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Flagstaff celebrates the arts in inaugural 10-day festival

A room containing a white fridge, small brown table, and red throw rug with books laying open upon it and several tall glasses. A basketball hoop is installed on the wall and two basketballs lie on the floor. The wall and fridge are covered with pages of writing.
Courtesy of ARTx
Natalie Diaz’s POSTCOLONIAL LOVE POEM is the inspiration for the inaugural “Read the Room” art installation, in which the rooms of an historic Southside home come to embody some of the most provocative poems from the book.

The inaugural ARTx festival is taking place in Flagstaff. It features ten days of free events, from opera performances to interactive installations to puppet shows, with funding from the City of Flagstaff and the Arizona Office of Tourism. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with festival director Julie Sokol about how she sees the arts as a bridge to connect people with big ideas.

Tell me about ARTx. When was this festival first envisioned?  

Sure. About five years ago, we had leadership from major arts and cultural institutions here in Flagstaff that gathered and wanted to align both their efforts and their calendars. They identified the need for this collaborative effort to highlight the impressive and diverse arts and culture community in Flagstaff. And that has become ARTx.

Tell me about some of the events that are happening this year.

“The Rising of the Flower Moon,” which is a piano concrete with a grand piano played by David Koerner as the moon rises in Buffalo Park. They’ll have telescopes set up to view the moon after the concert, and that’s in partnership with PROSE [Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Events], with the city, and Dark Skies Coalition of Flagstaff. There’s also a ton happening on stage at Coconino Center for the Arts. One is “(Un)certainty,” which features an immersive ensemble of robotic percussion instruments and an interactive lighting installation. So you get robot musicians and flashing lights…. The last part I have to say, Friday and Saturday are the last chances to see “Pop Goes the Ferret: A Cowpunk Fantasia.” That is an opera about the indigenous black-footed ferret.

It sounds like the idea here is you put disparate things together, like you put astronomy together with piano music, or you put opera together with wildlife biology. Is that the theory?

Absolutely. ARTx is a convener of arts and ideas, and we match folks with grant funding and opportunities to showcase their work. The best part of my job is getting to pay artists and generate compelling wok that engages directly with our community.

That’s awesome. Do you have a favorite event that you’ve gone to so far?

I think my favorite one is one that has already ended, so you’ll have to view it virtually. It’s called “Read the Room.” That was in partnership with the Northern Arizona Book Festival. They took over a home in Southside and each of the rooms was dedicated or an homage to part of the Postcolonial Love Poem, which is a collection of poems by Natalie Diaz. It was an immersive experience, a beautiful experience, I cried, I laughed, it was amazing. They had a sound installation by iiwaa and a film by Dierdra Peaches. Just a really amazing collaborative experience.

Maybe we just step back and ask a bigger question: why do you see value in having arts in the community? What is art for?

I think a lot of people have this beautiful idea that you can just enjoy art for art’s sake, and that’s certainly a huge piece of it, but what ARTx offers is an opportunity to take that a little bit deeper, where you as the viewer or the participant can enjoy it as it is, from the way it looks or the way it sounds or the way it feels, or you can experience these projects with a little more of a deeper understanding. They all include some other message, whether it’s climate change or mental health or equity. We view ARTx as this opportunity to generate conversations and confront ideas through the arts. It allows the viewer to decide how much they want to engage with a specific project, or if it’s just a beautiful melodic experience.

Julie, thank you so much for joining me today.

Absolutely my pleasure. Thank you.

That was KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny speaking with Julie Sokol, director of the 10 day ARTx festival which concludes this Sunday. You can find a schedule of festival events at

KNAU is an official sponsor of the festival.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.