This week, we have Elena Thornton in the She’s Trending interview corner. Wearing the heart of the community on her sleeve, Elena pours inspiration, humility and joy into people with her organization called the Arizona Consortium for the Arts, Inc. With diversity and culture at the root of her mission, Elena is sowing seeds into the heart of Phoenix and surrounding cities through the power of one. It’s true what they say; two is greater than one, especially when you have the heart of the city on your side.
ST: Who is Elena Thornton, what do you do, and why?
ET: I help people. With my organization called the Arizona Consortium for the Arts, Inc. a 501(c)(3) non-profit community organization, dedicated to connecting people through the arts, we provide a platform for social bridging through artistic, cultural and educational events. We inspire, engage, involve, give voices, visibility, celebrate, and connect our communities by providing innovative programs with activities and publications. Through the years we partnered with ASU, Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park, Dog-Eared Pages Bookstore, Mesa Community College and many other wonderful community groups and organizations. We provide a monthly open mic events, publications and two signature festivals of the year. I do this because I enjoy helping communities and giving people the opportunity to be heard and seen. People are so talented and we need to give everyone visibility as much as possible.
ST: You were originally born in Moldova, an Eastern European and former Soviet republic country. What was life like growing up in Moldova and what brought you to Arizona?
ET: As a child In Moldova, I sang in the choir and was a puppeteer. Being exposed to the arts was just a part of the culture and it was because of my early childhood exposure to the arts I became an artist and published poet. From Moldova, our family immigrated to Albany, New York, which was definitely a life changing experience. I eventually graduated high school and earned my bachelors in Russian literature and culture and pursued a masters in Education at the University of Albany in New York. I soon became a teacher in the Albany school district and in 1994 my family moved to Arizona, where I worked for a local company as director of training. I was fortunate to travel abroad and around the United States. In 2007, I decided to branch out and start Arizona Consortium for the Arts, Inc. and the rest is history.
ST: When did you develop a passion for the arts?
ET: It’s been instilled in me since I was a child. My father played an accordion and sang. My mother was a model for a photo studio and sang in the choir. As a child I was taught how to give back with the talents that we enjoyed, so I have carried and used that message to spread love and unity in the community. It’s all about collaborating and connecting with like-minded people and organizations.
ST: At what point of your life did you realize that you wanted to start the Arizona Consortium for the Arts, Inc.?
ET: In 2007, I thought of the concept for the Arizona Consortium for the Arts, Inc. and approached my good friends who just so happened to be my neighbors at the time, Aris and Zepure Jerahian. Aris is an author and a business man and Zepure is an artist and businesswoman. I pitched my idea about the space that I wanted for the Arizona Consortium for the Arts, Inc. and how it supported all artists. Aris and Zepure were instrumental in our beginning; they eventually moved on to California however they still are great supporters and cheerleaders for the organization. Soon after I met Rebecca and Richard Dyer. They are the founding members and editors of our three literary and arts magazines: The Blue Guitar, the Blue Guitar Jr and Unstrung. I also met Melanie and Thom, the owners of the Dog – Eared Pages Bookstore where we hold our monthly open mic events. Several of the original founding members and a continuum of dedicated volunteers continue to be our supporters in developing the organization into what it is today.
ST: How would you describe the Phoenix art scene?
ET: When we founded the Arizona Consortium for the Arts, Inc. in 2007, there was very little support. Now in 2017 there’s so much help as there are various campaigns that support local businesses. The Phoenix art scene is in a good place now, and I only see it continuing in the future.
ST: We read that you were once a Russian teacher in New York before moving to Arizona. Do you prefer Arizona summers or New York winters?
ET: I prefer an Arizona summer. I love it in Arizona and I definitely don’t miss shoveling the snow.
ST: We have never tried Russian food. What is one Russian dish we must try?
ET: Well, when I mentor and help people, I invite them into my home. My go-to recipe is the Russian potato salad. It’s similar to an American potato salad where the main ingredients are potatoes, eggs, onions, however, we add pickles, cooked peas, carrots and more. I always serve my potato salad vegetarian style however there are many ways where you can serve the dish with meat.
ST: How do you say She’s Trending in Russian?
ET: It’s funny because I called my mom about this question and looked in the dictionary and could not find the equivalent for the term in Russian, however I did find a powerful word that correlates with the name She’s Trending. For instance “влияние” pronounced “vliyaniye” which means influence and to impact. Since there’s no word for “Trending”, it doesn’t quite make sense, however the words associated with the name carry a lot of meaning in the Russian culture.
ST: You and your husband have been volunteering at the Musical Instrument Museum for over 6 years now. What is the importance of volunteering to you?
ET: It’s important to my husband and I because it shows others how to lead by example. You have to practice what you preach and what you say when investing in others. Don’t just talk about it, be about it with action and simply show up. That may be through the form of photography, teaching, mentoring or whatever gift you may be fulfilling that can help others.
ST: You have a vision for a multicultural center and space. What types of impact do you see your multicultural center and space having in the community?
ET: I am confident we will soon have a space. We are in talks with a local business to share the space on weekends. Stay tuned for updates. Times are changing quickly. There’s so much rich history, culture and the arts that people can bring to the community. I’m an immigrant and I came to this country in 1976. There are other people who are just like me and it’s because of those stories that we learn from and support one another. It goes beyond each person, as we desire to pass on these dreams to the next generation.
ST: What do you want the readers to know about the Phoenix art community and how can people get involved?
ET: I encourage people to get involved and to be in the community for the support of the arts. I want people to know that there are so many opportunities, not only with the Arizona Consortium for the Arts, Inc., but several other local organizations that are just waiting for people to get involved. We are so grateful for each and every collaboration. From festivals to events and ongoing partnerships like Dog-Eared Pages Bookstore, Desert Ridge Marketplace, Arizona Heritage Center, Phoenix Public Library and TedX Fountain Hills, and many others. It’s all about collaborating and working together, which is the core of our mission and what we are here for at the end of the day.
ST: With all of our interviews, we like to sign off by saying thank you! We know you’re trending, which is why we chose you to be one of our featured guests. In honor of our tradition, we would like you to finish the sentence…I’m trending because….
ET: I myself am an artist and a poet. I represent the arts and cultures. It’s important to me that I share the excitement of the arts and how it impacts people’s passions. Through the Arizona of the Consortium of Arts, Inc., I am able to impact the community and be the voice of visibility to show that no one is alone. I call it the ripple effect.