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Local art advocate appointed to State Arts Council

Regina Ortega-Leonardi on one of the staircases I Art Globe rehabilitated as part of an urban renewal project. Photo by Erica Raymond Photography

Anyone who has recently walked in Historic Downtown Globe, hiked the Stairizona Trail, or—more recently—taken in the “M” on the hill to the east of the Miami High School football field has seen the influence of Globe native Regina Ortega-Leonardi.

The co-founder of I Art Globe and the new nonprofit Love Where You Live was recently appointed by Governor Katie Hobbs to be on the 15-member board of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, an agency of the State of Arizona.

Ortega-Leonadi joins three additional new members, one from Bisbee and two from Flagstaff, to put a rural spin on a state agency that Hobbs has taken steps to expand with small-town influence.

“I’m a small-town girl at heart, so I feel honored to be an Arts Commissioner for the state,” Ortega-Leonardi says. “I’m excited to bring a positive attitude and a special rural perspective. I believe this will help the Commission support the arts all across Arizona.”

With deep roots in Globe, she brings a wealth of experience in the wider world to bring beauty to overlooked corners of the community and create connections to the place she calls home.

The youngest of seven children, Ortega-Leonardi was fortunate to have parents—owners of what was once Frank’s Jewel Box on Broad Street—who encouraged her to follow her passions and artistic bent.

“I was always interested in art and it was something that my family and my parents nurtured,” Ortega-Leonardi says. “It always amazes me how my parents made it work, quite frankly. Having seven kids, they found our ‘one thing’ and helped feed it, which was nice.”

After graduating from Globe High School—she says she “bleeds orange and black”—Ortega-Leonardi followed in her siblings’ footsteps and headed to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona, earning a degree in electronic journalism.

“We all graduated with degrees, which is pretty exceptional,” she says. “Coming from a rural background, it was a tribute to my parents. It’s a tip of the hat to them for all the little efforts that I’ve done in Globe and some larger initiatives I hope to take on with the Arts Commission.”

After spending nearly a decade working in the background of broadcast news, Ortega-Leonardi left the news business to raise her three children, Attilo Jr, 26; Isabella, 24 and Angelo, 16, in Hawaii.

She was facing something of a crisis career-wise prior to the move, as much of the bad news she was covering started to affect her outlook to the point where she jettisoned her television to avoid it.

Despite her love of writing, videography, graphics, and production, Ortega-Leonardi shifted from the newsroom to promotions and public service, which suited her more than news. 

“At some point, working in broadcast news just became kind of depressing, because what you end up seeing on newscasts is the edited versions,” Ortega-Leonardi says. “When you’re actually in the newsroom, you see the more negative and darker side and that’s not me.”

About six years ago, Ortega-Leonardi returned to Globe from Hawaii and now splits her time between Globe and Oahu.

In the wake of the COVID shutdown, she teamed up with Thea Wilshire in a partnership that resulted in I Art Globe, a public art advocacy group dedicated to beautifying the Copper Corridor.

Wilshire came to Globe in 1998 on a “three-year plan” to work with the San Carlos Tribe.

“It’s 24 years later and not what I expected, but I’ve had a fantastic career so far,” Wilshire says. “The Apaches were extremely gracious to me, although it was a very challenging place to work. It pushed me and my skills and stretched me in ways that I never would have guessed.”

Wilshire immediately became involved in local culture and eventually, in 2008, was elected to Globe City Council, spending the last two years of her term as vice-mayor.

Her advocacy work resulted in the creation of the tool lending library at the Globe Active Adult Center and she spent more than two decades working with BHP to establish Old Dominion Mine Park, which is no longer open to the public.

Wilshire met Ortega-Leonardi during her stint on the Council, when they both joined the Globe Arts Advisory Commission.

Once she left Council though, commission members began to walk away. Eventually, Wilshire and Ortega-Leonardi were the only members left, leaving them in the unusual position that they could not meet casually without breaking Arizona’s open meeting laws.

They both felt compelled to step down at that point.

