A new art festival is coming to Flagstaff

Flagstaff is getting a new, interactive festival celebrating the convergence of art and ideas. It’s the brainchild of the folks at Creative Flagstaff and Coconino Center for the Arts — an innovative public art experience that will invite artists and community members to engage with ideas outside of a gallery setting. It’s called ARTx.

Creative Flagstaff kicked off planning in earnest in December, when they hired Julie Sokol to lead the project.

“We have this fantastic committee of people that have been working really hard for four years to pull this together, and help define what a public art engagement festival can look like,” Sokol said. “It’s really an art and ideas festival. How can we generate new ideas? How can we find new ways of talking and communicating with each other? How can we solve really challenging problems and come together?”

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In her role, Sokol will be gathering and organizing ideas submitted by community artists — then bringing those ideas to life, fully formed and funded on the streets of Flagstaff.

Sokol grew up in Austin, Texas. Festivals like South by Southwest shaped her youth and helped her fall in love with her city. Now she said she’s excited to be on the ground floor of a progressive and interactive art festival in Arizona.

But she is not an artist. Sokol’s degree is in hotel restaurant management; she brings experience from the business world to the task of creating a new Flagstaff Art Festival.

“I’ve spent about the past 15 years, pretty much all of my adult life and experience in hospitality. Mine is a spreadsheet-loving brain,” Sokol said. “I get to help be this in-between person that helps balance the artists’ needs, connects them with the venues, and then we get to pay them. These artists are getting paid what they deem is the value of their work, and to me that’s a huge piece, so it’s fair and reasonable.

“My background is an appreciator of the arts, but not really a participant. It’s really been a way for me personally to learn how to participate in art.”

ARTx is a brand new and abstract idea, but Sokol said it’s shapeless by design.

“It’s intentionally vague. Because while there are these guiding principles and intentions behind the festival, the themes behind it are crowd-sourced, so as we’re getting submissions from artists it’s starting to take shape,” Sokol said. “I think after we get through this year’s sort of pilot event…we’ll really not only be able to speak to what the festival is, but what it can be. The fact that it is this ever-evolving and fluid responsive festival means we are always topical, and we’re really basing our decisions and the vibe on the community and the artists and the feedback we receive.”

ARTx will take place over two days, primarily in downtown Flagstaff this year. Eventually, organizers are hoping to have installations and interactive art experiences set up all over the city during a week-long event.

“In full capacity, it will be a community-wide festival with a lot of public art, either installations (temporary or permanent) or interactive opportunities. … My most basic way to say it is that it is a gallery show throughout the city. There are pop-ups and installations in different neighborhoods that reflect and tell the story of this place,” Sokol explained. “For 2023, we’re really focusing on the core downtown footprint, whatever comes to be with different venues and partners. At full force, it’s meant to be throughout the entire community, so that we can meet people where they are and sort of bring art to the streets.”

In the future, Sokol would like to see installations in Sunnyside, Southside and across the community, but downtown felt like the most organic place to start a new art-based endeavor. After this year, Sokol hopes Creative Flagstaff will be able to expand and secure more funding because she believes ARTx can play an important role in helping people navigate an uncertain post-COVID world.

“After COVID we have had these additional challenges that definitely affect Flagstaff. … Everybody needs therapy. Art is a way to get us to a healing place. Looking at art as this driver and way to create new ideas and conversations, so it is an art and ideas festival,” Sokol said. “We’re going to have TEDx-style speaker series and installations and ways to engage and participate. I think it’s a physical manifestation of the inclusive nature of Flagstaff. We are still aligned with those core values ​​that we have as a community, as we come back into community and back into relationship with each other.”

Artists have until this Friday, January 13, to submit their projects for entry. ARTx itself is scheduled in the spring: May 25-27.

“We don’t have a firm grasp on what it is as it continues to evolve, but I think Flagstaff is ready for it, and I know that it will be received really well. I’m just so excited for May,” Sokol said.

Sierra Ferguson can be reached at [email protected].

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