Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday Afternoon in Downtown Mesa: Mesa Takes Flight Festival at the Mesa Arts Center

It's always great to spend a warm and sunny Saturday walking around Main Street in downtown Mesa, and this afternoon we had the pleasure of going to the Mesa Takes Flight Festival at the Mesa Arts Center.

The event was the City of Mesa’s festival commemorating the Arizona Centennial and culminating a year-long celebration of aviation, aerospace and all things flight-related.

It started last evening and ends tomorrow afternoon, but we enjoyed our time at Mesa Takes Flight for a couple of hours today.

On our way over to the Mesa Arts Center from Queens Pizza, on the corner of Main and Center,

we heard some oldies from Hooked on a Feeling, a local band which performed classic rock -- stuff like The Eagles' "Take It Easy" -- with aplomb.

There were a number of exhibits. Kids were trying to follow the directions to make origami dragonflies, helicopters, and airplanes.

We tried our gnarled hand at it too, except theirs flew for a while rather than immediately nosediving like our own creation.

Both the East Valley Institute of Technology and Arizona State University's aviation-based educational programs were represented,

and there was a table from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the world's largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession, which among other things is greatly involved in educational programs to launch the next generation of aerospace engineers.

One table had the most amazing model planes. It made us remember that, yeah, we used to like to make model planes, too, when we were 10 or 11, and not just because of the glue.

Artist Marilyn Cohn explained to kids the technical process by which she makes her one-of-a-kind works involved metal, glass and other materials. You can get some of her pieces at Practical Art on Central Avenue.

We also got to see Mesa Public Schools’ Space Integration Module and Flight Activity Center.

The Odyssey includes an orbiter, space station and mission control, all equipped with the latest technology.

Experiments and explorations were going on inside the vehicle.

The Mesa Historical Museum had material from the city's involvement in aviation,

like this front-page headline from the Mesa Journal-Tribune in 1941, when what is now Falcon Field and Phoenix/Mesa Gateway Airport (Williams Field) opened.

We especially enjoyed the hourlong Blue Bike Kids Show presenting Flight-O-Vation, "an original live performance by designed to engage young people in the innovation of flight and to learn about the history of aviation."

The show featured Phoenix-based theater and film artists Boyd Branch, Steve Wilcox and Elizabeth Peterson ("E.P.") as Nikola Tesla's time-traveling assistants who here try to inspire kids with the history of manned flight.

Using a variety of theatrical techniques, from hand and bunkuru-type puppets and old-fashioned stage signage to electronica and audience interaction, the show was not boring for an adult, and the kids seemed really into it.

It was a nicely idiosyncratic lesson, starting with the Wright Brothers (puppets: the puppeteer was great) telling Steve, E.P. and Boyd that, no, they didn't invent the airplane, they didn't make the first successful flight, and denying the simplistic version of aviation history that is taught too often.

What we liked about it was that it didn't sugarcoat all the frustrations, setbacks, failed attempts, disasters and tragedies in people trying to fly (our great-grandfather supposedly broke both his legs when he tried out his homemade mechanical wings to "fly" off the roof of his barn back in his Belarusian shtetl, and he was lucky).

From Daedalus and Icarus to the eleventh-century monk Eilmer of Malmesbury to Leonardo da Vinci, from the Montgolfier brothers (we made a construction-paper comic strip about them in our second grade class back in P.S. 203) to Otto Lilienthal to the Wright Brothers, people (and animals) lost their lives, fortunes, and sanity in the attempt to defy gravity.

The Blue Bike Kids despair of inspiring the audience until the Wright Brothers come on again and explain to Alphonse PĂ©naud that he wasn't a failure, that his rubber-powered model airplane served as a crucial inspiration for their attempts to finally make their success at Kitty Hawk possible.

Everyone will fail if they try, the Blue Bike Kids explained, but it's not the outcome but the process and the joy in even unheralded creative work that is necessary for all human progress. The pedagogical stuff goes down easy, but we thought it was actually quite sophisticated and profound for a performance aimed at children.

We had to get back to Apache Junction to help feed our mom dinner at the nursing home, so we missed a whole lot of events, including choral and dance performances that we would have liked to see.

But we're grateful for having had the chance to experience this weekend's Mesa Takes Flight Festival and we had a really nice time there.

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