The arts again played a major role in life on the mountain in 2017. The year saw aerial arts go outside, Flagstaff’s signature venue celebrated a major milestone and Theatrikos puppets got busy on stage. We’ve picked out 10 major events that we think helped define the Flagstaff arts scene in 2017.
Amid performances from honorees, the ninth annual Viola Awards gala and fundraiser on March 4 saw more than 550 supporters and creators in the arts and sciences, including Mayor Coral Evans, gather in the banquet hall at the High Country Conference Center. At the Flagstaff Arts Council event, a record was set in two categories as well as in the silent auction, which raised more than $15,000 for future art exhibitions at the Coconino Center for the Arts and outreach.
Two Legacy Awards were given, one honored the late Nando Schellen, former director of Northern Arizona University’s Opera program, and the other Dr. Robert Breunig, President Emeritus of the Museum of Northern Arizona.
In eight more categories, 10 winners took home wooden statues made by artist Steve Warburton. Emerging Artist winner Kristopher Kohl graciously accepted the Viola, noting the brilliance of fellow nominees and artists.
Dark Sky Aerial’s fall production, OPIA, received more nominations than any other project and co-won the Performing Arts slot along with the visual and performance piece, Composition for Forests, from pianist Janice ChenJu Chiang and conceptual artist Shawn Skabelund.
Elizabeth Hellstern’s Telepoem Booth and Klee Benally’s film about forced relocation, Power Lines, shared the spotlight in Storytelling.
And as northern Arizona’s artists continue to challenge viewers and each other, the categories themselves seem poised for change heading into next year’s landmark 10th gala. Arts Council Executive Director John Tannous notes the decision on behalf of the panels to select two separate winners reflects the Viola Awards’ recognition of the local arts scene’s creative trajectory that pushes open boundaries.
2. Aerial arts go outside
Flagstaff aerial theater and performance art company, Dark Sky Aerial, transformed downtown into its artistic playground in August with its groundbreaking performances of TILT.
Collaborating with other dancers, musicians and artists, the show was an ambitious combination of ambulatory theater, aerial arts, modern dance, contemporary art exhibit and interactive installations. Aerialists soared across the walls of downtown buildings, danced down public alleyways, and wove through the streets until the ambulatory journey reached the corridors and hotel rooms of the Hotel Monte Vista, where the show continued with its finale on the hotel roof.
The show’s name—TILT—is a reference to the performance’s goal of being able to change, or tilt, an audience’s perspective through various modes of theatrical displays.
3. New FSO conductor
After nine years behind the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra baton, Maestra Elizabeth Schulze conducted her farewell concert in April at Ardrey Auditorium.
E-mailing from her home in Maryland where she is music director of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, Elizabeth Schulze reflected on her time as FSO's artistic director and conductor. “I have enjoyed my time in Flagstaff immensely! Working with the fine musicians of the orchestra has been a real privilege and true joy.”
She wrote that she is “honored that the arts and science community recognized the orchestra’s fine work, with numerous Viola nominations and awards during my tenure.”
After a series of concert auditions, Maestro Charles Latshaw was appointed to replace Schulze as FSO's musical director and conductor. Latshaw opened the orchestra's 68th season in his new position.
Latshaw also maintains his post as music director of the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra in Colorado, a post he has held for the last two seasons. He holds a master’s and doctorate degree in instrumental conducting from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
4. Book Festival adds young reader event
In 2017, the Northern Arizona Book Festival added a special weekend of events in November, just for young readers. The Young Readers Fest was the brainchild of local author Seth Muller, who got the idea during the 2007 book festival when Daniel Handler, otherwise known as Lemony Snicket, appeared at the Orpheum Theater.
“[The show was a] full house. He brought an accordion and was singing songs and the kids just went crazy,” Muller said. “After the event, he did a book signing at Starlight. The line went out the door, around the alley and behind the Orpheum. And he signed books for more than two hours. So I immediately thought, we need to do a young readers fest that’s a satellite of the book festival.”
The recession put halt to those plans, but almost a decade later, the Northern Arizona Book Festival launched the Young Readers Fest, with writers Muller and Lawrence Lenhart at the helm.
“One of the goals for the festival is to bring that audience of children and parents and teachers, librarians and educators out while also attracting people who might go to a book festival for, otherwise, adult literature,” said Lenhart. “These stories are not that different.”
Amy Fellner Dominy, one of the headlining authors of this year’s Young Readers Fest, has written about love and divorce in “Die for You.”
