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State-of-the-art facilities highlight new upgrades to ASU campuses

December 21, 2022

MIX Center in downtown Mesa and Mullett Arena in Tempe show growing ASU landscapes

Arizona State University completed more than 120 projects totaling more than $40 million during the summer and fall 2022 semesters.

Facilities Development and Management and its collaborators upgraded all ASU campuses and concluded work on two cutting-edge facilities. A new educational centerpiece in downtown Mesa, a mid-size arena for athletics and several Tempe campus additions highlight the new development.

“These projects showcase our investment in students, faculty, staff and Valley communities to provide welcoming environments for all to use,” said Alex Kohnen, Facilities Development and Management vice president. “The new facilities will support the ASU community for many years to come and contribute to the growth and success of their surrounding areas.”

Learn more about the recently completed construction projects:

Media and Immersive eXperience Center

Outside of ASU MIX Center building featuring a large screen

The outside of the MIX Center features a bright 100-foot screen. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

A joint project between ASU and the city of Mesa, the MIX Center enhances innovation infrastructure with greater access to higher-education programs for local residents and increased activity in downtown Mesa. 

The nearly 118,000-square-foot building provides large program areas, including:

  • 280-seat screening theater.
  • 80-seat screening room.
  • Four sound stages.
  • Enhanced immersion studio.

The building also contains high-tech sound-recording studios, control rooms, display areas, editing rooms, classrooms and office-support spaces. A 100-foot-wide high-resolution display on the building’s exterior faces the plaza with an event lawn for film screenings, sporting events and other community outings.

Located next to the MIX Center, the Studios at Mesa City Center are open to the public and provide support spaces for residents with entrepreneurial or business ideas.

The MIX Center houses academic units from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, including The Sidney Poitier New American Film School. It also includes top-ranked digital media technology, worldbuilding, experience design and gaming programs from The Design School and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, as well as from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the College of Global Futures.

Mullett Arena

ASU hockey jerseys hang on glass wall at arena

Mullett Arena will be the home of ASU hockey and wrestling, the women’s gymnastics team and the temporary home of the Arizona Coyotes. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Officially named in August and opened to the public in October, Mullett Arena is the new home for ASU hockey, wrestling and various community and entertainment events. The arena can accommodate concerts, lectures and large-scale meetings throughout the year.

Located in the center of the Novus Innovation Corridor, the 5,000-seat, state-of-the-art arena includes:

  • 8,000 square feet for ASU’s locker room, weight room, players’ lounge and coaches’ offices.
  • 20 luxury suites.
  • Two ice sheets.
  • Club lounge.
  • Premium club seats.

“This arena will be an attractor as we bring together the university and our knowledge assets with the private sector,” said Morgan R. Olsen, ASU executive vice president, treasurer and chief financial officer.

The attached Mountain America Community Iceplex is accessible to students and serves the community with a practice and competition location for regional youth and adult hockey clubs.

Mullett Arena will host Arizona Coyotes home games for the 2022, 2023 and 2024 NHL seasons while the team develops its proposed new arena and entertainment district.

The construction of a two-story, approximately 15,000-square-foot annex adjacent to the arena accommodates NHL-quality home and away teams with:

  • Dressing rooms.
  • Fitness rooms.
  • Nutrition stations.
  • Training areas.

Demolition work

Recent demolitions on the west side of the Tempe campus pave the way for new academic and parking space development.

The demolition of Wilson Hall, constructed as a residence hall in 1956 along Orange Mall, will allow for a new five-story facility housing classroom, collaboration, instructional and office spaces to support academic programs’ growth and student success. The new building is the first section of a new academic district in the heart of campus, adding 19 state-of-the-art classrooms.

The Tempe Center and Tempe Center Annex buildings, acquired by the university in 1983, were demolished this summer. New developments in the area will include a parking structure, a future academic building with retail on Mill Avenue and a residence hall. The Mill Avenue Parking Structure, scheduled to be completed next summer, will add 1,205 parking spaces on six levels for the new Omni Tempe Hotel at ASU and the surrounding area.

Additional capital projects

The Engineering Center G Wing’s south exterior stairs were renovated, including an updated concrete infrastructure. Workers also installed new handrails and guardrails to meet current safety codes while matching the original handrail’s look.

