The Mesa Arts Center has applied for a grant from ArtPlace - a national group - to place multimedia boxes on its campuses. The boxes would provide the ability for visitors to showcase their own work. The boxes would be designed to reflect these colored boxes that are already at the 8-year-old Mesa Arts Center. [Mesa Arts Center photo]

Mesa Arts Center photo

The Mesa Arts Center will have a new outdoor stage for performances and visual art demonstrations in the next year or two, as part of a transformation planned for the 8-year old facility.

The changes are being made under the idea of creating a “21st Century Café Society,” said Cindy Ornstein, executive director of the Mesa Arts Center and director of arts and culture for the City of Mesa. Two other proposed projects include renovation of the plaza at the north end of campus to include seating and a café and the addition of large outdoor display boxes that can show poetry and art created on-site at computerized tables or pieces submitted by the community.

“All of them are geared toward creating a place for the community to gather, socialize, share ideas and celebrate its own creativity. It is meant to further develop the north end of our campus into a more flexible and usable space and a place that will be highly activated. Right now, it’s a quiet part of the campus relatively,” Ornstein said.

The center is working to raise funds for the second project — the north end plaza — that will include additional pavement, high canopy trees, and tables, chairs and umbrellas to create a “café environment.” The estimated costs are $600,000 to $800,000.

The core piece of the last project for the Mesa Arts Center would be the addition of “interactive community bulletin boards,” Ornstein said. They would be shaped to mirror large rectangular concrete already on campus that light up at night.

“They would have these multimedia screens. And built into the (café) tables would be interfaces where people could create work on-site, poetry, art that would then be on the screens on the boxes,” she said.

Ornstein envisions a plan where different topics or questions would be put out to the community each month and then people would use their art to respond to those questions.

Anyone would be invited to submit their work in different media forms – photos, videos, written work and more. It could be school groups, dance or theater groups, neighborhood associations, Scouts and more.

“It’s a constantly evolving place to share ideas and have dialogue around things and subject matter of interest to the community,” she said.

That piece of the project — with the multimedia boxes and interactive tables – would cost about $575,000, she said.

It could be funded through an ArtPlace “creative place making” grant. According to the ArtPlace website, the $15 million in grants available is part of “an initiative to accelerate creative place making across the U.S. through grants and loans, research, communication and advocacy. ArtPlace is a collaboration of 13 leading national and regional foundations and six of the nation’s largest banks.”

Mesa Arts Center is one of 105 finalists for funding — out of more than 1,000 applicants that started the process. A decision will be made in May.

The idea behind “place making,” Ornstein said, is to use “art at the heart of a group of strategies to create vibrancy in a community and help transform the community.”

Much is being done to transform downtown Mesa right now - the expansion of the light rail into downtown Mesa and the addition of several new college and university campuses. Combined with the proposed art projects, Ornstein said there could be that “vibrancy” goal set by the grant and the city.

“It’s not something that would happen on its own. It would be successful because of all the initiatives,” she said. “It would be a piece of a larger group of strategies to transform Mesa.”

Ornstein said the center hopes to have the stage, multimedia boxes and café complete by the end of 2014. The plaza could be complete by the end of 2015 if the funds are raised.

“Especially if we get this grant and people see the planning around it, it would be to helpful to raise money for the third part,” she said.

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