“One of the magical things about books is that when we open our mind to stories, we open our heart, too,” Dominy said. “An event like the Young Readers Fest is wonderful because it creates excitement around books and reading. It gives kids a stronger connection to stories and also shows them that they have stories of their own to tell — a voice of their own.”
5. AZ Camera Museum opens
Cameras have been freezing moments in time to various levels of success since the 1800s with the invention of daguerreotypes. A century later, in 1948, Polaroid released their model 95 Land Camera, the first instant camera that printed photos in about a minute. There have been countless technological advances in the years since to make cameras more easily accessible and we have slightly different expectations of the word “instant.” Now, Flagstaff residents can explore the development of cameras through history at the Arizona Camera Museum, which opened in November.
Donated display cases line the walls of the room where the museum found its home inside Sunnyside’s Market of Dreams. Several Kodak No.2 Beau Brownie cameras with brown and blue geometric art deco designs by industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague fill part of a display case and demonstrate the style the designer popularized in the early 1900s. Other cameras are disguised as soda cans, children’s toys and even a pocket watch.
“When I was 13 my dad let me use his camera for the first time,” recalled museum founder Tom Holtje. “It was a Memorial Day weekend and the parade used to pass in front of our house and we would set all our chairs up and stuff. I remember climbing up a tree in our front lawn that overlooked the street and I took most of the pictures from there. Everybody commented how different they looked from above instead of eye level, and that was sort of the beginning of photography for me.”
Holtje plans to rotate some of the cameras on display as time goes on to keep everything fresh for visitors and encourages other camera collectors to share their unique collections as well; an antique Century Master Studio Camera on loan from local landscape photographer Shane Knight currently fills one corner of the room.
Moving forward, he plans to host photography classes on topics including “How to Take Better Pictures,” “History of Photography,” “How Does a Camera Work?” and “George Eastman’s Contributions to the Art.”
6. Things heat up on Avenue Q
Theatrikos Theatre Company's production of "Avenue Q: The Musical" was so popular, shows had to be added to the schedule. The adult puppet show took the stage in August with catchy songs like “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” and “The Internet is for Porn.”
In the show, puppets and humans interact like it’s the norm while a puppet named Princeton struggles to live and find a job in the big city after graduating from college. There are songs, swearing and even a puppet sex scene.
Theatrikos veteran Jan Rominger co-directed the production with newcomer John Propster, both of whom have had prior experience working with puppets.
The Tony Award-winning play explores themes of racism, sexuality and the ever-elusive meaning of life. It won awards for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book after its Broadway opening in 2003 and has since gone on to be performed by casts internationally.
7. Recycled Art Show adds broken sled category
From discarded saws to broken skateboards to any thrown-away piece of paper or cardboard one could imagine, materials in the Flagstaff Recycled Art Exhibition have long serviced innovative ideas in turning trash into treasure — where regional artists use their creative eye to save something from going into the landfill.
The year 2017 was the 15th anniversary of the event, which typically attracts around 100 or more pieces involving all manner of materials. This year's exhibit featured the addition of artists using the exclusive medium of broken sleds, ones left behind by snowplay enthusiasts in area forests.
Mike Frankel, executive director of the Artists’ Coalition of Flagstaff, said adding the “Best Use of Discarded Snowplay Materials,” category fit with the show's goal to inspire entrants to create art from trash, discarded materials and materials that people have no use for anymore.
“We will .. hopefully shine a light on a serious Flagstaff environmental problem, with the thought of mitigating it in some way,” Frankel said.
8. Study underscores economic impact of arts
More than 3,000 jobs in the city owe their existence to money generated by nonprofit arts organizations, according to a study conducted by Americans for the Arts to determine the economic impact of the arts in cities.
According to the study, nonprofit arts organizations bring in about $90 million to the city’s economy and generate about $4.6 million in local tax revenue. Of the $90 million, about $20.6 million comes from tourists who visit Flagstaff to attend arts and science events. The average amount spent per tourist per event is $86.87.
The amount spent per audience member does not include the ticket for the event itself, which is instead included in the organization’s expenditure total.
Of the $90 million in economic impact, $51 million came from organizational expenditures from nonprofit arts, science and culture organizations.
In the Flagstaff portion of the study, 50 nonprofit arts and science organizations provided their financial records in order to calculate organizational expenses. Organizations that participated include The Arboretum, the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, Flagstaff Youth Chorale, Lowell Observatory, the Museum of Northern Arizona, Theatrikos Theatre Company, Northern Arizona University College of Arts and Letters and the Flagstaff Festival of Science.
For-profit art venues and individual artists were not included in the study.