On the Downtown Phoenix campus, workers installed 98 efficient water-source heat pumps in Health South.

In addition to many capital projects, Facilities Management completed numerous infrastructure projects — electrical, paint and maintenance — across all ASU campuses.

These projects are only part of existing ASU capital projects currently in planning, design or construction phases, including:

Learn more about ASU’s past, present and future construction projects and follow Facilities Development and Management on Twitter at ASUfacilities.

Top photo: The MIX Center in downtown Mesa contains high-tech sound-recording studios, control rooms, display areas, editing rooms, classrooms and office-support spaces. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Communications program coordinator , Facilities Development and Management

480-727-5833

 
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November 22, 2022

2023 Emerge festival focused on future of food

What will we be eating in the year 2075? Which of our favorite foods will be off the table? And what can be done to replace concerns about scarcity with the security of emerging resources and solutions?  

These questions and more were explored at Arizona State University’s Emerge 2022: Eating at the Edges — A Festival of Food Futures held Nov. 19 at ASU at Mesa City Center and the Mesa Arts Center. 

Live music served as a backdrop for research exhibits, art and interactive activities designed to give the public food for thought.  

“The vision for Emerge has been to provide the public with imaginative ways to engage with the future and tools to better equip them for thinking about what futures they would like to see come into being,” said Assistant Professor Christy Spackman, director of Emerge 2022. 

The ASU food scholar said this year’s focus on food was fitting.  

“Given the current conversations about climate change, weather and security,” Spackman said, “it is the right time to talk about food.” 

The free, daylong festival was presented by ASU in partnership with the Mesa Arts Center and Leonardo: The International Society for Arts, Sciences and Technology, and showcased many interdisciplinary projects. In total, there were 36 exhibits on display, and the event attracted nearly 1,000 attendees.

The event offered a variety of experiences, including many that engaged the senses, such as: “Something in the Air,” a walk through the festival where participants took in the surrounding smells; “Tasting History: Frybread, Culture and National Identity” and a show called “Improv Comedy and Food Futures.”

“There is a new world emerging,” said Diana Ayton-Shenker, executive director of Leonardo, “and the festival is a taste of how we might experience that.”  

Restaurants, recycled water part of research lineup 

Beyond the fun of the festival there were also research projects on display.  

At Cafe 2057, in a room with a futuristic dome, visitors explored ideas about restaurant menus and how foods may be secured, served and paid for in 35 years. 

The research was led by Chris Wharton, associate professor of nutrition in the College of Health Solutions, with support from the ASU-Starbucks Center for the Future of People and the Planet.  

Miriam Wheeler, an attendee who participated in Wharton’s display, exited the cafe with “a range of emotions.” 

“It is a good thought experiment,” she said. “In some ways, it was scary to think about the loss of foods that have come to be so comforting and the idea of everything being automated. 

“But I am hopeful because we are talking about it.”     

“The Future Taste of Water: What Will Our Water Taste Like in the Future?” exhibit gave attendees the opportunity to truly test the waters.

The interactive booth began with Joe B. Austin, an undergraduate student at the ASU School of Arts, Media and Engineering, prompting people to explore their thoughts about reclaimed (sewage) wastewater for cleaning, bathing and, last of all — drinking.  

Attendees had the opportunity to taste reclaimed water alongside several other sourced water samples, and some said they tasted no discernable difference. One observer even liked the reclaimed water but admitted, “I wish they hadn’t told me what it was.”

“CYFEST-14: Ferment” showcased the works of 13 exiled Russian artists and engineers in a thematic media arts exhibition on hybrid fermented environments.  

“We are looking at the fermentation process through the dual lenses of arts and sciences,” said Natalia Kolodzei, curator of the CYLAND Media Art Lab, which co-presented the exhibition. 

In one piece titled “BPM — Blobs Per Minute,” beer bubbled up in a fermentation system that connected to a drum set, generating sound in the snare, cymbal and bass drum, in the lobby of ASU’S Media and Immersive eXperience (MIX) Center.

Just outside of the MIX Center, attendees learned to grow edible food in “Humanities Lab: Food Justice for the Youth by the Youth” display.

