Art Out Loud: Mesa Arts Center Lives, Breathes and Grows in All Forms

By Zenobia Mertel, Contributing Writer

A world-class cultural haven is living its mission out loud, showcasing an intersection of arts and community in the heart of downtown Mesa. Situated on a 7-acre campus, Mesa Arts Center welcomes more than 450,000 guests a year as the largest comprehensive arts campus in the Southwest. 

Yet there’s more. The Center’s focus on making art accessible, diverse and relevant is where the magic begins.  

Pivoting since pre-pandemic times, Mesa Arts Center’s programming is robust and ever-changing, growing with the community for the past 16 years. Owned and operated by the City of Mesa, the award-winning facility is a piece of art itself, comprised of four theaters, five art galleries and 14 art studios. But what happens within the walls of the architectural oasis by day/beacon by night is just one facet of this community jewel.

From live theater to educational programs, Mesa Arts Center provides an all-encompassing approach to the arts. “Art is a unique and incredible tool for building healthy communities,” said Cindy Ornstein, executive director of Mesa Arts Center and director of City of Mesa Arts and Culture. “We believe art doesn’t just belong within four walls; we want to be present out in the community, as we make it a point of serving populations that benefit from involvement.” 

Dynamic and evolving, Mesa Arts Center prides itself on its array of offerings on and off-campus. Programs include:

PERFORMING LIVE: Touring engagements/Broadway shows, musical performances, dance and speakers series such as National Geographic and family entertainment. Live performances are currently in full swing and sell out quickly. The Ikeda Theater recently welcomed jazz great Wynton Marsalis, while Emmy and TONY Award-winning Kristin Chenoweth headlines the Center’s signature fundraiser in early March.

MESA CONTEMPORARY ARTS MUSEUM: The modern, mindfully designed museum includes 5,500 square feet of exhibit and gallery space showcasing contemporary art by emerging and internationally recognized artists. In an effort to remove barriers to contemporary art, the museum is free to guests. 

ART STUDIOS: Classes for youth and adults include photography, painting, theater, printmaking, glassblowing and more. 

ENGAGEMENT: The vast range of workshops, in-school and mobile programming offered underscores the Center’s commitment to serving all populations. You may catch a glimpse of MABEL (mobile art-based engagement lab) on the streets of metro Phoenix as the custom, art-on-wheels trailer makes its way to community spaces, providing free art-related activities to the public. 

Mesa Arts Center recognizes the importance of providing outlets for the aging population as well as caregivers. Virtual classes on creative aging benefit those with age-related diseases, creating connection and purpose. Meanwhile, Project Lit for young and emerging adults features classes focusing on poetry, hip hop and emotional learning to promote literacy.

Organizations in the Valley and beyond recognize the valuable outreach work of the Center. In January, The Boeing Company granted $75,000 to Mesa Arts Center supporting its Arts In Service program benefiting veterans, service members and their spouses. Through studio arts experiences, veterans can find support working toward wellness and through feelings of fear and isolation. 

EVENTS: Rounding out the Center’s programming, myriad events take place throughout the Center’s outdoor spaces during spring and fall. Free lunchtime concert series bring the community together among outdoor gardens, sunken courtyards and meandering paths.

Consistent with the forward-thinking spirit of Mesa Arts Center is the highly anticipated presence of Arizona State University, a half-block away. Currently under construction and slated to open this year is this new collaborative space for ASU students, featuring the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts academic programs. The high-tech, entrepreneurial and collaborative-focused educational space will add a new dimension to this dynamic gem in the Southeast Valley.

To learn more about Mesa Arts Center and its offerings, go to 


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