9. Orpheum turns 100
The Orpheum Theater threw Flagstaff a party to celebrate its 100th anniversary the weekend of Aug. 11-13, 2017.
The festivities included the unveiling of a portrait of the theater based on its original 1917 exterior; a visit from Dweezil Zappa, the son of Frank Zappa; a free block party with food vendors and games; a vintage Volkswagen car show; and music -- lots of music.
The Orpheum has been one of Flagstaff’s premier entertainment venues from before the day the current theater was built. The theater was the brainchild of John Weatherford, the owner of the Weatherford Hotel just down the block. According to Platt Cline’s book, "Mountain Town," Weatherford owned the property and was trying to come up with a new use for it when he settled on the idea of a theater and entertainment venue.
The original theater, named the Majestic Opera House, was built in 1910 or 1911 and included a stage, a movie screen and a dance floor. It hosted plays, dances, movies and musicals until the fateful morning of Jan. 1, 1916.
According to Cline, the week of Dec. 31, 1915, saw one of the heaviest snowfalls in the history of Flagstaff. But that didn’t stop party-goers from attending the grand New Year’s ball at the Majestic on New Year ’s Eve.
In a transcript of a 1976 interview with Richard and Beatrice Riordan in Northern Arizona University’s Cline Library, Richard Riordan recalled that nearly everyone in town was at the dance. The dining and dancing lasted until 2:30 a.m. and then everyone went home. At 6 a.m., the roof and walls of the Majestic collapsed after accumulating 61 inches of snow.
“It would have killed almost everybody in town,” he said.
It took Weatherford nearly two years to rebuild the Majestic. When it opened on Aug. 3, 1917, it had a new face and a new name, The Orpheum.
The new theater continued to play a part in Flagstaff’s history, helping to sell war bonds during World War II. It continued to show movies, hold plays, dances and serve as a music venue until the late 1990s. According to several Arizona Daily Sun articles, by 1999, when the theater’s owners left town, the theater was known as the place to go to get a cheap ticket to a movie you might have missed at the newer movie theaters in town.
The theater was closed for three years until Chris Scully, Art Babbott and Turney Postlewait leased the building as the group The Orpheum Presents and started renovating it. The theater reopened in December 2002, once again as a multiuse entertainment facility hosting dances, community events, movies and plays, but mostly as a music venue.
Scully has lived in the downtown area of Flagstaff for about 30 years. He’s one of the few Flagstaff residents who still remembers the Orpheum as the downtown movie theater.
In time, Babbott and Postlewait stepped away from the venture and Dr. Charles Smith came in to help. Smith helps with getting events to the theater, as well as operating it. Eventually, Smith and Scully purchased the building.
Scully estimated that since The Orpheum Presents took over the building, the company has brought around 2,000 acts to the Flagstaff stage, including big names like Rob Zombie and Judy Collins.
10. Renovated, expanded military museum at Fort Tuthill
After years of planning and fundraising, and hundreds of hours of hard work, the renovated Fort Tuthill Military Museum had its grand opening in May.
For the past several years, the museum has been open in a very limited capacity in a temporary location at Fort Tuthill. Now, the volunteers behind the museum's renewal, spearheaded by executive director Jim Warbasse, can invite the public to come learn about the rich history of the 158th Infantry regiment.
The history of the 158th Infantry regiment of the Arizona National Guard goes back to the First Regiment of Arizona Volunteers organized in 1865. The 158th connection with Flagstaff dates from 1929.
According to forttuthill.org, "from 1929 to 1937, again in 1939, and for the last time in 1948, the regiment trained at its permanent field-training site, Fort Tuthill outside Flagstaff, Arizona. The facility's location in the pine-covered forests of northern Arizona allowed the regiment to meet training objectives not possible in the heat of the Arizona desert." Known as the "Bushmasters," the 158th has one of the distinguished combat records of World War II.
The museum is housed in two historic fort buildings that the volunteers had to completely gut and then rebuild — adding heat, bathrooms and other modern amenities — to house the museum, said museum board member Marilyn Hammarstrom.
One building's exhibits trace the history of the Arizona National Guard and the 158th Infantry Regiment "Bushmasters" from 1865 to 1940. Exhibits in the second building pick up that history from 1940 to the present, including information and artifacts from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan.
Hammarstrom said the museum's exhibits include items from General Alexander Tuthill and cartoonists Reg Manning and Bill Mauldin. All of the exhibits, she said, have re-designed presentation and interpretation.
She said the museum is about supporting the Arizona National Guard and bringing some neglected and forgotten history back to Flagstaff. "This was an active military fort," Hammarstrom said.