A nearby booth called “Indoor Farming” featured romaine, bok choy, basil and more growing in a vertical garden with multi-colored LED lights regulating the plants’ shape, architecture, flavor and nutrition. The researcher, Yujin Park, assistant professor in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, demonstrated how vertical farming can save 90% of the water used in conventional farming and yield 10 times the crop.  

“I think this is the future of Arizona’s food security,” festival-goer Ed Ranger said. “It should be the No. 1 one priority for the state of Arizona.” 

Reporter , ASU News

 
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ASU, Mesa celebrate new MIX Center as highlight of partnership

New downtown MIX Center celebrated as highlight of ASU-Mesa partnership.
October 30, 2022

Community welcomed to experience high-tech digital facility during grand opening event

Arizona State University’s new Media and Immersive eXperience Center in downtown Mesa was celebrated Friday as a shining example of the partnership between the university and the city.

Mesa Mayor John Giles described how shortly after he became mayor, about eight years ago, he first met with Arizona State University President Michael Crow. He wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I can’t tell you how thrilled I was that this is an individual and this is an institution that has the same agenda that I do, and that is to serve Mesa and to see Mesa succeed,” Giles said at the ribbon-cutting event Friday evening that was part of a weekend-long grand opening.

Giles listened to Crow’s plans for a new high-technology ASU center that would draw energetic young people and creative faculty to help revitalize downtown.

“Creating a new civic center for our city was a big vision,” Giles told the crowd.

“But what the heck. Here it is.”

Crow said the new ASU @ Mesa City Center complex exists because the people and leadership of Mesa believe in ASU.

“We are here because the people of Mesa and the leadership of the city of Mesa believe in the future of new things, new technologies, new trajectories. They believe in the future of young people,” he said, noting that Mesa is also home of the university's Polytechnic campus.

The MIX Center, capable of producing anything from blockbuster superhero movies to virtual reality video games, is the largest part of Mesa City Center complex, which also includes an outdoor plaza space with a 100-foot movie screen and The Studios, a midcentury building that houses programming and services offered by the J. Orrin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute.

Giles was especially moved by The Studios, which are in the renovated former Mesa Library, where he spent many summer days as a child.

“The Studios will be bursting with entrepreneurs planning their next great adventure,” he said.

“Over the short term and the long term, we’ll see this plaza full of families at community events or watching a movie.

“I can’t wait to be back here celebrating the first application of cutting-edge technology developed in this amazing MIX Center or the sure-to-happen first Academy Award winner that will get their start in the best film school on the planet.”

The MIX Center, which opened to students at the beginning of the fall semester, houses The Sidney Poitier New American Film School's production and post-production programs, plus classes in digital media technology, worldbuilding, experience design and gaming from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

A clip from the Apple documentary “Sidney” was shown at ceremony. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, founding director of The Sidney Poitier New American Film School, noted that over his life, the iconic actor and director talked about the importance of giving everyone an opportunity to tell their stories in film.

“The storytelling of humankind has been around forever, and now we are at a place where technology can help our storytellers excel,” she said.

“The MIX Center is going to allow our students to work with this new technology in a way that’s never been done before to bring their stories to life. We want our students to travel along the road that a story takes, from its inception all the way through to the audiences.”

The MIX Center is meant to be used by everyone in the Mesa community, according to Jake Pinholster, founding director of the MIX Center and executive dean in Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. He described it as “a technologically advanced living room.”

“We have built it to be a space for public discourse, entertainment and cultural amenity, and as a space for education and advancement,” he said.

“It is my profound hope that all members of the Mesa community will see this as their space and that the students at the MIX Center will see themselves as core members of that community.”

The opening celebration continued on Saturday at an all-day “housewarming party” for the community, which featured demonstrations of the technology in the MIX Center, panel discussions, trick-or-treating, games, food trucks, musical performances and a screening of the Pixar movie “Coco” on the giant outdoor screen.

Crow said that ASU @ Mesa City Center is a response to a rapidly changing economy.

“This facility, this design, this technology, these programs, these activities are the best of the best of the best that exist on the planet, sitting right here in downtown Mesa.

