Mesa’s cultural scene slowly reawakening The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Mesa’s cultural scene slowly reawakening

Mesa’s cultural scene slowly reawakening

By Jim Walsh
Tribune Staff Writer

Mesa’s cultural facilities are slowly, cautiously reawakening, using precautions against the spread of COVID-19 amid lingering concerns about the pandemic.

The Arizona Museum of Natural History and the I.D.E.A Museum are both open, with tickets only available in advance so that officials can limit the capacity and maintain social distancing and face mask requirements.

Art classes will resume in person at the Mesa Arts Center in December and the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum also will reopen with capacity gradually increasing.

A series of 15 Mesa Arts Center shows presented outdoors in the Mesa Amphitheatre also will start in January.

“The real goal is to bring wonderful entertainment to the community in a safe outdoor space,’’ said Cindy Ornstein, Mesa’s director of arts and culture and executive director of the Mesa Arts Center.

While layoffs have been required since March, she said her staff has created a new, robust series of digital artistic programs to enrich people’s lives and to help them survive the pandemic emotionally.

These digital offerings include 38 locally produced online classes that have proven popular on the city’s website, Channel 11 and You Tube. Staff members turned closed theatres into temporary recording studios.

Ornstein said someone using the Arts in Service program, designed for veterans, sent a highly gratifying comment: “Thank you for saving my life.’’

“I really do feel it’s been tough, it’s been a challenging time,’’ Ornstein said. “The performing arts community nationally and locally has been one of the hardest hit. It’s totally contrary to COVID protocols’’ to have visitors crammed into a theater.

“I am so proud of what the staff has done, their creativity and their hard work,’’ she added.

With no need for a box office or ushers, the Mesa Arts Center laid off 13 full-time and 37 part-time employees. Some were diverted to the Mesa Cares Program, the city’s sweeping response to the pandemic using more than $90 million in federal aid to provide food, rental and utility assistance and to fight homelessness.

Ornstein said two more full-time staff members and 15 part-time employees at the museums were laid off but that some are being rehired as facilities reopen.

“One of the reasons we went through the layoffs was the reduction in revenue. We also had a big reduction in expenses,’’ Ornstein said, praising the city, corporations and private donors for propping up the arts. “We had to bring our budget into balance and get through this year.’’

The reopenings represent some hope, at long last, although the pandemic will be closely monitored to protect against spreading the virus. Highlights include:

The Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum reopens on Dec. 18 with a maximum space of 20 visitors than will increase gradually, using online timed ticketing.

Classes in arts studios will reopen with 10 workshops on Dec. 1, limited to 4-10 students. The schedule expands to 12 arts in service classes on Jan. 11. Eight online classes continue weekly.

-While the Mesa Arts Center’s theaters will remain closed until further notice, a series of 15 performances will resume at the Mesa Amphitheatre, scheduled from Jan. 19-May 18. The number of tickets sold in advance will start at 750 and expand to 1,500 at a venue with a capacity of 4,950 to enforce social distancing.

When members were allowed to use the museums last week, the capacity of 25 guests at a time worked well, Ornstein said.

“It was extremely comfortable. Everyone felt safe. It was almost like a gallery per family,’’ she said.

To buy tickets in advance for the museums, go to and Links for signups to activities at the Mesa Arts Center will be available at a later date.

Mayor John Giles and City Council members were happy to see the cultural facilities re-open. Giles said the challenge is to open the facilities in the safest manner possible.

“It’s really an inconsistent message that we have to protect the public and at the same time open up some of these services,’’ Giles said.

“I think we will look back in future years and say we came up with some good ideas for inter-acting with the public during COVID-19,” he added. “Physical health is important but mental health is important as well.’’

Councilman Dave Luna suggested that guests receive temperature checks before entering the city cultural facilities.

Councilwoman Jen Duff praised the expanded online offerings, noting that little was available online prior to the pandemic.

“I really like the Mesa Amphitheatre and I’m glad to see more programming,’’ Duff said.

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