San Marcos Resort in Chandler

Arian Enriquez poses in front of her mural, “The Hum of the Desert,” at the San Marcos Resort in Chandler.

In keeping with the pandemic’s restrictions, this year’s Regional Unity Walk has been revamped. 

Instead of gathering at Temple Beach Park on a day in January to promote mutual respect and understanding of diverse groups, residents are directed to a showcasing of cultural arts, a Visual Journey of Diversity, Culture and Equity, in Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, Ahwatukee, Scottsdale and Guadalupe. 

“This year we definitely knew that most likely we won’t be able to be together, so we wanted to be able to plan something that would be really just as meaningful and symbolic of a regional effort,” said Andrea Alicoate, diversity administrator for City of Mesa. 

“More importantly, this is even more of an important time to celebrate the culture and equity among the different communities.”

The cities have also worked to create an arts map to highlight sculptures, murals and other art spots that are easily accessible outdoors. In addition, each city chose to highlight things that are special to their own communities, Alicoate said.

For example, Mesa has organized an art exhibition at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum and the Tempe Instagrammys photo competition.

 The museum, which will announce winners on Jan. 28, created a category for photos that represent unity in the city.

With the arts, the idea is to encourage people to do a visual – either driving, biking or walking – tour through the different cities, cross city boundaries and give attention to some of the cultural art or artists in each of the cities, said Niki Tapia, community resources and diversity supervisor for the City of Chandler.

“A lot of people are stuck at home. So, this is a way they can go for a drive with their family, go take some selfies, have some fun,” Tapia said. “Also, we’re trying to support businesses, restaurants run by people of color and we’re wanting to encourage people to go get some takeout and have a picnic.

“It’s a way for people to get out of their house for a while and have an experience. People are really needing that right now, something safe, something that is not too complicated, something educational and fun,” she added. 

Two signature events marking the day were canceled. Mesa’s MLK Day Parade, which was to mark its 25th anniversary this year, was scratched, as was the East Valley Unity Walk.

The Unity Walk began 18 years ago as a way for these cities to come together to celebrate the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday falling on the third Monday of January. 

Participants from the cities wore a different colored shirt and met in separate spots, and then walked a mile throughout the Tempe Bridge and ended the walk at Tempe Beach Park. 

The intermingling would result in a combining of the various splashes of color.

“It was a really beautiful, symbolic visual of all of us coming together,” Tapia said. “Obviously, in the time of COVID, we cannot and wouldn’t want to have so many people together.”

Also, rather than select just one day, the organizers stretched the celebration over a few weeks, until Jan. 31, to enable more time to enjoy the art in various cities.

“We’re hoping to stretch them to cross their boundary lines if they’re not used to but also more importantly the connection comes with knowing that folks are enjoying the same piece of art that you are,” Alicoate said. 

The cities concede it’s difficult to make a connection when people are not physically at the same location.

“But we felt that this was a different and more deeper connection by being able to have some more thought-provoking education into viewing an experience in art,” Alicoate said.

The Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum has done just that.

 It invited a guest curator, Clottee Hammons of Emancipation Arts, who organized a special pop-up titled “Human Contrasts” through Jan. 31.

Hammons used the “I Have a Dream” speech as her launching point and to have a conversation about Dr. King’s vision and the things that he witnessed in society during his time, and also shows how the artists convey that message and what they have observed.

Curator Tiffany Fairall said that it’s a commentary on how though we may seem dissimilar on the surface, we have commonalities and similar struggles. 

“They are really topics that are discussed in mainstream nowadays. You are talking about people who are marginalized in society’s mainstreams and trying to have a conversation about being seen,” she said. 

The museum has two other shows in its gallery spaces that also fall within the topic of unity.

 Ann Morton responds to the current societal ills such as homelessness and the border issue with “History Repeats” using fiber work, mixed media and community engagement programming.

Meanwhile, Harold Lohner hosts “Forbidden Colors” and takes on male identity and male love, and the beauty of the male body with bright colored, striking monoprints. 

For a full state of events, visit mesaaz.gov/government/diversity-office/regional-unity-artwalk. For an interactive map of the Regional Unity Art Walk, visit storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/06a7d7600b1747f7a80d7bc248d7c89c

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