yes, there are tools, as far as, you know, CV building, sales, ways to sell and marketing. They are also providing those types of tools to us.

TED SIMONS: Indeed, sales and marketing, not necessarily all artists are interested in at the get-go, but they better be interested in it if they want to keep doing their art.

CASANDRA HERNANDEZ: It's the key to a sustainable art practice. We are fortunate to partner with ASU -- and they have created some phenomenal tools that help artists develop the business side of their creative practice. We are going to do intensive workshops, we are going to provide artists with digital tools that can help to support the important business component of art making.

TED SIMONS: What kind of response are you getting from artists on this?

CASANDRA HERNANDEZ: We have been getting a very excited response. I think it is time in Arizona to have larger conversations about the work that is happening here, about the role of artists in society. And then also think about how institutions can invest differently in response to the changing needs of artists. And artists are hungry for connections. They're hungry for interesting conversations. For engaging in community problems and providing creative solutions. So, AZ artworker is a very innovative partnership and program that I think understands, you know, the different needs that artists have.

TED SIMONS: As far as artists that you know, work with, collaborate with or even are aware of down in Douglas and southern southeastern Arizona, are they excited about this? Do they have questions, concern -- what's going on?

M. JENEA SANCHEZ: Yes, well, the great thing Cassandra and her team have been in Douglas a few times and have provided workshops to actually explain and go through the steps of what is going to happen and they will have a presence in Douglas for a whole year. Artists are -- we're almost taken back. We are still letting it sink in. As far as what is about to happen and the access that we're going to get with the international artists and especially the tools that they're going to provide and the trainings, because that is something that we have to develop.

TED SIMONS: Initially maybe some skepticism but that is fading away a little bit.

M. JENEA SANCHEZ: Oh, absolutely.

TED SIMONS: Last question, what do you want artists -- what do you want residents to take from all of this?

CASANDRA HERNANDEZ: Well, the first key message is that we are going to be piloting in three Arizona communities this year. In Douglas working with Jenea and other artists there. We are also going to be in Tucson -- and also in Phoenix -- and really it is about, again, creating different connections, different opportunities for conversations that can expand from Arizona to go nationally and internationally and then also, you know, showcasing the important work that artists are doing in our communities.

TED SIMONS: All right. Very good. Good discussion. Good to have you both here. Thank you for joining us.

Casandra Hernandez: Artist Programs Coordinator Arizona Commission on the Arts, Jenea Sanchez: Douglas Artist

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