When people gather around a table, whether over good food or shared sewing interest, there’s an opportunity to find common ground. A chance for neighbors to discover a sense of belonging.
We want Threaded Together to be a place where Flagstaff can come and build community. A safe place to celebrate creativity, and diversity, and foster that all-important sense of belonging.
Audra Travelbee, when she founded Culture Connection AZ (CCAZ), had a similar idea in mind. But, while we, at Threaded Together, hope to nurture inclusive communities one stitch at a time, CCAZ takes a different tack.
And a few weeks ago, that involved potatoes.
Potato stew to be exact, or rather Guiso de Papa con Garbanzo.
Every month CCAZ invites a community member (and often, chef) to share a recipe from their country of origin. The program is called ‘Culture Kitchen.’
In March, Art Therapist and Chef Estefania shared a flavorful version of a hearty Equatorian stew. In February, Bella, an exchange student from China studying at NAU, cooked up dumplings and shared a folk song from her native country.
“The goal of Culture Kitchen is to create visibility for people in Flagstaff who come from other countries,” Travelbee explains. This ultimately fuels CCAZ’s broader mission: to create a more compassionate and interconnected community in which all members are respected and valued, through programs that facilitate reflection, critical analysis, and appreciation of different cultures and the humanities that are accessible to all.
Where better to facilitate conversations that break down stereotypes than around the dinner table?
Travelbee says her favorite things about Culture Kitchen events are the moments between recipe-based instructions. The moments when a new community member talks about their lived experience. Later, she hopes people who come to Culture Kitchen events or discover a recipe online will recognize the monthly chefs, and say hello on the street corner or in the grocery store. In this way, Culture Kitchen helps to address the isolation that many international community members experience while living in Northern Arizona.
The other wonderful thing about Culture Kitchen is that it’s the brainchild of a volunteer. A volunteer with a heart for the community and a love of cooking.
“It was wonderful to be approached with an idea, and then to be able to provide the resources and support needed to execute it,” Travelbee says. “We try to be really responsive. A big priority for us is to show up and listen. We want to hear what the community needs. Then if someone has an idea or skillset to share we want to share that too. We want to lift them up.”
Lifting up artists is another key part of what CCAZ does at their location at the Ice House in Downtown Flagstaff. “Because we’re downtown we get to be a part of Art Walk from May through October,” She says. But even in the off-season, CCAZ uses its interior gallery space, podcast studio, and meeting rooms to encourage and support artists. Travelbee says she works hard to make gallery shows and pop-up sales as accessible as possible. Many CCAZ artists are showing their work for the very first time, and are part of historically marginalized communities.
“It expands our art community. Makes it richer.” Travelbee explains. New artists are paired with more experienced artists for pop-ups and shows. Artists aren’t charged commission. Fees for participating in pop-ups are kept low. Travelbee says all artists are also given the opportunity to trade out costs by volunteering. “We want upcoming artists to feel valued and supported,” she says.
Travelbee is also passionate about being a point of connection for other nonprofits. “A rising tide lifts all boats!” She exclaims, and the CCAZ website reads that the organization will: “Advocate for and collaborate with other nonprofits and community organizations, and facilitate connections amongst different organizations, businesses, and individual community members.”
Threaded Together and CCAZ have similar visions for Flagstaff. Both of our organizations believe that a more compassionate interconnected community is a more resilient community. We both believe art (and by extension culture and humanities) can be a gateway to positive change.
On May 6, Threaded Together will display the Flagstaff Community Quilt: Expressing Hope and Healing During COVID at the Ice House. We’re also teaming up with CCAZ as we develop curriculum for bi-lingual class offerings and work to make our programming more accessible for Spanish speakers.
Learn more about CCAZ atwww.cultureconnectionaz.org.