“Anything that can be thought about in digital creativity can be done in this building.”

Crow said that the new complex is an example of how Arizona is on an upward trajectory.

“We’re building a new economy — an economy that’s built on creativity,” he said.

“Our hope for this project is that we will have industries clustering in Mesa, have creative enterprises clustering in Mesa and have more educational opportunities in Mesa.”

Top image: The new Media and Immersive eXperience Center in downtown Mesa includes a high-definition, 100-foot outdoor screen. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News

480-727-4503

 
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ASU's MIX Center in downtown Mesa opens doors to film students

August 25, 2022

The building, which is part of ASU at Mesa City Center, houses state-of-the-art media production facilities

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2022 year in review.

The new Media and Immersive eXperience Center in downtown Mesa — which opened its doors to students this month as the fall semester began — will put Arizona State University in the top tier of academic filmmaking and media production facilities.

The cutting-edge building, called the MIX Center, is capable of producing anything from blockbuster superhero movies to VR videogames — and teaching students the skills they need to succeed in a digital economy.

The MIX Center is part of ASU at Mesa City Center, which also includes an outdoor plaza space with a 100-foot movie screen and The Studios. The Studios at Mesa City Center is a repurposed mid-century building that houses programming and support services for local community entrepreneurs, facilitated by the J. Orrin Edson Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute.

The MIX Center hosts hundreds of students who will be making films, designing virtual worlds and creating immersive media experiences. It houses The Sidney Poitier New American Film School's production and post-production programs, plus classes in digital media technology, worldbuilding, experience design and gaming from The Design School and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering (both, like the Poitier Film School, part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts), as well as from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the College of Global Futures.

ASU President Michael Crow said of the building: “There’s nothing that can be imagined that you can’t do here.

“What it means for students is that they will have the foundation to get deeply involved in new industries, in manufacturing, in entertainment, in digital expression. They’ll have every tool imaginable for the digital economy.”

The project is a partnership between ASU and the city of Mesa. The city invested $63.5 million toward the project and managed the design and construction of the building while ASU contributed $33.5 million, which included interior work and high-end equipment. ASU also will pay all operations and maintenance costs for the MIX Center; costs will be shared with the city of Mesa for The Studios.

Mesa Mayor John Giles said that the complex is important to educational attainment in the city.

“Mesa needs to be a college town, and that’s happening,” he said. “Downtown Mesa is a very special place. It has a lot of character and a lot of resources. What we need is a few more people, and with this facility now open, it will be fun to see more activity.”

The Studios and many of the spaces in the MIX Center are fully open to the community, including the fabrication studio.

Crow said that ASU’s presence will help downtown Mesa evolve.

“The downtowns that are most successful are those that have a broad orientation but also have some type of intense creativity going on, and this is a huge catalyst for that,” he said.

Three men touring a studio room

Clockwise from left: city of Mesa Mayor John Giles, city of Mesa Manager Chris Brady and ASU President Michael Crow check out a sound studio during a tour of the MIX Center in downtown Mesa on Aug. 16. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Top of the line

Here are some of the cool things in the MIX Center:

High-tech sound stages: The building has three sound stages with a total of more than 8,000 square feet of Hollywood-level space. Two smaller stages are designed for teaching, and the largest one is built up to full, professional cinematic quality.

“If you came off a Marvel lot in Atlanta and you came here, you wouldn’t find anything missing – the rigging, the power distribution, the acoustic insulation — everything is up to top-of-the-line standards,” said Jake Pinholster, founding director of the MIX Center and executive dean in the Herberger Institute.

“It’s one of the best — if not the best — academic sound stages in the country.”

Two screening rooms: The two rooms, one with 261 seats and one with 76 seats, off the lobby have Dolby Atmos sound and will be used for lectures and post-production work on films as well as public screenings.

“Not only is it the best sound of any movie theater you’ve ever been in, it’s the level of sound where if you finish a movie in here, you get the Dolby Atmos stamp on it at the end,” Pinholster said.

Because there is no movie theater directly in downtown Mesa, the MIX Center will offer public screenings of family, classic and indie films, likely starting late in 2022.

