Hidden within the vine-covered stucco of Tlaquepaque is a collection of tributes to the dead. A few take the form of elaborate ofrendas (altars), but most can be found on a 26-foot-long mural formed by the public.
Keeping with millennia-old Latinx tradition, the Sedona Arts and Crafts Village hosts a festival each year where residents gather at the start of November to celebrate Día de los Muertos. Unique to this celebration is the Marigold Mural Project, an annual collaborative art piece open to anybody who wishes to honor their deceased loved ones.
The Marigold Mural Project has cooperated with the festival since it first began nine years ago and is the main event of the celebration. In the days leading up to the festivities, local artist “Lovejoy” paints the extensive mural to include traditional Calaveras (artistic representation of skulls) and symbolic marigold flowers – but most importantly, leaves room for the community to add their additions.
“I think as Americans we need to honor death a little bit more and bring it into our daily lives,” Lovejoy said.
This year, community collaboration began on Oct. 30 and lasted throughout the evening of the Nov. 2 festival. Despite the mural nearing full capacity, Lovejoy continued to provide festival-goers with paintbrushes and paint throughout the night just as she had the four days prior. The finished piece was a vibrant backdrop to a lively celebration, which respectfully juxtaposed the somber nature of death.
On the night of the festival, attendants were greeted with street performers and live music. Activities included a face-painting booth, sugar skull creation and traditional food provided by local vendors.
Wendy Lippman, owner of Tlaquepaque, says the shopping center has formed a list of relationships with performers, vendors and musicians over the years. When looking for food and entertainment, Lippman said her primary goal is to present the traditional culture of the holiday accurately.
“We go to other (Día de los Muertos) events for inspiration so that we can better understand how to create this one,” Lippman said. “It’s very important to us that we are true to the culture.”
One way the festival aims to achieve this is through its decor.
The festival featured Día de los Muertos adornment throughout the village, mainly in the form of ofrendas, or intricately crafted offerings to the dead. In traditional Día de los Muertos practices, it is believed that at the end of October, the spirits of the deceased will rejoin their loved ones for a short celebration at the beginning of November. Placement of marigold flowers is one of many practices used to guide the spirits to the offerings made by the living. Favorite foods, personal items, and photos are placed in ofrendas as relics of the past for the spirits to enjoy.
Sedona-based artists Jim Bullock and Ken Heflin are primarily responsible for creating both the altars and decor. Bullock said the celebration began nine years ago when the shopping center began searching for a new annual event. Bullock’s company, Show Stoppers, proposed the idea of hosting a Day of the Dead celebration.
“Nine years ago, everyone thought Day of the Dead was creepy. It is now the new American holiday, in my opinion,” Bullock said.
Bullock said this year’s event was the largest ever, noting the increase in decor, attendance and activities.
“Every year it’s grown and grown and grown,” Bullock said. “As far as we can tell, it’s probably the largest public event in Sedona now.”
Lippman said there are no plans to cap the event's success. Residents can expect another celebration next fall.