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Meet Jennifer Gastelum of Mesa Arts Center Creative Catalysts in Downtown Mesa

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Gastelum.

Jennifer, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was born and raised in Mesa, and after some moving around to California, back to AZ, to Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Tempe, I came back to Mesa. I earned my Master’s in Community Counseling and was pursuing that field when my personal life took a turn and I decided to take a job at Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation in Downtown Mesa. In that job, I was empowered by my boss to explore the use of art as an economic and community development tool that included providing training and grant opportunities to local artists in “Creative Placemaking” which eventually caught the eye of the ED of the Mesa Arts Center who asked me to be the coordinator on a new program that they received grant funding from the Flinn Foundation, Creative Catalysts. Long story short, I took the gig and after a few years of running the program I was brought on as staff at the Mesa Arts Center and now serve as the Community Engagement Specialist. My job now includes running Creative Catalysts, The Collective Creative leadership Program, the Mesa Prototyping Project, and co-curating the Spark at Dark events.

Creative Catalysts (CC) continues to be supported by the Flinn Foundation. It is community driven programming, meaning everything we do is decided on and developed in collaboration with community members, specifically a committee that meets every month. Right now CC creates several opportunities for the community to get creative including our twice a year art brunches, pop-ups at the Mesa Farmers Market & Flea, Hack the MAC (evening social workshop opportunities in our studios), and Wordplay Café (a storytelling, poetry, and music open mic at The Nile Café).

The Collective is a once a year leadership development program that focuses on personal and professional growth using creativity, mindfulness, collaboration, and the community at its core. We have amazing local instructors who are experts in their fields and come to the table with a unique perspective on success and community. Our application for this program is currently open until November 1st!

Mesa Prototyping Project is heavily community facing and the 2019/20 project includes working closely with two neighborhoods and installing ten art projects that address community challenges for a one day event on March 2020. We have two community events coming up on November 12th and 21st for neighbors to get a peek at the projects and share their input.

Spark at Dark is a monthly event at MAC that happens every third Saturday from October through May that is intended to activate our downtown during evening hours. Spark is also an opportunity for us to partner with local creatives and to experiment with new approaches to engage and meet the needs of the community.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I feel incredibly lucky to be in the role that I’m in. I love my job, my coworkers, and my boss, and I get to work every day to impact the place that I grew up and live. However, community work is always challenging. There is always a wave of anxiety before an event begins wondering if anyone is going to show up, and it’s been a process to recognize that weather one person shows or 75 people show, it is still important. It is also hard to quantify and demonstrate with hard evidence that this work makes a difference, but when I speak with the individuals that show up and continue to be involved, their stories tell me that this work is impactful. The other ongoing challenge is funding and financial sustainability. Even though we are a part of a large organization, we are constantly looking for ways to provide value that others will see and want to support so that we can exist beyond our next grant.

Please tell us about your work.
The Mesa Arts Center as a whole does a TON from hundreds of live performances every year, to hundreds of classes in state of the art studios, education programs and school programming, our veteran services and creative aging classes, all the way to the work I do as a community engagement specialist, we stay VERY BUSY.

Creative Catalysts is now about five years old and has begun to make a name across other arts organizations it always excites me to hear from other arts professionals who have heard of our work and want to learn more. While there is a lot that has been done, I think the thing I am most proud of is developing and implementing The Collective Creative Leadership program. The Collective was born out of Creative Catalysts because we recognized we were informally providing spaces for local community members to step into leadership roles. We decided to formalize the program and create an accessible and creatively focused professional development opportunity that would equip young professionals to tap into their creative skills and to build capacity within the valley to expand the work of creative community development.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
We are gearing up for our second year of The Collective starting in January 2020, we are launching our spring Hack the MAC series in our studios and will be celebrating our Mesa Prototyping Project on March 21st.

Aside from all of this, the next big project for Creative Catalysts is the Mobile Art Based Engagement Lab (MABEL) which will be a way for us to take art engagements out into the community, in neighborhoods, in parks, and at local events. We are excited to be pulling all of the pieces together for this project to launch MABEL next spring. We are also getting ready to kick off our Creative Catalysts Podcast where we will be expanding the conversation around creative stories in the valley. You can find the podcast anywhere you stream in the next few months featuring local creatives and hosted by me and my amazingly talented partner (don’t tell him I said that), Tomás Stanton.

Contact Info:

  • Address: Mesa Arts Center
    One East Main Street
    Mesa, Az 85211
  • Website:
  • Email:
  • Instagram: creativecatalystsaz
  • Facebook: creativecatalystsaz

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