Elena Thornton believes the arts are instrumental in the advancement of humanity. In an effort to help support and foster arts and culture here in the Valley, she founded the Arizona Consortium for the Arts in 2007, which puts on free art events and festivals throughout the Phoenix area and sponsors literary and poetry magazines. The nonprofit’s monthly open mics, spanning all disciplines and genres, take place at the Dog-Eared Pages Used Books in Phoenix every last Thursday of the month from 5 to 7 p.m., including this Thursday, May 28.
Thornton’s ultimate goal for the Arizona Consortium for the Arts is to use it as a vehicle to open a multicultural center that will be free for local arts groups to use, as rehearsal, performing and recording space and more. The 53-year-old Phoenix resident talked more about her goals for the Arizona Consortium for the Arts and for Valley arts, and you can hear her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.
What brought you to Arizona?
I was a Russian teacher in upstate New York, and the weather was depressing, with rain and snow all the time. We — my husband Jim and our son Jeremy — came here on vacation during spring break in April of 1994, and we moved in July.
I was born in Moldova, and my family moved to Albany, New York, in 1976. After graduating from Albany High School, I went to the University at Albany (SUNY) and earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education.
What has your professional evolution been like?
I was a classroom teacher, and when we moved to Phoenix in 1994, I was fortunate to work for a company as director of training, and traveled all over the world and the U.S. Also, I have been volunteering for local community and arts organizations.
After leaving that company, I was in a car accident in 2004, and the doctor said I would never do things I loved, like paint or write poetry, again. I decided that was not going to stop me, and I wanted to do something larger than life and bigger than me. I went to my family first, my husband and my son, and I said, “I’m thinking of starting a nonprofit. I’m thinking of a big cultural center.” I asked them if they would support me, and they said yes. I also brought this idea to my neighbors, Aris and Zepure Jerahian, and they were very supportive and instrumental in our beginning. They now reside in California.
Phoenix is filled with amazing, good-hearted people who believe in the importance of arts and culture. Since the fall of 2007, when we formed the Arizona Consortium for the Arts, we’ve been blessed to have the support of the community.
What’s your earliest memory of being interested in the arts?
I grew up involved in the Young Pioneer Palace, a cultural center with an after-school programs for kids. I was a puppeteer in a puppet theater and sang in a choir, and we traveled and performed.
When we moved to Phoenix, I dreamt that my artwork was in a gallery. I told this to my husband, and the next day, he bought me an easel and paints, and I started to paint. I also started to write poetry.
What made you want to create the Arizona Consortium for the Arts?
Arts and culture are so important in the growth and development of youth. The vision is to establish a multicultural arts space for individuals and groups. We have so many local theater groups, arts groups and cultural groups who don’t have space to hold meetings, to perform, to rehearse, to share and to teach. It is my hope our space will be realized very soon, so local organizations will be under one roof, we’ll all be sharing and teaching, and it will be for the community.
We host open mics at the Dog-Eared Pages Used Books store. We’ve since found other venues to host events and festivals. We hold two annual festivals, one in the fall and one in the spring. The next festival is Sunday, October 25, from noon to 4 p.m. at Arizona Historical Society Museum. It will feature local art and artisans, and it’s free to be a vendor. We’ll also have performances by local musicians and dancers. We’ll host workshops for vendors on how to hone their skills and set up a booth, which is possible through a grant from the City of Tempe.
Our spring festival is the Blue Guitar Festival of the Arts, which is strictly performances, spanning all ages and all disciplines.
We continue to focus on our mission, to host free events, programs and festivals for the community. We publish three online magazines, the bi-annual Blue Guitar and the annual Blue Guitar Jr. literary magazines, and also the annual poetry magazine Unstrung, which are all free to submit to. We enjoy giving voices and recognition to local talent. People can visit theblueguitarmagazine.org for more information.
What do you intend for the multicultural center and space?
We envision it to have a theater, classroom space, workshop space, recording space and rehearsal space. There are possible spaces in the 32nd Street Corridor redevelopment project, and we met with Councilman Bill Gates and are looking into those. To get it built, it will take the entire community to recognize that it is needed.
We have an amazing Musical Instrument Museum, where my husband and I have volunteered for the past five years. We have many centers in the metropolitan Phoenix area — the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, the Mesa Arts Center, the Tempe Center for the Arts, the Phoenix Center for the Arts, and others. They’re all wonderful and great, but our multicultural performing arts center will be for the community, for the groups who don’t have a space, so they don’t have to, for example, go to someone’s home and push the furniture around to rehearse. Most places charge to rent space to rehearse and perform.
We’re an all-volunteer community organization that is passionate about having this space. It could even be 300 square feet — we just want to have a place.
Why are you so passionate about supporting the arts?
Arts are so important for the growth and development of humanity. This is how we sustain. If there were no arts, I really do not know what would happen to us as human beings. Arts and culture are so important to pass on to this generation for future generations, to learn about each other and different cultures, and to learn peace. We’re a vibrant and diverse community and are here to spread love and joy through the arts.
Why would you encourage someone to become involved with the Arizona Consortium for the Arts?
We invite people to join us on this journey to leave a legacy of arts and culture, in preserving it and passing it on to this generation and generations to follow. If anyone is interested in volunteering or donating their time and talents, they can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are your goals?
We continue to focus on our mission, to nurture an inspirational environment, to be of support and of service to our arts and culture community. I am at it every day and am open to mentoring anyone who wants to be of service to our community. If anyone would like to learn more, they may visit www.artizona.org.
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