Enhanced immersion studio: This three-story “black box” showcase space is for anything that is not entirely media-based, such as live performances and interactive installations. The studio hosted the MIX Center’s first public performance, “The Most Beautiful Home … Maybe,” an interactive theater experience, earlier this month.

Pinholster said the space is already in high demand.

“There’s a very full schedule for the whole year of different types of installations, other theatrical experiences, escape rooms, virtual reality experiences, 360-degree projections and sound installations.

“This room can do anything at the intersection of the digital and the physical.”

Fabrication lab: A digital fabrication lab, one of the spaces open to the community, can create smaller-scale items with laser cutters, desktop millers and vinyl cutters, as well as several 3D printers.

A production shop down the hall has a computer-controlled plasma cutter, plus a machine that uses a high-pressure jet of water mixed with grit that can precisely cut through metal that’s up to half an inch thick. That space can manufacture larger pieces for theater and film scenes, as well as large-scale public art pieces.

Recording studio: The recording studio has three control rooms, one of which is large enough for teaching 30 students.

The space is large enough for several musicians to record audio, and the studio is set up to teach surround and spatialized audio.

“This room can dynamically switch between Dolby Atmos, for surround sound for cinematic release, and a third-order ambisonic space, which is fully immersive audio, which allows audio to sound not just like it’s coming from anywhere on the perimeter, but actually can be attached to virtual objects in the air and sound like it’s coming right beside your ear,” he said.

“We’re excited to be able to offer that to our students and we’re one of the only places in the country where that’s going to become a regular part of the undergraduate teaching curriculum.”

Foley stage: This part of recording studio, one of the only Foley stages in Arizona, will be used for the process of replacing sound that can’t be captured on location.

The stage is a platform that will contain several different surfaces, including concrete, sand, wood and gravel, to record footsteps and other sounds that are then inserted into a film during post-production.

A Dreamscape Learn classroom: Dreamscape Learn is a multi-user virtual-reality educational platform. The Tempe campus includes two Dreamscape Learn pods plus desktop space. The MIX Center will be the most advanced Dreamscape Learn site, holding 32 learners. The space will be used not only by students and researchers to develop content, but also for the public.

Flexible lobby: The entryway includes space for a café and a multi-purpose exhibition space, plus a community room for local groups to use for classes, workshops, meetings, receptions and exhibitions.

A 32-foot screen in the lobby is responsive to visitors via sensors in the ceiling and will be used for interactive displays.

“The entire building will be a creative space for students,” Pinholster said.

“I’m going to teach a class every semester that is focused on using the building as a canvas, so students will get to do installation work in the lobby, on the big screens, on the gallery walls upstairs,” he said.

Future proofing

Much of the building is designed for optimal student access. There are 12 editing bays available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“It’s an inclusion issue. A lot of students can’t afford to have their own gear, so having this available 24/7 is really important,” Pinholster said.

Likewise, students can check out equipment in order to shoot on location. The check-out desk is near the loading dock, so students can just pull up, get the gear and load their cars.

“The Poitier School provides them with very high-end professional gear that’s available on a 12-hour-day basis,” he said. “We’re very conscious of giving our students access to everything we can that will give them an industry-standard education.”

Designing the MIX Center was a years-long process, Pinholster said. The team visited nine professional and academic production facilities around the world, including the University of Southern California, the YouTube studios and the Dolby headquarters.

“We tried to see how much of that we could get into this building and, in addition, tried to figure out how to future-proof it that so we have the ability to adapt to things we don’t expect.”

And how does the MIX Center compare to the facilities they visited?

“In the ‘best of’ category,” he said.

“There are places that have stand-out spaces, but in terms of functionality, we’re up there among the best, if not the best.”

Steven Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute, said the space has the best of today’s technology and is designed to adapt to what’s next.

“You know how special it is just watching people’s faces when they walk in to the MIX — students, community members, faculty, industry professionals. People’s eyes get wide and their jaws drop,” he said.

“Many have told me they only wish they could go back to school and learn in this facility.” 

The MIX Center is open to all Herberger Institute students, although with 750 students, the Poitier School will have the largest presence.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, founding director of The Sidney Poitier New American Film School and a professor of practice, has decades of experience in the film industry.

