It won’t cover everything, but the $300,000 grant approved by the Mesa City Council at its June 17 meeting allows the Mesa Arts Center to begin construction on the first pieces of its interactive and community influenced 21st Century Café project.
The Mesa Arts Center was one of 54 organizations out of more than 1,200 nationwide to receive funds offered by ArtPlace America — a national organization that bestows grants and endowments for the arts. The center sought a $575,000 grant to get it closer to the expected $600,000 to $800,000 construction figure, but director of arts and culture Cindy Ornstein said just receiving an allotment from ArtPlace is, “a nice feather in our cap.”
“It’s a wonderful vote of confidence to receive this national grant,” she said.
Plus, the $300,000 is enough to at least get the center started on phase one of its 21st Century Café project, which Ornstein said aims to create a sense of engagement between the arts center and the community at large.
Among the pieces of the project are the two funded directly by the grant: a multimedia screen and an interactive photo booth kiosk. The former is a box with multiple interactive screens that will project works of art submitted by community members focused on topics ranging from what it’s like to live in the desert to a more abstract question about dreams.
“It’ll be a place for the community to have a dialogue through art or poetry about the topic,” she said. She added the center will ensure the art posted on the screens is appropriate for children.
The latter segment is a vertical box with a motion sensor inside which photos of visitors who give their consent by pressing a button inside the booth, thus creating a volunteer photo exhibition that fits the center’s photo-friendly locale.
“It’s a nod to this place being a place to capture photos and great memories,” she said.
Those two pieces are joined by two additional parts — a café area with chairs and tables and the alliance pavilion stage that will host live performances — funded through other means to complete phase one.
Ornstein said the center expects to start construction on the stage in July.
Phase two features a shade structure to make the café amenable to use across all four seasons — the center will put out a request for proposal from artists with design ideas in the near future — and the renovation of the north plaza area close to the project’s location. The center doesn’t have funding to start the second phase, but Ornstein said one of phase one could help raise money to cover some of the second phase’s construction costs.
There are a few purposes for the incoming additions to the facility beyond the components’ aesthetic appeal, highlighted by a goal of emphasizing the connection between the residents of Mesa and the center paid for with tax money.
“It is, in fact, their place,” she said.
A benefit of that is the way it could boost the center’s popularity, which has gained traction in its eight years of existence. According to attendance figures cited by Ornstein, the center drew in approximately 370,000 visitors during the 2011-12 fiscal year; as of the end of May, the center had 440,832 visitors during the current fiscal year, and that doesn’t include June’s totals.
“If we do a similar June as we did last year, we’re looking at about 460,000 visitors,” she said.
Connecting the city to its arts center and increasing the number of visitors can have a much larger effect on the community at large, as Ornstein said the new additions can “act as a catalyst for further activity” in downtown Mesa. A show at the pavilion stage, for example, can motivate people to dine out at a restaurant within walking distance of the center or to another activity if it’s during the daytime.
But Ornstein said the relationship works both ways, with restaurants, downtown attractions and other amenities like the incoming Benedictine University making the center more popular than it was before.
“Something like this doesn’t work on its own; it’s part of a tool box to get that community activity,” she said.
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