“I realized my passion is more in social infrastructure,” Wilshire says. That’s creating third places, where people can feel at home in a place that’s not their home, their work, or their school. The third place could be a coffee shop, a library, a park, or a plaza.”

Wilshire then began working to create Globe’s dog park and became involved in Globe arts once again.

But then the pandemic came along and threw traditional social mores into chaos.

“I found myself at home, worried, scared about defending against something I couldn’t see and it just took so much energy,” Wilshire says. “One day I just thought ‘I am so sick and tired of this. I hate defending against the unknown. I want to fight for what I believe in. I don’t want my energy to go into this black hole.’”

She woke up the next morning to an epiphany that public art was the answer.

“We had been looking at the role of art in community health, and all of that stuff started floating in my subconscious,” she says. “Public art was my response to the pandemic. Public art gives everything the pandemic took away: It gives physical health, emotional health, healthy aging, school achievement, economic vitality, connection to place, celebration of culture, everything that had been the worst parts of that pandemic.”

Wilshire and Ortega-Leonardi began to organize and before long laid out a plan to complete 12 public art initiatives in 12 months.

“I started writing for funding, organizing people, empowering them to go forward and realized almost immediately that Regina was as important as I was in this and was as hardworking as I was. She blew me away,” Wilshire says.

The group wound up doing 32 projects and nine events, and right as Wilshire was ready to move on, they received their largest grant to the tune of $50,000.

Starizona Trail

A section of the Stairizona Trail on East Ash Street in Globe. Thea Wilshire (left) and Regina Ortega-Leonardi and I Art Globe were nominated for a statewide award in August thanks to the project.

The idea behind the Stairizona Trail was to give house-bound people an alternative to the surrounding national forests in the wake of the closure of Old Dominion Mine Park.

“We had this on our list, but it wasn’t low-hanging fruit,” Wilshire says. “But we desperately needed urban trails because people need outdoor places for their mental and physical health.”

Wilshire estimates they have completed 62 projects and 13 art events, including art shows at the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts, public murals throughout the Copper Corridor and the artwork on the stairs that have been revitalized in the past year or so.

Ortega-Leonardi has worked on several other projects, including the Rose Mofford float at this year’s Fiesta Bowl Parade and she recently led a group of volunteers to refurbish the “M” on the Miami Unified School District campus.

The duo recently created a 501(c)3 nonprofit, dubbed Love Where You Live, that is intended to create a sense of fun and connection to Globe.

“It’s a placemaking focus, so that’s why it’s called Love Where You Live, moving from livable to lovable,” Wilshire says. “Events, social infrastructure, and places: Those things are needed.”

They intend to pursue Wilshire’s “whimsical Gila monsters” throughout town and a project honoring lost pets with a rainbow bridge theme downtown.

I Art Globe will now exist under the umbrella of Love Where You Live, and was recently nominated for the 2023 Arizona Creative Excellence Awards in the Oonagh Award category that recognizes “excellence in arts and culture and outstanding contributions to the Arizona community.”

I Art Globe did not win, but Ortega-Leonardi will now have a bigger platform to advocate for the arts throughout the state, including rural communities.

“The one thing that I do love about our rural communities, regardless of if you’re trying to forget your past or flopping back and forth trying to figure out what you’re doing, or if you have a good foothold, is that folks want to help, they want to be part of something good,” Ortega-Leonardi says “That benefits everyone, so if you give them that opportunity in whatever way shape or form, people will jump on that bandwagon.”

Wilshire believes the Arizona Arts Commission made the right choice in her nonprofit partner and looks forward to seeing what will come of her tenure.

“Regina is talented enough socially and smart enough to advocate across these different worlds,” Wilshire says. “She really has rural at heart and we’re so fortunate.”

I Art Globe strikes again.

About David Abbott

Journalist, writer and editor who has worked for community newspapers for more than 15 years. After four years at Davis-Monthan AFB and a few years living in Tucson, moved to California to find his fortune. He is happy to be back in Arizona, in the mountains he loves.

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