For the past couple years, more than 5,000 people have swarmed the Scottsdale Waterfront over the course of seven hours in early March for one purpose: to celebrate the Persian New Year, or Nowruz.
But this year, the founders of the Persian New Year Festival nonprofit made the difficult decision to replace the multifaceted festival with an interactive art exhibition that allows for social distancing and prevents crowding amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are thrilled to be able to still celebrate the Persian New Year in a way that allows the public to remain safe and socially distanced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Persian New Year Festival Co-Founder Lawdan Shojaee.
“The art installations are a beautiful way for our community to learn more about Persian culture and tradition while enjoying a safe and responsible experience.”
This year’s free Persian New Year Festival takes place at the Marshall Way Bridge at the Scottsdale Waterfront on March 7 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Here, attendees will have the opportunity to view the largest “haftseen” art installation in Arizona’s history.
An arrangement traditionally displayed during the celebration of Nowruz, a haftseen typically boasts seven symbolic items representing the beginning of spring.
“The haftseen is a symbol of the Persian New Year, just like the Christmas tree is to Christmas,” explained Shideh Doerr, festival co-founder.
Local artist Mahsa Page’s art installation will feature three different takes on the haftseen, with one installation featuring backdrops from a trio of other local artists.
“I’m passionate about promoting social and cultural awareness, which is why the haftseen art installations spoke to me,” said Page. “Growing up in Iran, I’m thrilled to be able to share more about the culture with our Arizona community.”
According to Page, the haftseen art installation is a staggering 26-feet long and comprises three large tables.
She spent a few days brainstorming how to showcase the “diverse, lively, and effervescent” Persian culture to the community.
“When the organizer approached me for collaboration on the concept idea for this year’s festival, my mind glided towards silent movies, pantomime, childhood memories and stories,” Page said.
The Persian New Year Festival nonprofit, in partnership with the City of Scottsdale, chose Page due to her extensive, 20-year experience in the design, art and architectural history.
Plus, she took part in last year’s festival, creating a high-end fashion show that featured other local Persian and Middle Eastern designers.
“Her [art] represents the Persian culture so well, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal, if you’re a fundamentalist, if you’re conservative, her artwork speaks to you and it’s beautiful. It’s moving, it’s fluid; it’s one of a kind, it really is,” Doerr said.
The installation will move to the Scottsdale Quarter on March 8 and available for viewing the rest of the month.
“The celebration of the Persian New Year [is] giving people hope to put the bad stuff behind us and focus on the good going forward and the beginning of the new year and new beginnings,” Doerr said.
The nonprofit’s first expansion into the Quarter allows for increased exposure to shoppers who may have otherwise never attended or celebrated the Persian New Year Festival.
“It allows us to reach out, touch more people ... and learn about our culture and what the Persian New Year is all about,” Doerr said.
“These annual spring Persian Festivals helps our society interact with the local community to share the colorful customs of our friendly people and the love that we have for other cultures of all ages, all helping to make our collective communities a better place,” Page added.
Dating back thousands of years, the Nowruz is celebrated by millions of people worldwide, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the United Nations formally recognized it as an international holiday.
Historically, the festival is a very interactive, lively one, filled with food, music, dance, theater, and art from vendors throughout the state.
But this year, the nonprofit pivoted in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Art installation traffic will be directed to flow in a one-way direction, hand sanitizing stations will be present and masks will be required.
“We didn’t want it to be something where people could walk through and sit and touch; we wanted it to be something that we can keep people moving along,” Doerr said.
While the nonprofit is unable to donate proceeds to the Ivy Brain Tumor Center at the Barrow Neurological Institute due to lack of sponsors and vendors, it will still have a presence at the event.
“We will showcase them through the festival and help promote them and raise awareness and have them be a part of the festival,” Doerr said.