“The Sidney Poitier New American Film School recognizes and values creativity, and we are putting together the most inclusive, most affordable and most impactful film program for the next generation of cinematic storytellers,” she said.

“The students, faculty and staff are energized and excited about this new space that will allow us to educate and advise students in the practices of contemporary filmmaking and emerging medias.”

Exterior of MIX Center building in downtown Mesa

The MIX Center in downtown Mesa hosts hundreds of students who will be making films, designing virtual worlds and creating immersive media experiences. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Support for entrepreneurs

The Studios is housed on the ground floor of a building that used to be the Mesa Public Library, and then later was used as a data center by the city. The renovation by Mesa in support of ASU’s entrepreneurship programs created an open floor plan and salvaged several parts of the mid-century design. A former patio with a terrazzo spiral staircase has been enclosed with glass walls to create a bright, airy gathering space.

A few segments of the concrete “waves” that had been on the roof were repurposed into a public art installation outside the north side of the building.

Nyasha Stone Sheppard, community manager for The Studios at Mesa City Center, said the space will help develop entrepreneurs, innovators and small businesses at any stage.

“We’re welcoming the community into the space to meet with staff and other entrepreneurial support organizations to develop their ventures,” she said.

The space includes a conference room, a community room, high-top tables for teamwork and alcoves for individual work. Several computer workstations will be added.

The Studios is one of six place-based innovation spaces in the Edson Institute. Like all of the spaces, The Studios will offer services and programming based on what the community needs, Stone Sheppard said.

“We’ll have some programs in the evenings because that’s one thing we hear from our community – ‘There are all of these great workshops in the middle of the workday but I need something in the evening,'” she said.

The building prompted a bit of nostalgia in Giles.

“When I was a kid, this was the beautiful Mesa library, and I have fond memories of spending my summer here and downtown,” he said.

“Architecturally, it’s a beautiful building, and we’re so glad it’s back in the public realm.”

Exterior of The Studios building in downtown Mesa

The Studios, which is part of ASU at Mesa City Center, is housed on the ground floor of a building that used to be the Mesa Public Library. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Putting Mesa on the map

The outdoor spaces at ASU at Mesa City Center are cool, too. A 100-foot-long screen hangs on the front of the MIX Center and will show movies to people who can sit in the adjacent park.

Even the “back lot” between the MIX Center and The Studios is nice.

“In a normal film production facility, this would be a space for trucks, but we wanted to be a little more lovely than that,” Pinholster said. ASU added hardscaping, seating, shade trees and festoon lights, plus power and plumbing connections for food trucks so it’s a hangout and event space.

Giles said that the Poitier School is poised to become a premier destination for those looking to work in the film industry.

“Mesa, Arizona, will be on the map when it comes to filmmaking and educating filmmakers thanks to ASU. There are future Oscar winners that will come out of this building.”

Top photo: Assistant Professor Philip Klucsarits gives his Cinematography I students a short tour of the 280-seat screening auditorium with its state-of-the-art video editing and audio editing stations on Aug. 23 at the new Media and Immersive eXperience Center at the Mesa City Center. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News

480-727-4503

 
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Interactive theater production addresses the housing crisis

1st production at ASU's new MIX Center in Mesa tackles the housing crisis.
“The Most Beautiful Home … Maybe” runs Aug. 11–14 at MIX Center.
August 5, 2022

1st play performed at ASU's new MIX Center in Mesa to engage audience in conversation about solutions

Millions of Americans are facing the threat of being displaced from the homes they rent.

Research by Arizona State University found that in Maricopa County, where more than a third of residents are renters, a combination of factors including a lack of affordable housing and low wages is creating housing insecurity.

So how can a crisis as big and scary as housing insecurity make for an entertaining theater performance?

Mark Valdez and Ashley Sparks created “The Most Beautiful Home … Maybe” out of compassion and a lot of conversation. The interactive theater performance will run Aug. 11–14 at ASU’s new Media and Immersive eXperience (MIX) Center in Mesa.

The show, which combines music, comedy and interactions with the audience, addresses different aspects of the housing problem, including solutions, said Valdez.

