New Latino Arts Fest

Written by Keridwen Cornelius Category: Arts Issue: September 2011
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If you answered Austin and Park City, Utah, to the first two, you’re right. If you said “Huh?” to the third, you’re not alone. But a group of Valley leaders hopes one day you and the rest of the country will answer, “Phoenix.”

This September 14 to November 16 marks the first Celebración Artística de las Américas (CALA), a biannual festival spotlighting Latino arts and culture at venues Valleywide. From a Mexican painting exhibit at Phoenix Art Museum to special events at the Heard Museum’s Spanish Market, CALA will feature food fests, mercados, musical performances, plays, painting and photography exhibits, art workshops, educational programs, Day of the Dead fiestas, and mucho, mucho más.

“I would really like there to be this period of time every couple of years when the Hispanic culture and arts take on the flavor that the All-Star Game took on,” says Grady Gammage Jr., a member of CALA’s board of directors. “Where everybody talks about it… and people feel this sense of connection to this place that for so many people here is lacking.”

“What we’re hoping to do is educate folks about their roots and the positive impact Latino culture has had on our region... and have people understand that Arizona has an abundance of great artists,” says CALA president Rubén Álvarez.

The seed of the festival was planted three years ago with Metro Phoenix Partnership for Arts and Culture (MPAC), a nonprofit founded to stimulate the Valley’s economy through the arts. MPAC members hit upon two things: Phoenix’s ties to Latino culture make it distinct from many other cities, and there was no major festival in the United States celebrating the arts and heritage of Mexico, Central America and South America. MPAC eventually went under, but out of its ashes sprang the CALA Alliance, formed to organize just such a festival and to give grants to local arts venues to create special events and educational programs.

Some of those educational programs will take place in local schools, many of which have been forced to cut back on arts programs. During the festival, local theater company Childsplay will put on a play about Spanish conquistador Cortéz, The Sun Serpent, open to both the public and school field trips. In conjunction with the play, Childsplay will hold a drama residency at Justine Spitalny School and Sunnyslope Elementary in Phoenix. Artists will lead fourth and fifth graders in critical discussion and improvisational responses to the play. In up to 85 second- and third-grade classrooms Valleywide, Childsplay will also conduct The Diego Project, in which students will read a book about Diego Rivera, and artists and Phoenix Art Museum docents will lead them in a collaborative mural project.

“We would like [the students] to have an appreciation for the wealth of Latino art that we have here in town... and have it relate to all of the students’ current lives in some ways,” says Patricia Black, Director of Education Outreach for Childsplay.

Despite the obvious undercurrent of immigration controversies in Arizona, CALA organizers insist the festival is not political nor a reaction to Senate Bill 1070; indeed, the idea originated before that bill, Gammage says. Rather, the goal is to use Latino arts to grow a positive image of Phoenix locally and nationwide, and to make the city more attractive to tourists and businesses.

“It is very much focused on there being an event where we really try to infuse life in the Valley with this Hispanic, Latin flavor,” Gammage says, “to the point where we go, ‘Wow, this is really cool where we live.’”


Scottsdale International Film Festival
A special Spotlight on Latin America series will present four to six Latino films, plus bilingual Q&As with the actors, directors and producers, who will also work with Scottsdale Community College film students to study Latin American Film.

Phoenix Boys’ Choir
The choir will bring Mexico children’s choir Schola Cantorum de Mexico to Phoenix, where they will stay with host families and perform individual and joint concerts in theaters, schools and parks.

The Musical Instrument Museum
Brazil takes center stage with a performance of music from Brazilian composer Flavio Chamis and a screening of Vision of Paradise, a documentary about bossa nova founder Antonio Jobim.

Desert Botanical Garden
The garden will ramp up its Dia de los Muertos celebration with food, art, a mercado and  parade-like procession, plus showcase Oaxacan wood carving artists who will will conduct live demos and workshops.