Flagstaff serves as an incubator for student and working artists alike. Its proximity to natural splendors such as the San Francisco Peaks, Sedona and the Grand Canyon offers breathtaking views in every direction. Its locale among a bevy of Native American tribes, Northern Arizona University and local artists and musicians breeds a unique form of expression found nowhere else.

For five years the Flagstaff Arts Council has been exploring and showcasing the local talent that permeates this city with its biennial exhibition, Local: Color. Hosted at the Coconino Center for the Arts in 2014 and 2016, the exhibit again finds itself within the walls of the center’s main gallery.

This year, the exhibit features multiple artists with a variety of backgrounds and styles including photography, sculpture, ceramics, paintings, drawings, installation and more. Four artists were invited to be at the exhibit’s core, and those four artists were asked to invite three artists of their choosing, totaling 16.

Of the four artists, Joe Cornett Sr. invited Paula Rice and his two sons, Joe Jr. and Jesse; Peter Wilson invited Cazo Seronde, Talaina Kor and Hailee Sattley; Sydney Smith invited Miranda Delgai, Edward Haswood and Lydia Chase; and Jason Hess invited Kait Arndt, Yoa Bo and Victoria Vick.

While the arts council had a hand in choosing its initial four artists for the exhibit, which was curated by Caleb Cordasco, marketing director Sarah Smallwood says it was important, although perhaps a little unusual, to let go of control and let those artists invite others.

“It’s definitely interesting and not an approach I’m used to,” she says. “It’s fun and adds a fresh perspective. It’s a way for us to diversify our exhibits and give lots of people opportunities to show work. And it also removes any type of biases when you’re not a part of the work. You’re kind of going into something blind, but the art community is so deep and rich, we weren’t really concerned with the quality of work.”

And the quality of work is vast. From Hozhoni Art Gallery and Studios artists Delgai and Haswood to retired professionals like Cornett Sr., the artists on display vary in age, backgrounds and styles, but the work is all exemplary of Flagstaff artistic commitment.

For Wilson, 41, whose work consists of drawings, oil painting and mixed media, he enjoys sharing his thoughts and ideas with other artists.

“I’ve been inspired by seeing other artists that are ambitious, like Cazo and Talaina,” he says of the artists he selected. “I think [Cazo] is a good statesman about art in Flagstaff. [Talaina] is a serious up-and-coming artist of this young town, and [Hailee] really works hard at her craft and it’s impressive.”

Smith’s work as an NAU fine art student with a minor in psychology focuses on the senses, how experience informs our body of the environment. Her piece, comprised of detached drawings of an ear, eye and mouth, among other body parts, on ripped-up canvas, is strewn together with string atop a wooden frame. Smith, 23, says she typically does portraits of others, so it was cathartic to turn her perspective inward.

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“Understanding myself and others, the shared human experience, has always been something at the forefront of my motivations and my actions,” she says.

For Smith, it was important to choose Delgai and Haswood of the Hozhoni gallery because they exemplify “everything I love to see and everything I have the hardest time doing. It’s loose and vibrant and really inspiring.”

As for Chase, a fellow painting student at NAU, Smith says her work is “chilling.” Focused on drawings of autopsy instruments and tools, as well as Chase’s own family’s background with the mortuary business, “Watching her own that darkness and be playful with it was really cool to me,” Smith says. “Again that’s something that I maybe have a hard time in doing for myself–[it] invites a new perception.”

What the exhibit showcases, as well as the diversity of work that is born and bred in Flagstaff, are connections and how deep and fruitful they can be when artists get together in one room.

“It shows how hard working the arts community is that we can do this every couple of years and it continues to be a really strong display of talent,” Smallwood says. “The lack of micromanaging or control, that’s one of the coolest things that’s happening, giving people that opportunity. It’s really about opportunities and opening doors, showcasing work and letting artists make new relationships with each other.”

Local: Color is on display at the Coconino Center for the Arts, 2300 N. Fort Valley Rd., until July 27. Visit www.flagartscouncil.org for viewing times. 

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