“Our own collective viewpoint is that we need to ignite civic imagination,” Mark said.

“How can we create space to start imagining beautiful futures and solutions to what that looks like?”

Valdez and Sparks, who are known as Mark-n-Sparks, are co-directing the play and have been involved in community-based art-making for years.

Sparks, who has long been connected to housing advocates, saw the conversation begin to shift during the pandemic.

“Things started to become possible that we would not have imagined before the pandemic,” she said.

“If you had said that there would be a national eviction moratorium for a period of time, most renters would say that what would never happen. What we’ve seen in the midst of a public health crisis is the opportunity to do something different and try solutions for how to keep people housed and safe for as long as possible.”

Now, with rent increases and a chaotic real estate market, the situation is even more urgent.

Valdez and Sparks held workshop conversations with housing advocates, activists and people experiencing housing insecurity.

“That process of conversation and workshops all started to weave into the components of the art itself,” Sparks said.

“For us, the engagement process is not different from the art-making. They are inextricably connected.”

Early on, the team asked housing experts to read parts of the script and weigh in on it. And it was important for the people involved in the issue to have space to speak freely.

“One of the challenges is saying something out loud,” Valdez said.

“Advocates don’t say, ‘We want a home guarantee,’ because they’ll be laughed out of the room. Now they’re reading a script that says, ‘Let’s have a home guarantee,’ and there are conversations about that because now it’s safe to say it.”

Then they had to balance realism with entertainment. Some of the housing experts they worked with told them, “This sounds like a conversation that we would have.”

“If these are familiar conversations, do you really want to see a play that’s what you’d do in a normal day?” Valdez said.

Sparks said: “As the piece evolved, it became less familiar and more of a space of imagination and surprise.”

The show’s media design is by Jake Pinholster, founding director of the MIX Center and associate professor of media design in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU.

Pinholster said the show is a perfect debut for the MIX Center in Mesa.

“It is really well-suited for here because housing is in a bit of a crisis everywhere but especially in Mesa right now,” he said.

“It’s a live topic, particularly when it comes affordability in downtown Mesa, which is rapidly gentrifying and becoming more expensive. There are communities and neighborhoods that have been here for generations.

“So it’s important for us to use the arts to create a dialogue,” added Pinholster, who is the producer-presenter for the Mesa show.

The show includes a 30-minute section where the audience is playing a game to design the future of their community with housing.

Valdez and Sparks taught a graduate-level course in community-engaged art-making at ASU in the spring. While they were here, they met with several experts familiar with the housing situation in Mesa, including leaders from nonprofits, the City Council, city staff and activists.

“As part of the show itself, one of the things we did is include stories specific to Mesa that are woven into the piece, and two are success stories based on conversations we had there,” Sparks said.

Pinholster said multiple facets of the production were revised to be specific to Mesa.

“In the other cities, we had one part played by an older African American actor because in many of the communities we’re talking about, the dynamics were really about African American populations,” he said. “Here, we recast it into a Latino role. And we rewrote a lot of the script to be Spanish and Spanglish, particularly for his character.

“We’re really trying to make it accessible to the Latino community particularly.”

What should audience members expect?

“Expect to participate and talk to strangers and to have fun and be moved. It can sound scary, but it’s actually very gentle,” Valdez said.

Said Sparks, “You’ll be cared for. It’s consensual. We don’t force you to participate. There is a level of encouragement to the invitation. One thing that’s important to both of us is the spirit of hospitality.”

The team from “The Most Beautiful Home … Maybe” arrived in Mesa last week to begin work on the performance, even as the MIX Center was still getting its finishing touches.

“Every show has a million moving pieces and we’re definitely finding that, ‘Oh, this is the thing we forgot to buy, this little widget,’” Pinholster said.

“Every theater takes advantage of the fact that it has decades of accumulated stuff that’s useful, but we’re starting from scratch.”

Find showtimes and ticket information at beta.purplepass.com/organizer/52992.

Top image: Karla Mosley stars in “The Most Beautiful Home … Maybe," playing at the new Media and Immersive eXperience (MIX) Center in Mesa on Aug. 11–14. Photo by Rich Rayn/Courtesy of Mark-n-Sparks

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News

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