Maribel Alvarez had some pretty big shoes to fill when she came to Tucson seven years ago to work as a folklorist for the Southwest Center at the UA. The center's former folklorist, Big Jim Griffith, raised the funds needed before he retired to make sure someone could take his place and continue the center's work exploring and celebrating life along the border. Alvarez has been working on a variety of projects, but this year the noticeable change will be the center's expanded collaboration with the annual festival Tucson Meet Yourself Oct. 8 to 10. It's grown, and she's also looking for artists to be part of "Traditions of Home," installations that reflect home life. For more information on the festival and the installations, go to tucsonmeetyourself.org.
Tell me how Tucson Meet Yourself has changed this year.
I just stepped in now as the chair at the same time Mia Hansen came in as the executive director. This is a watershed year after 36 years. Based on the changes that have happened, economically and how that has affected the health of nonprofits, we decided the festival required a bigger vision and a bolder direction, especially after we lost all our city funding. The city provided a subsidy, in-kind help for use of the park, a city electrician, garbage collection, help setting up the booths. We lost the foundation of how it had been done in the past and we were confronted with the choice, do we go smaller or go larger? This time, we decided to express a bigger vision.
How much bigger is it this year?
It is double the footprint of the festivals in the past. We are lucky we are getting support. Also we realized we have a lot of untapped potential. Only ethnic and folk communities and groups sold the food. We charge a very minimal fee to set up, and we didn't realize how much those groups were collecting and investing back into the community. Last year we discovered that together they raised $150,000. We began to rethink this not just as a good-time quaint festival, but also as an engine for greater participation and entrepreneurism. These small groups—migrant refugees from Afghanistan or Africa—setting up these booths helped us realized we had assets that we didn't really completely understand before, which then helped us to get more people involved to give money, and new companies and new sponsors involved, too.
Tell me about "Traditions of Home."
It is the first time we've opened a section of the festival to artists—contemporary artists, independent community entrepreneurs and hobbyists, for example. This will be interpretation of what "home" means. It could be the spaces of the artists' living rooms, or their kitchens, or home decorations. Also how they play on issues of memory, issues of belonging, issues of identity, sense of place. We are inviting artists for the first time to set up these installations; they will also be accompanied with a sobremesa, after-dinner talk, where we will be setting up round tables with table settings and a recorder. People can come and record stories about growing up in Tucson, stories of migration, stories of broken hearts, even things like "my first job." That section will be at three tables and we will collect those stories to use in the future.
How big do you want artists to make the "Traditions of Home" installations?
The space for each one is 10 feet by 10 feet. We will be providing tents, overnight security and assistance setting them up.
The festival used to take place mostly in the Presidio?
It's still there, but we started expanding to the library plaza and now across Congress Street at La Placita. There will be a section there called Tucson Meet Your Soul with soulful music of all sorts. It continues to the TCC and the Leo Rich (Theater) area. That's where "Traditions of Home" and the sobremesa will take place.
Is there anything else different about this year's festival?
We will also have a larger low-rider show. There's discussion of an organized cruising. Usually it is prohibited, but we want to do it as a cultural expression that can be organized and shared. The changes are exciting. With so much bad news everywhere, those who value cultural expression and ordinary beauty are feeling such a sense of struggle and despair and defensiveness. Folks are excited to put their energy into something productive. It's important to resist, but people also want to engage in creative endeavors.