When I first arrived in Phoenix, in September of last year, I had no idea what to expect. I came out here following the intuition that there were new opportunities for me out here. I sensed that it would be a difficult transition but I would get to the other side. I just had no idea how incredible the other side was going to be.
After roughly about a month of feeling a bit lost and having no idea what my purpose was out here or what I was supposed to do my roommate, Ashley Holt, and I stumbled upon a community called Yoga and More in the Park. This was a free guided yoga and meditation event hosted at Papago Park, outdoors between some scattered trees at sunset. Picture a warm glow breaking through the nearby mountains with roaring planes often flying overhead, streaming through the colors in the sky.
I soon learned of the mission of this group: to help people step outside their comfort zones, make lasting connections and create healthier and happier lives. In just the first night this community succeeded in accomplishing this mission for me. We were greeted by warm inviting smiles and individuals who wanted to genuinely connect and hear our stories. Jared Portugal, who can normally be found manning the slacklines, took time to show us some acro yoga which was something we had been wanting to try, Pam Buehler didn’t even hesitate in teaching us some new hooping skills, Paul Niemann, who I am now dating a few months later, reached out and invited us to attend another community event called Kundalini Yoga, and Todd Van Duzer opened the night with a motivational speech about conquering fear- how fitting for just having moved across the country. We were quickly ushered into the group and began attending these events regularly. People kept telling me how cool it was that we found this after just having moved here. We also found a great house to live in, new jobs, a compatible third roommate, Amanda Larner, who was also involved in the movement and it was all falling into place. The voice that had been calling me out here was right.
When I came into the picture this movement was just starting to become something more than free events centered around the aforementioned activities. I could already tell there was a strong sense of comradery developing. I attended one of the formal meetings organized by Todd to discuss future endeavors for this project and was impressed by the passion, motivation and ideas this group was full of. After attending the meeting I naturally began to sink my own roots into the foundation to see what we could grow. “There is so much potential in this room,” I’d thought. I couldn’t have chosen to come here at a better time.
I looked in my toolbox to see what skills I could contribute to the project and began to help develop branding and social media networking. Other members fell into important marketing and event production roles, and the wheels started churning. We would all learn the ups and downs of being a part of a start-up endeavor. The pace of things was moving quickly and the direction in which we were going regularly changed overnight. We had to be resilient and adaptable. A key element has been keeping an open mind to let the project develop organically. It soon gained the title, Desert Canvas, in reference to the giant canvases we started bringing out for people to paint on together at events.
These canvases turned into something even bigger when at the turn of the year we were able to attend Decadence AZ as a vendor to promote our movement. We were commissioned by Relentless Beats to build a giant wooden art structure lined with LED lights that we could have everyone write their stories on and JD Bergan and Vladimir Madorsky took on completing this project by hand. It was a huge hit at the festival and everyone was excited to get involved in this public art project. The term “co-creating” took on new meaning for us and we adopted the slogan “communities co-creating”.
Last month, in January, we went from throwing free potluck events in a park to hosting an all-day festival event with upwards of 500 attendees. This event involved multiple participatory workshops, live music, local vendors, a healing tree, slacklines, volleyball , community painting and more. We successfully created a space where people could safely explore, create together, challenge each other, grow, celebrate and co-exist.
We are not stopping here. We are taking it to another level and throwing an all weekend camping festival with a full line-up of musicians and packed weekend of activities and workshops involving hiking, mountain biking, meditation, yoga, arts, etc. in the beautiful expansive mountains of Estrella Regional Park.
I’ve watched how this community has transformed my life and the lives of others around me: pushing us to be better human beings, allowing us to make deeper more meaningful connections, testing the limits of what we are capable of. This has been such a rewarding learning experience for us all and I have no doubt we have already impacted the people around us through these events in the way we have helped others feel a sense of belonging. The strong will and determination of our team members shows we will do nearly anything to see this through. Many of us work full time jobs and come home to work on this project the rest of the evening and weekends. We are able to rise to the challenge to do whatever it takes to create an outcome that benefits the project as a whole.
What is it that makes Desert Canvas a unique organization? Hands down- the people. These people continue to inspire and amaze me every day. Not only have we banded together through this entrepreneurial journey but we also band together to enhance each others daily lives. We go on adventures together, teach each other new skills and hold each other accountable for personal goals. Had I not taken the chance and come out here to the desert my life would be completely different. This would still be a foreign place and culture instead of the closest thing that has felt like home to me in a long time.