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Despite tough times, centennial organizers urge Arizonans to celebrate

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Gov. Jan Brewer dropped by the Herberger Theater Center recently to admire oil paintings and watercolors in which five women artists depict Arizona around the time of statehood.

The Arizona’s Early Women Artists Exhibit, which later will travel to museums in Prescott and Flagstaff, is among dozens of events planned in the stretch run to the state’s centennial on Feb. 14, 2012.

And despite the bad economy, Brewer says Arizonans owe their state – and themselves – a proper birthday celebration.

“I think the centennial event is very, very important, particularly during this time because … the last couple-three years have been kind of down in the mouth, and there hasn’t been a whole lot of good news,” Brewer said. “So what better than a birthday party where everybody can celebrate and participate to lift our spirits moving into that second century?”

The state’s centennial effort hits high gear this week with the first Arizona Best Fest, a free street festival that runs from Friday through Sunday in Prescott and later will visit Tucson and Phoenix, the other two territorial capitals.

The Arizona Centennial Copper Chopper has been touring the state since October 2010. It eventually will travel up Centennial Way, a stretch of West Washington Street near the State Capitol that’s getting a $7.1 million makeover. Funded largely by a federal grant and with assistance from the city of Phoenix, the project includes wider sidewalks, shade canopies, displays featuring all 15 counties and a “Tribal Walk” honoring Arizona’s 22 Native American tribes.

Karen Churchard, executive director of the Arizona Centennial 2012 Foundation, said the events and projects focus on more than just Arizona’s history.

“With our economic situation, it’s probably not in the greatest spot we’d like to be in, but how do we look to the future?” Churchard said.

Abe Hays, a retired Scottsdale gallery owner, said he appreciated that focus at the Herberger’s centennial celebration of women artists.

“Anything that shows where we’ve been will … show us where we ought to go,” Hays said. “And art is one of those avenues that we must take and continue to support.”

Besides events planned on and around the centennial, the centerpiece of the foundation’s effort is Arizona Best Fest, which highlights the state’s history and culture. The festivals are expected to attract hundreds of thousands.

“Collectively this will probably be one of the largest events, if you add all three together, that’s happened in our state,” Churchard said.

Best Fest includes replicas of a Native American village and Old West town, a renewable energy pavilion, a Family Fun Zone and live entertainment. Among the headliners in Prescott: American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, who is from Glendale, and Las Vegas legend Wayne Newton, who attended high school in Phoenix.

Cities and towns across Arizona are readying their own celebrations and legacy projects, ranging from a historic walk in Kingman to a 1912-themed centennial parade in Yuma, both to be held the weekend before Feb. 14.

The state initially promised $4 million to the Arizona Centennial Commission and an additional $4 million to local governments if an equal amount came from private sources, but when the economy began to tank that money went away.

“One of the really good points of what we’ve been doing is it’s been very much grassroots-oriented,” Churchard said. “Individuals, corporations, nonprofits, cities, counties, tribes have all stepped up.”

Yuma, for example, kicks off its centennial celebration with an eight-day program in December that includes a “Christmas, 1912-style” village. Events in February include a Redondo Days party in honor of Jose Maria Redondo, Yuma’s first mayor.

Kingman is planning a downtown celebration in February in addition to a 2012 commemorative calendar and a centennial-themed Andy Devine Days Parade, which celebrates the Old West movie actor from that city.

Karen Fogg, recorder for the City of Kingman Historical Preservation Commission, said residents are eager to celebrate the centennial.

“You only turn 100 once,” she said.

Arizona Best Fest dates:

• Prescott, Sept. 16-18
• Tucson, Nov. 11-13
• Phoenix, Feb. 10-12, 2012

Some other events:

What: Arizona Centennial Union Pacific steam locomotive tour
When: November
Where: Stops include Wilcox, Tucson, Phoenix and Yuma

What: Mormon Tabernacle Choir centennial tribute concert
When: Feb. 10-11, 2012
Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix

What: Statehood Day
Includes: Centennial Way re-dedication, U.S. Postal Service centennial commemorative stamp first day issue, brunch for centenarians.
When: Feb. 14, 2012
Where: Arizona State Capitol

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