For Immediate Release
July 12, 2017

Steve Wilcox     
[email protected]

9 Arizona Communities Selected for Inaugural AZ Creative Communities Institute
12-month collaborative learning program is guided by leaders in field of creative engagement

Today, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, an agency of the State of Arizona, Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts (HIDA), and Southwest Folklife Alliance (SFA) announced the 9 communities that will participate in the inaugural AZ Creative Communities Institute (AZCCI). As part of the 12-month AZCCI, small teams representing each community will explore the many ways Arizona’s creativity can be put to work for positive community impact. AZCCI Fellows will become part of an active learning network, with opportunities to learn from and with local and national experts, and peers from other Arizona cities, towns, and neighborhoods.

22 teams, composed of local elected officials, civic and business leaders, and community organizers, applied for the opportunity to participate in the expansive training and engagement program—double the expected number of applicants. While all applicants displayed incredible passion, vision, and commitment, only 9 could be selected to participate.

AZ Creative Communities Inaugural Cohort

“We knew there was an appetite for putting creativity to work in Arizona communities, but did not know how strong an appetite it was,” said Jaime Dempsey, Deputy Director of the Arts Commission. “While we sincerely wish we could have accepted all of the applicant communities into the program, we could not be more excited by the depth of knowledge, breadth of experience, and diversity of perspective represented in the selected teams.”

  • Julian Barcelo, Teacher, Davis Elementary School
  • Luis Mena, Artist
  • Marc Pinate, Producing Artistic Director, Borderlands Theater
  • Regina Romero, City Councilor, Ward 1, City of Tucson

  • Erica Herman, Teacher, Casa Grande ESD; Owner, Erica Herman Studios
  • Gloria Leija, City Clerk, City of Casa Grande
  • Rina Rien, Executive Director, Casa Grande Main Street
  • Stacey Seaman, Teacher, Casa Grande ESD; Owner/Director, Blackbox Foundation

  • David Carranza, Economic/Community Development Director, City of Douglas
  • Arturo Escalante, Director, Sun Magazine
  • M Jenea Sanchez, Artist; Instructor, Cochise College
  • Jose Pedro Teran, Owner, El Arteran Designs

  • Talonya Adams, Business Attorney and Founder, 1700 West Law, PLLC
  • Jackie Berry, Real Estate Broker, Berry Realty & Associates
  • Ronn Turner, Artist
  • Rachel Webster, Assistant Program Officer, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)

  • Sarah Douthit, Chief Probation Officer, Coconino County Adult Probation
  • Myra Ferechil, CEO, Victim Witness Services for Coconino County
  • Michael Olson, Community Restitution Coordinator, Coconino County Adult Probation
  • Keli Openshaw, Senior Service Line Programs Developer, Flagstaff Medical Center

  • Al Gameros, Mayor, City of Globe
  • Tiera Guerena, Student, Arizona State University, College of Public Service and Community Solutions
  • Linda Oddonetto, Executive Assistant, City of Globe
  • Paul Tunis, Executive Director, Cobre Valley Center for the Arts

  • Maya Blanco, Community Organizer
  • Franco Hernandez, Community Organizer
  • Julio Reyna, Community Organizer
  • Sharifa Rowe, CEO, SROWE Consulting, LLC

  • Maja Aurora, Director of Arts Engagement, City of Tempe
  • Maggie Fountain, Fine Arts Curriculum/Instructional Specialist, Tempe Union HSD
  • Gayle Shanks, Owner, Changing Hands Bookstore
  • Aaron Thacker, Public Affairs Officer, Arizona National Guard

  • Lindsay Benacka, Arts and Culture Program Manager, City of Yuma
  • Maria McKivergan, Licensed Professional Counselor, Desert Counseling and Recovery Services
  • Cari Jean Nelson, Ceramics Instructor, Yuma High School District
  • Isaac Russell, Research Analyst, US Department of Defense; Co-Director, Littlewood Fine Art Co-op


AZCCI Collaborators and Guides

Representatives of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Herberger Institute, and Southwest Folklife Alliance will serve as key collaborators, alongside local and national experts in creative engagement.

