When you think of art, you might think of museum paintings, public sculptures, or even performers wearing gold jumpsuits and squawking like birds (yes, I have seen this). What may not come to mind is a fun interactive art installation that anyone, young and old, can enjoy. That’s exactly what I experienced this past weekend at the community art event Spark! After Dark: Collective Kaleidoscope, which took place at the Mesa Arts Center. The vibe was fresh, upbeat, and colorful as I explored optical illusions, image projection, and hands-on art creation.
Spark! After Dark is a free community event that showcases Arizona artists and performers. It encourages visitors to “celebrate the imaginative spark in all of us” (https://mesaartscenter.com/spark). Every third Saturday until June, the Mesa Arts Center will host a new, engaging theme with different artists. It all occurs after dark from 8 PM to 11 PM. Featured artists for Collective Kaleidoscope were Melissa Waddell, Sierra Joy, Matt Dickson, Claire Worden, Sylvia Frost, Bryn Corbett, Tara Sharpe, Ciara Bernal, and Kyllan Maney.
This was my first time attending the event, so I didn’t know what to expect. As I approached the scene, music from a live DJ group (The Ladies of Wax) pulled me in immediately. I took notice of the trippy dance area complete with fog and a little girl spinning a light up rainbow hula hoop (I considered her part of the art since she was dancing there the entire time). Above the dance area was a large canopy with a live projection of everyone grooving or walking by. One lady danced seductively for her husband as he attempted to capture a picture of her with the projection in the background.
Across from the dance party was a live painting setup where guests could watch an artist bring a concept to life or create their own drawing from a live model. I loved the live model and her “dark mistress” persona. Though this area didn’t seem to fit in with the kaleidoscope theme, it was mesmerizing to observe the model and her indifferent gaze into the distance. For visitors who have never attended a drawing class, it was also an opportunity to see how the creative process is different for each individual. Though participants were all staring at the same woman, each drawing of her was unique.
The next engaging installation I visited was the Camera Obscura by Claire Warden. I stepped inside a darkened ice-fishing tent where Warden held up a sheet of wax paper in front of a large camera lens. The camera lens was placed in a small hole in the tent. Outside the tent was a large kaleidoscope pattern painted on a wooden board. People could stand in front of the board to move or pose for those inside the tent.
Light from this wall bounced through the tent lens and the entire scene was projected, upside down, onto the wax sheet. I was seeing art and I was learning. Warden explained how the Camera Obscura was a device used by artists over a thousand years and eventually led to the development of the camera. I spoke with Warden outside the tent and she explained that her inspiration behind the piece was to create something fun, engaging, and educational. Warden teaches art at the New School for the Arts in Tempe, so it made sense that she wanted to provoke curiosity.
Other activities I explored that evening was making my own Zine, creating a kaleidoscope for my phone, adding to a community window mural, playing with the largest kaleidoscope I’ve ever seen, and painting a glass bottle for my new plant friend.
This was my first Spark! event, but it definitely won’t be my last. The excitement I experienced from each artist was contagious, and the neon kaleidoscope colors are still running through my head. There are a few Spark! events left this year, and I encourage you to get yourself down to the Mesa Arts Center before June so you can experience it for yourself. Art doesn’t always come from a museum. It can exist outdoors under the cover of night, ready to ignite the creativity in all of us.