Kimi Eisele, a TUCSON multi-disciplinary artist and teacher, has one of those distinct, emollient voices that people have when they're pretty damn content with themselves and life in general. Eisele moved to Tucson back in 1997 to get a master's in geography at the UA and ended up never leaving due to the influx of diverse artistic and teaching opportunities, which presented themselves to her.
You have quite the repertoire as a dancer, poet, printer, teacher, writer, etc. How did you become so involved in the Tucson's arts scene?
I stayed because I kept getting work that continued to involve me in the community. Part of that, you know, one of the first jobs I had, was mentoring high-school-aged youth in the documentary arts. That was a very community-based project called VOICES, which was about working with young people to tell Tucson's story, so I kind of got hooked pretty quickly on the stories of this community through that work. I think my artistic sensibility is also very much about story and community, and I like to share both the process and the product. You know, some of the work I do is solo work, and I'm always looking to engage the community or have conversations or involve people in an art-based process because I think it's accessible to all of us. I derive such joy from making and creating and I like to share that experience of making with everybody ... I think everybody has to discover that when they're in a process of making something.
Are there any other aspects of teaching and art-ing you really enjoy?
Well I think there's sort of different—there's things I like about being an artist and there's things I like about being a teacher, and sometimes they overlap. I mean, in terms of sharing the process of making and how to do that, I enjoy watching people light up at their own creativity. That's exciting for me. In terms of being an artist in this community, I like the challenge of sort of reminding people, myself included, to say things that we're either ignoring or that we see so much we forget how to look at them.
Are you currently working on any projects to engage the community?
Yes. So, in that vein, one of the projects I'm working on right now is a partnership with Borderlands Theater. I come from a dance background, and this project is sort of a dance/theatre project at Saguaro National Park. We are looking at ways to engage people in new ways of knowing the Saguaro cactus—so, getting at that idea of something we see every day, and maybe inviting in new ways of considering it. We got some funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. They are doing an initiative with the National Parks Service because it's their centennial year, so Saguaro National Park is a partner, and the idea is to bring the arts into the park as a way of engaging audiences in new ways.
That project is about to start. It has three acts—Act One is called "Stand," so it's this idea of "I stand with Saguaros." It's kind of a public campaign from April 16 to May 31, encouraging the public to have this kind of experience with the cactus, and that is: stand with one or sit with one for up to an hour. The idea is to stand and think about and listen to these species, which are very much a part of our community.
Do you have a couple favorite projects you've worked on over the years?
[The Saguaro one] is my favorite right now, but I think in recent years, I've really been looking more deeply at the desert landscape and finding ways that we can really consider more regularly the other species that we share this home with. I did a dance film a few years ago that focused on embodying plant and animal species of the Santa Rita Mountains, and that was in part a response to the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine. It was very much about celebrating those species and paying reverence to them.
Some years ago, we also looked at water issues in the desert and did a two-year project involving the community in conversations about water and engaging them in movement workshops and nature walks about water flow. [Then] we performed on the Santa Rita river bed on a very hot day in April, which was in some ways like reanimating that river bed, but also very much mourning the loss of this river. Those are two that I would mention.
Do you tend to always try to illuminate current issues through art?
I mean—I think with the teaching and this particular work we're talking about, I feel like that's mostly where I do this participatory work and engagement, and it's very much about looking at issues in the community, stories that we're not telling well or we're not telling enough or not celebrating enough.
What are some other recurring themes in your art?
I think environment, species, conservation, social justice, community building.
How do you think art in general—and likewise teaching it—should affect people from any community?
I think most experiences of making art and being in the presence of art—whether you're looking at it or listening to it—I think it can make us feel things, or invites us to feel things we may not let ourselves feel. Art sort of does that automatically, if it does it well. It can reconnect us with the very basic values of love and kindness and listening, valuing difference. I think that's the hope. And when you're learning to make art, or you're teaching others to find that part of themselves, you're making yourself vulnerable.
So, as a student learning how to express yourself, I think one of the basic ingredients in making art is vulnerability because you're saying something that's yours, that's true, and you're putting it on paper, or you're singing it. You're letting it out, and that's scary for people, but that's the most beautiful act we can do as humans.
There's a softening that happens around us that makes it easier for us to understand others' vulnerabilities as steward of the landscape. We can remove a shell of ourselves.