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AZCulture started as a quest to find jazz music here in Arizona.
Upon moving to Ahwatukee from Boston 5 years ago, I found myself missing jazz. Not knowing Arizona, I searched high and low on the internet, looking for a replacement for my Boston jazz hangouts, like the Regatta Bar, Scullers and Les Zygomates (French for the muscles in your face that make you smile - I still love that name!). However, try as I might, I could not find jazz on the internet.
Like so many things in life, I did not truly appreciate the treasures that I took for granted in Boston. Although I never considered myself to be a "cultured" person, I slowly found myself missing things like Broadway shows, art exhibits and live music.
Until I finally met a friend who volunteered at the Phoenix Art Museum. Indirectly, through one of my college fraternity brothers who has been in Arizona for several years, I met someone who was into the "art scene" here in Arizona. He started telling me about different venues for music and the arts. I began to understand that Arizona is very spread out. Unlike Boston, which is a relatively small city, where you can go to one area and visit many different venues, Arizona is less concentrated and more sparse. Everything is 20 minutes away from everything else. As a result, entertainment spots are "destination" spots - meaning that you go to places with very specific things in mind; you are less likely to just "bump" into something that is next door to the place that you are intending on visiting. Yet, the "culture" is there. The challenge is to find it.
On a whim, I decided to build a social networking site on a Friday night. I worked through the night and AZCulture was up and running on Saturday. Coming from a restaurant/nightclub background, I was planning on printing up some flyers and posting them up on coffee shop bulletin boards and seeing if I could find my jazz. By Sunday, I was already getting restless. The site was up, but I haven't been able to print up the flyers yet, so I had no visitors.
I decided to post an ad up on Craigslist. I found a definition of culture that I liked (which encompassed everything about my definition of culture, ranging from food, to diversity, to arts and beyond), divided it up into three parts, and just inserted the link http://www.azculture.com in between the sections.
Within one hour, I got my first response. The response came from Shonte Evonne, who, at the time, had a radio show called "Let's Talk Arizona." She was excited about my definition and quickly joined the site. We exchanged occasional emails until one day, she said, "We'd like to meet up with you." My initial response was, "Why?" (I was only looking for jazz). She responded that she loved the vision of AZCulture and wanted to learn more. My second response was "Who's we?". She responded that she wanted me to meet up with herself and Gabriel Bey, another member on the site.
We (Shonte, Gabe and Warren) met at the Lost Leaf, the Art Gallery that would soon prove to be our defacto operations center. We ordered wine and began sharing our individual but ever-so-closely aligned vision for arts and culture here in Arizona. The story is classic starving artists meet seasoned businessman. What I mean is that Shonte and I were the heartfelt advocates of the arts, and while we were very aware of the massive veins of talent here, we didn't know what it took to make visitors and new residents alike to realize that there is plenty of arts and culture here and squelch the myth that is repeated like a GAU-2 Gatling Gun, "There is nothing to do here." Conversely, Warren was a practiced and seasoned businessman who understood that we would have to monetize the activities we would engage in so that we could sustain our efforts to"elevate awareness of arts and culture." Warren was also very conscious of esoteric laws of manifestation (as was I) and stated, "if we are sincere about helping artists, the good deeds that we initiated would come back to us in positive ways."
We all came to the table with the ability to put serious skin in the game. I had a management firm (Moorish Manor Management) that was designed to promote and elevate artists. Shonte, a radio personality, had a program called "Let's Talk Arizona," a talk show that interviewed local business owners and community advocates with a broad brush of critical and valuable topics. Shonte and I were passionate individuals and willing to fight for our cause, but we were like the greatest of salespeople who could work miracles with any product, but lacked the ability to close the deal. The only way to make our efforts viable (no matter how passionate) was with Warren as our closer.
Strengthened as a trinity of faith, we formed a pact. An old fashion agreement that was more like a hand-shake of the days of old, to work collectively under the umbrella of AzCulture.
We were all in, and it was the perfect time to push arts and culture. There were reports and studies that noted that the economic engine had sugar in the tank and needed re-building. The short of it was simple. Arizona is a perfect site for corporation relocation and new industry development. Great incentives, strong and well educated workforce, leadership qualities pointing to educational data of Arizona college grads, wonderful sites and open spaces geographically located with multiple transportation channels, and a great climate. Who wouldn't want to be here, save we lacked one critical component. Quality of Life! "What will my employees do when they get off of work?" While there is a vibrant underground of arts and culture, it would appear to the uninformed that there is an absence of an integral cultural community that major metropolis' and world corporations are accustomed to. It was Warren's story given legitimacy: the Gatling Gun being fired and clearing the field of potential venues. Where do you go to hear music, sip on coffee, have a cocktail, or just relax with friends to do a little people watching?
The good news is that government and private sector leaders are listening (and taking action). Many committees and organizations are building a more sustainable environment. Artist friendly policies and expansion of community events are surfacing and it is a good time to be an artist. Its also a good time to be an arts appreciator, because suddenly, there's lots of things to do.
AZCulture began with Third Thursdays. A collaboration of Let's Talk Arizona, Moorish Manor, the Lost Leaf, and AZCulture; bringing musicians to a venue filled with rotating art shows, for a live radio broadcast complete with interviews of the artists and the attendees. Wow! Did we have fun. Everyone who attended, appreciated, and wanted to be heard or seen, came to the Lost Leaf for Third Thursdays; and the AZCulture membership began to take traction. With the success of Third Thursdays, we then held "Meet the Artists" events that was housed at a member's home. You only had to know what was happening on AZCulture and you knew what was going on and where to go.
Suddenly, we were having fun! Suddenly we were enjoying the arts and culture. Suddenly our dreams of a more visible and viable culture was manifesting. We realized that we needed to become more focused, because we could do more for the arts. We could do more for our members, and we could make a difference. We could help change the cultural fabric and the image that had the great migratory move to Arizona find reason to settle. Silence the gun, erase the questions, and cultivate the new Arizona. It only takes one thing. Join the Movement!
Three years later and we have much to be thankful for. Event Planning and Promotions; Featured Artists, Musicians, and Venues; Writers covering events for our eMagazine, "AZine;" a Web Development Team; a wealth of friends and resources for the expansion of arts and culture throughout all of Arizona; and a vision to participate and support the arts on a national level and ultimately internationally. Its a large plate, but we believed that we could sustain the movement and the growth. We are truly blessed to be a part of the movement to elevate arts, define culture, and to be supported by so many. We thank each of you. Artists and Appreciators.
If we have learned nothing, we know the importance of people engaging with people to make a difference in our communities and the world. Without friends and people with like desires and objectives we could not accomplish anything. We are working with people we "like" and employing them with every opportunity we receive, keeping arts and culture at the very core of our efforts and our vision. Members have benefits. Self promotion, a growing support from the community, a platform for melding with the other members and collaborating for a greater good.
I know that it all sounds airy, spacey, even spiritual, but what is art if it does not move the spirit, touch the soul, and lead the heart and mind to ponder life. What is culture if it does not reflect the lives of the inhabitants and leave a plethora of material for historians to catalog concerning our life and times. Be a part of AZCulture and help us define who we are. The doors are open and the path is waiting to be defined. Join AZCulture. Join the Community. Join the Movement!