“Arizona is rapidly becoming a hub for the exploration of creative solutions, with internationally-renowned field leaders and experts converging here and engaging with the rich intellectual, artistic, and cultural capital of our communities,” said Jake Pinholster, ASU HIDA’s Associate Dean of Policy and Initiatives. “One of ASU’s and the Herberger Institute’s fundamental responsibilities is to bring artists, university resources, and community leaders together to help Arizona communities thrive. The AZCCI will provide a powerful opportunity to do just that.”

Speaking on behalf of Southwest Folklife Alliance, a Tucson-based nonprofit affiliated with the University of Arizona, Executive Director Maribel Alvarez said, “We believe in building equity with artists and traditional culture bearers and the power of cross-sector partnerships with organizations and entities of all kinds. In the AZCCI, SFA sees an opportunity to advance our mission, engage in a vital exchange of knowledge with the field’s thought leaders and master practitioners, and serve Arizona communities throughout the state.”

Key collaborators include:

Maribel Alvarez

Associate Research Professor, School of Anthropology, and Associate Research Social Scientist at the Southwest Center, University of Arizona; Executive Director, Southwest Folklife Alliance; ASU Cultural Policy Fellow; Community Arts Expert.

Maria Rosario Jackson

Institute Professor, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University; Senior Advisor, Arts and Culture Program at the Kresge Foundation; Expert in Urban Planning and Community Revitalization.

Liz Lerman

Institute Professor, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University; Founder, Dance Exchange; MacArthur “Genius” Grant Recipient.

Michael Rohd

Institute Professor, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University; Founding Artistic Director, Sojourn Theatre; Executive Director, Center for Performance in Civic Practice.

What’s Next?

In addition to intensive training, network building, and ongoing consultation, selected teams will see between $15,000-$20,000 invested in their communities over 12 months (in cash grants, artist services, and support to participate in the program).

In the second half of the 12-month institute, each participating community will host an embedded artist residency. The focus and format of each artist residency will be collaboratively-designed between the community team and embedded artists, selected through a forthcoming statewide call.

“This is the first time we’ve engaged in an experiment like this, and we’re building as we go,” said Dempsey. “Fortunately, we have tremendous talent at the planning table, great resources to call upon, and an amazing cohort of participating communities represented by individuals whose passion, dedication, and creative vision are truly an inspiration to us. We look forward to learning with and from these amazing Arizonans.”

About the Program Partners

One of 56 state and jurisdictional arts agencies across the United States, the Arizona Commission on the Arts is a 50-year-old agency of the State of Arizona and a leading force in the creative and professional development of Arizona’s arts sector. Its NextAZ program is a 3-year planning initiative designed to empower communities to activate creative assets and co-create ideas to fuel Arizona’s next 50 years. For more information about the Arts Commission and NextAZ, visit

Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts is actively exploring initiatives that prototype strategies to cultivate, facilitate, measure, and visualize new intersections between the arts, the university, cities, and the larger community. For more information about the Herberger Institute and its current initiatives, visit The Herberger Institute’s participation in AZ Creative Communities is made possible by a grant from the Surdna Foundation’s Thriving Cultures program.

Southwest Folklife Alliance is an affiliate nonprofit organization of the University of Arizona, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and the designated Folk Arts Partner of the Arizona Commission on the Arts with the support of the National Endowment of the Arts. SFA’s mission is to build more equitable and vibrant communities by celebrating the everyday expressions of culture, heritage, and diversity in the Greater Southwest. For more information about Southwest Folklife Alliance, visit


To request this or any other agency publication in an alternative format, contact the Arts Commission offices at (602) 771-6502, or [email protected]. Images available upon request.