urbanSTEW – urban safe terrain for experimental work
Anyone, given the right tools, time and mentorship, can make the kind of art and media they need to help their communities. We, as artists and educators, seek to work with you – a person, a program, a school – to help you solve a problem that needs an arts-based solution.
In 2009, our original founders Jessica Rajko (dance, kinesthetics & motion-capture), Stjepan Rajko (dance & computer science), Cristobal Martinez (visual & installation art, electronics, performance, indigenous studies, rhetoric) and Meredith Martinez (dance, writing, prose, poetry), set our mission to be:
“A collective of artist-hackers/dancer-musicians/educators-performers who work collaboratively with community partners to solve community-centered needs through a techno-arts practice.”
In 2010, Lisa Tolentino (computer science, percussion, electronics, media arts) and Robert Esler (percussion & audio programming) joined the organization to further broaden the skillset and expertise of an already dynamic group.
From 2009-2018, we leaned on our trained arts practice, using dance and music performance, electronics and computational expertise, to collaborate with local venues and festivals (Mesa’s spark! Festivals, Phoenix Fringe, CONDER Dance, Pueblo Grande Museum, the Heard Museum) as primary methods for engaging with communities. We curated and created the experimental PLAY! Festival in 2012, to bring a broad variety of contemporary and experimental music installations and performances that spoke to the themes of pushing limits imposed by our bodies, our societies, our minds – to see the concept of disability as material for being more creative than we once thought possible.
During our beginnings, access to and knowledge and skill for creating and pushing the boundaries of digital media performance was still relatively rare for the everyday person. To bridge this gap, we hosted free community-based workshops that offered artists and the general public a chance to explore and use these tools themselves.
In 2011, Arizona PBS Channel 8 ArtBeat’s Ted Simons asked our then co-directors Robert Esler and Jessica Rajko to talk about why and how urbanSTEW focuses it’s work.
In 2019, our personnel took a critical turn, with Lisa and Robert remaining as original members. Michelle Doyle (early education, community development) joined our crew, and we turned our focus towards developing arts-based solutions for our immediate community. Since then, we have been hosting musical instrument workshops at Arizonans for Children, a non-profit whose mission is to provide effective solutions to improve the lives of children in foster care.
Moving forward, we are eager to continue reaching out and finding ways to make our expertise in art, music, performance, and computing useful to artists, collaborators, and local communities who are in need. Please reach out to us if you want to know more and are interested in working with us!