Over the course of a weekend in April 2018, a group of theatre makers, media artists, educators, and community leaders contributed to the presentation of Barrio Stories in Barrio Anita, an expansive. multi-media community event. Activating community spaces across several blocks, including the Oury Recreation Center, Davis Bilingual Elementary, and a community garden, Barrio Stories offered residents of Tucson’s historic Barrio Anita neighborhood an opportunity to gather, celebrate, and learn about their community through an immersive experience featuring large scale video projections, live music, shadow theatre, performed poetry, historical reenactment, heritage foods, and audio tours.

Conceived by Marc David Pinate, Artistic Director of Tucson’s Borderlands Theater, initial work on Barrio Stories in Barrio Anita began over two-years ago, but received a big boost in summer 2017 when Pinate joined a small team of community leaders to apply for the inaugural AZ Creative Communities Institute (AZCCI), a program of the Arizona Commission on the Arts and Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts (ASU HIDA), with guidance from Southwest Folklife Alliance (SFA). The 12-month learning and exploration program offered small teams representing nine Arizona communities intensive training in creative community engagement strategies and best practices, network building opportunities, and ongoing mentorship and consultation. Additionally AZCCI teams received up to $20,000 in support of their work.

Pinate’s fellow team members included elementary school teacher Julián Barceló, nonprofit administrator Tanya Moreno, videographer Heather Grey, media artist Adam Cooper-Teran, and Steve Arnquist, chief of staff for Tucson’s Ward 1. In their application, the team shared the hopes and goals for participation in the program:

We believe the AZCCI training will give us new tools and shift our perspective on how art and creative based strategies may help Barrio Anita’s residents and other partners to bring attention to the treasures that Barrio Anita holds. We hope that through innovative efforts the story of Barrio Anita can be celebrated and its heritage preserved. We would like to see its severely underutilized public spaces activated through creative partnerships. We want whatever project we create to directly involve residents, creating jobs for residents or at least, creating the space for individuals and families to gather and work collectively towards building of the assets of the community. We want to create something that gives the younger generation of original families a good reason to stay in the neighborhood.

Pinate’s ambitious Barrio Stories concept was a perfect fit for the team’s goals, while the diverse perspectives, affiliations, and expertise of his teammates along with the resources provided through AZCCI allowed Pinate to realize his concept at a greater scale than he had dreamed possible. Leveraging these new connections and assets, Borderlands Theater now counted Barrio Anita’s Davis Bilingual Magnet School, the Primavera Foundation, and the City of Tucson among its producing partners.

From the beginning the team centered their efforts around the stories and voices of Barrio Anita’s residents. A door-to-door survey was conducted to make face-to-face connections and gather insight into the community’s challenges and aspirations. Team members conducted research on the Barrio Anita’s history including video interviews with some of the neighborhood’s older residents, who graciously offered their first hand knowledge and recollections. In time the team engaged additional artists and community partners, further expanding the scope, reach, and diversity of the project.

Ultimately, Barrio Stories in Barrio Anita expanded beyond a simple theatrical presentation to become a multi-site, multi-media weekend-long community celebration with food, music, poetry, large-scale video installations, and even a community resource fair. Anticipating that some attendees may feel daunted by the sheer scale of the event, Pinate told the Arizona Daily Star that “The point is not to see every single thing….Just like life, you are going to make some choices and you’ll get a journey. We feel, regardless of what you see or don’t see, you’ll get a better understanding of the history and the kinds of people who made this community and the spirit of the people who lived and live there.”

Find more info about Barrio Stories in Barrio Anita on the Borderlands Theater website: http://www.borderlandstheater.org/productions/2017-2018-season/barrio-stories-barrio-anita/

For more info on AZ Creative Communities visit https://azarts.gov/nextaz/az-creative-communities/