by Gabriela Muñoz
When I first began my work in the AZ ArtWorker program I was really looking forward to engaging multiple communities in Douglas. The launch of the program, which took place in this city was immensely successful and so my expectations when we opened registration for an asset mapping and community organizing convening were high.
Only a week away from the program, we only had 3 registrants. To say that I was worried is an understatement. We engaged Dr. Maribel Alvarez who works with communities in Tucson and engages with the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture and we were responding to requests from artists and community organizers in organizing this type of workshop, so we assumed that the program would be a welcomed offering.
On the morning of the workshop, held on a Saturday morning, in a local coffee shop, several community leaders and artists slowly tricked in to participate in the workshop. Out of the 9 participants who joined us that day, we hosted the new Mayor, the Douglas Hispanic Chamber Membership Director, members of the Douglas Community Coalition, a realtor and several artists; in short, community members who are devoted to making a marked and profound change in the way in which the arts can be engaged to creatively problem-solve the different challenges being faced by Douglas’ communities. It was that morning that I realized that what might make me comfortable as an arts administrator (high numbers and early registration) is not something I would find in Douglas. Registration is not a good indicator of what participation will be and the only way to get the word out is by directly communicating with multiple and varied stakeholders. Flexibility and being comfortable with the unknown up to the last minute have marked the only strategy that has worked in serving and working with Douglas.
At the end of the day, Maribel's workshop engaged these leaders in active dialogue with one another, something that doesn’t always happen even in this small rural community. The engagement also served to connect them with a national leader in community organizing, who conveniently, is also their neighbor. When the day’s work was finished, we all shared a meal in an adjacent restaurant, breaking bread and sharing stories.