By Mary Kasulaitis
No account of the history of Arivaca’s artists would be complete without the story of the Arivaca Arts Council, an organization whose impact on the community’s life cannot be overemphasized. It started back in the mid 1980’s, when the educationally minded mothers of the town’s preschoolers got together to provide enrichment and learning opportunities. Those mothers included Kathy Sheldon, Wendy Dresang, and Glo Williams, all of whom later taught at Sopori Elementary School. At one of the Arivaca Days Celebrations the mothers had an arts and crafts booth for the kids. Along came Leonard Starkey, who was looking for groups to be potential recipients of Rural Arts grants, then newly available through the Tucson-Pima Arts Council. The preschoolers caught his eye, and from then it was all uphill. Kathy and the other interested parents, including Patti Lopez and Stacy Hoff, went to meetings in Tucson and decided to incorporate. They formed the Arivaca Arts Council, a non-profit whose first organizational meeting was held in 1985. Kathy was the first president, along with Stacy, Christina Swift and Sally Massey (Rucker). Their intent was to bring the arts to the community of Arivaca. Two of the first programs they sponsored were Carlos Nakai and the Arco Iris Flamenco Dancers. `
About this time the Arivaca Community Center was being formed, and it was natural that the two organizations would work together with the former as the location for theater and arts productions, which the Arts Council would fund through grants. The Arts Council provided entertainment for the grand opening of the Community Center, July 4, 1985. At that time, Rural Grant monies provided half the cost of programs with Arivaca providing the other half.
In the beginning, the Arts Council focused on pottery and the visual arts. In 1986 an opportunity arose to rent a building in town from Ike and Mike Turnpaugh. With a grant, they bought a kiln and equipment and Kathy began teaching pottery and ceramics, using hand techniques, the wheel and ceramic molds. This expanded to include visual arts classes taught by C Hues and stained glass by Maggie Milinovitch and quilting by Lorraine Armour. The building was used as the Red Feather Gallery with showings by local artists. Finally the Arts Council gave up this building and began going in other directions. (Mike and Ike ran the ceramics shop for awhile and it was later sold to Pat and Andy Anderson.)
Over the years, many artists were involved with the Arts Council, either as board members or contributing artists. Susie Kromenacher was another of the local artists who helped in the beginning efforts of the Arts Council. (For years Susie’s gypsy could be seen on the wall of La Gitana). Sabrina Sweetwater, Libby Brandt, Patty Hanson, Melissa Cowen, Deborah and Steve Steinberg, Hal Buckingham, Rexanne Tucker, Meg Keoppen, Lorraine Armour, Ellen Dursema, Mark Dresang, Maggie Milinovitch and many more were also involved. Other projects followed. Many grants were written and received. In 1986 the face mask project made Sunset Magazine! For some time masks of many local faces hung on the wall of the Arivaca Community Center.
As time went on in the 80s, the focus changed. Nina Baldridge began teaching theater arts at the Community Center, which included acting and dance as well as stagecraft. A professional drama teacher and producer, Nina’s direction provided the children and adults of Arivaca with a rare opportunity to be involved with an exceptional theater experience. C Hues taught art classes for stage backdrops. A generation of children grew up with theater and learned how to act and do stagecraft. Scrooge, The Wizard of Oz and numerous other programs were developed and performed. It was an amazing endeavor of all the artists in the community. The Community Center received a Pima County Community Development Block Grant to expand the stage area. When Glo Williams started Blue Sky Learning Center the Charlie Brown Christmas program was a part of the children’s activities. The Arivaca Children’s Theater and Arivaca Performing Artists performed until 1996 when Nina left Arivaca.
Patti Lopez picked up the tempo with dance classes and performances for children and adults, along with assistance from the Annie Bunker Dance Troupe. Tom Shook was involved as a sponsor of the arts and assisting with getting grants for sound and light equipment, along with Brad Knaub (who had also portrayed Scrooge and the Wizard of Oz). Allen Wallen and (later) Peter Ragan were involved with the sound and light. Everything required effort on the part of someone who took the time to make things happen. A large percentage of the community members were involved.
After that, the Arts Council wrote grants and sponsored programs of various kinds, such as Barbea Williams Dance Performers and OperaTunity, but the effort became less intense. Individuals who had been involved went off to do other things. Sabrina and Patti passed on. Some moved away. Kathy began teaching first grade (a high intensity profession). But the generation who benefited from the most artistic immersion has begun to take charge. Second-generation Arivacans Nathalie Dresang and Aja Knaub, along with Jenni Stern, put together a dance workshop featuring trapeze work and an enthusiastic group of young girls took part. These are the now-grown-up children (and their children) who have inherited the love of the arts that came out of the years of dedication and professionalism of the Arts Council. More recently, Winterfest, a variety show held at the Arivaca Community Center (last on January 12) follows in the footsteps of past performers. The decades of focus on the arts has encouraged and attracted artists to come live in Arivaca. Many showcase their work in the Arivaca Artists’ Coop on Main street. Beginning in late 1994, Lorraine Armour, Nancy and Robert Fricchione, C Hues, Ellen Dursema and Peggy Kane organized a cooperative which is still operating today, in the same location. Others joined them, producing paintings, photographs, drawing, pottery, sculpture, leatherwork, glass blowing, jewelry, tie dye, fabric, metalwork, and local writers. Besides this, Bart Santello has initiated Arivaca Film Festival, held each March, featuring local filmmakers or those whose subject is Southern Arizona. The Caviglia-Arivaca Library also has a collection of artwork by local artists. 0000000000