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How The Pandemic Is Impacting The Arizona Arts Community

By Tom Maxedon
Published: Friday, September 25, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Sunday, September 27, 2020 - 1:16pm

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SPECIAL SERIES: COVID-19 In Arizona: 6 Months In

Jia Baker
Mike Pfister is a drummer and ASU instructor.

Mike Pfister is a well-known Valley drummer and ASU instructor who was used to playing at popular venues in Phoenix prior to the pandemic.

Six months in, he misses live audiences and knows it’s the same for anyone who’s creative.

“This goes across creatives, whether it’s dance, music or painting. Part of, I think, what we thrive on is connecting and playing with other people and connecting with audiences,” he said.

Kassandra Alvarez
Anna Flores is a poet, author and instructor at ASU.

Pfister has been acquiring fresh digital skills to keep practicing and sharing music. “I was just not on top of home recording or doing recording and sharing tracks, and it was actually another musician that I play with in a group that kind of hipped me to: ‘These are the things that you need, and this is how to track stuff. This is how to share it,’” he said. 

For poets and authors like Anna Flores, the vibrations of live reading are silent as cafes and bookstores are shuttered to crowds.

“In the last couple of years, I was really practicing performing poetry in an authentic way and then this virus, this pandemic happened and I’m having to come to terms with that stunted journey,” she said.

Still, Flores tries to remain relevant with her recent poem about the tenant crisis caused by high unemployment, a few lines of which read: “Outside a pair of shiny elevator doors hang from a crane, an abandoned pendulum in the sky. Under the swaying, many of us are only able to hallucinate the act of sending you a check on the first.”  

The actual letter to her landlord that inspired those lines was published earlier this year in The Nation.

Valley-based indie filmmaker Robert Conway shot his latest movie this summer on a mountain in Arizona. It’s called “Skinwalker” and is based on a Native American myth about a malevolent spirit that enters others. 

Jim Collette
Robert Conway is the writer and director of "Skinwalker."

Six months in, he’s in post-production.

“I’m actually color grading it as we speak,” said Conway during a recent episode of “Word,” KJZZ’s podcast about the literary arts in Arizona and the region.

I responded, “Right on. We’ve caught you live amid production,” and asked, "What is it, ‘life imitates art?’”

“That’s it,” laughed Conway.

The film is expected to debut in the first quarter of 2021.

Conway said the movie is inspired by the pandemic and was shot on a small budget with the cast and crew essentially quarantined near Roosevelt Lake. “We did the best we could which, sad to say, isn’t much. You do the masks until you roll. You hope that nobody gets sick and we were lucky.”

Arizona Theatre Company’s associate artistic director Chanel Bragg pushes back against the notion that its stages have been dark as its virtual offerings continue for free.

Chanel Bragg
Chanel Bragg is the associate artistic director of Arizona Theatre Company.

“I don’t think we’ve really gone dark, like at all. In fact, art is still essential and we are fighting tooth and nail to try to still bring something so special that means so much to all of us,” said Bragg.

The company recently chose Eliana Pipes as this year’s National LatinX Playwright for her play “Dream Hou$e,” a piece about gentrification set within the sphere of a reality TV show.

The theater continues to offer free digital content on its website.

Even puppeteers are reimagining their performances.

Six months in, the Great Arizona Puppet Theater has moved to a drive-in model, and founder Nancy Smith and her daughter Gwen Bonar have looked to the past to deal with the present.

“So when this pandemic happened and we needed something that was going to be big and up high for everybody to see from the drive-in, we went back to some of our original shows,” said Bonar. “So, it’s been interesting touching up some of these shows that some of them haven’t seen the light of day in over 30 years.”

Great Arizona Puppet Theater
Rapunzel in her tower performed by the Great Arizona Pupper Theater.

Because she and her mom are in a pod, they do the majority of the shows together to adhere to recommended public health guidelines.

There is a cost for the drive-in shows.

Native American fashion designers and their enthusiasts are also adapting.

Six months in, this year’s Silver & Turquoise Ball to benefit the Phoenix Indian Center will be virtual.

“We wanted many people around Arizona, the country, the world to join in with us and see the beauty of American Indian fashion through some of our new and upcoming fashion designers in the American Indian world,” according to Patricia Hibbeler, the center’s CEO.

She said central to the show is honoring who many call the grandfather of Native American fashion. “Lloyd Kiva New was actually one of the first American Indian fashion designers and had a shop in Scottsdale.”

As a bonus this year, the virtual event is free and one could win a master’s class with Native American chef Brian Yazzie from Dennehotso, Arizona, based out of Saint Paul, Minnesota, who is trying to revive indigenous cuisine in the age of COVID-19.

According to the center’s website, “The Phoenix Indian Center is the oldest American Indian nonprofit organization of its kind in the United States. The Center was formed in 1947 as an outgrowth of Native people moving to urban Phoenix not only to sell their crafts and goods but as a result of U.S. Government public policy.”

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