All Souls Procession Will Honor, Celebrate What We Have Lost

October 30, 2012

By Teya Vitu

No other local event is quite as pure, authentic and quintessentially Tucson as the annual All Souls Procession.

Tens of thousands of people just show up, often in costume or as part of some non-motorized float, to commemorate some sort of loss, occasionally but not necessarily the death of a loved one.

That is the first clue that the All Souls Procession stands out from any other large-scale event in Tucson.

“It is to provide people with a creative opportunity to honor their ancestors, their pets, anything in their life that they grieve for: a divorce, bankruptcy, their jobs,” said Nadia Hagen, the Procession’s artistic director since 1996.

But the whole point of the All Souls Procession is for it to not seem like there is an artistic director.

What really draws upward of 60,000 people Downtown to either watch or take part in the Procession is the seemingly improvised nature of it. There’s not much in the way of evident structure other than an established route and the Grand Finale with the burning of the contents of the ceremonial urn.

Anybody can join the Procession, or just watch. Some 35,000 people usually make the walk.

“The most unique thing is this is a grassroots, cultural creation,” Hagen said. “What you see is 100 percent dictated by the participants. We don’t give instructions to the participants. We wanted the event to be created by the folks participating. It is the epitome of a DIY culture.”

The All Souls Procession is on Nov. 4 with people asked to start gathering at 5 p.m. and the Procession itself starting at 6 p.m.

The Procession has a new starting point and route this year, and for the second year will be concluding at the Mercado San Agustín.

The gathering spot is Toole Avenue at Congress Street, in front of Maynards Market & Kitchen.

The Procession will then proceed along the entire length of Alameda Street and then onto West Congress Street for the final push to Mercado San Agustín, west of the Santa Cruz River.

“This place can be as cool as people in Tucson can conjure up to make it,” said Kira Dixon-Weinstein, the Mercado’s executive director.

The Mercado will have bands playing from 4 p.m. to midnight. The Dry River Yacht Club from Phoenix will play right after the All Souls finale.

Twelve food trucks are expected there, too. Otherwise, there’s nothing commercial about the All Souls Procession. You will note there is no title sponsor and the urn does not carry a corporate name.

The Grand Finale, like last year, takes place on the still undeveloped 14 acres of what is destined to become a multi-use housing and commercial complex called the Mission District, which Dixon-Weinstein’s father and husband intend to build.

In the mean time, there’s plenty of space for the All Souls participants.

“The Mercado was a really obvious site,” Hagen said. “That was where there was a huge open lot. The folks at the Mercado were really welcoming and supportive. That’s not the case with other people with huge lots.”

The stage where the local pyrotechnic entertainers Flam Chen will lead the Grand Finale will be located toward the south end of the acreage, near the newly opened artistic Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge.

The Grand Finale involves burning the contents of a giant urn that participants fill with prayers or messages. Hagen said some people deposit cigars or jewelry. She asks that people refrain from adding anything plastic, which will have to be removed.

“The urn is the place where every single person could interact with the finale,” Hagen said.

The urn follows the same route as everyone else.

“It is dragged on a cart by a very strong man – the beast of burden,” Hagen said.

All Souls Procession devotees will notice a new urn for this eighth year that an urn has been the focus of the finale. The original urn was used the prior seven years. Creative Machines built the new urn, which is 8 feet tall and 8 feet across.

“All the contents are burned,” she said.

The All Souls Procession does have a rough guide of do’s and don’t’s

DO: Come and enjoy the experience in a way that works for you. Dress up, get out of your regular regiment and persona; make a mask, a puppet, an art installation, an altar; some way of honoring those who have gone before.

DON’T: Be intoxicated, or in anyone’s space in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. The moment help is required from police or any other authority to make sure that happens, we have lost something truly precious. Please make sure to honor barricades, civilian security and civic event staff at grand finale.

“We create a structure, a safe viable infrastructure for people to plug into,” Hagen said.

As much as the All Souls Procession appears entirely random and free-flowing, Hagen was eager to reveal what’s behind the curtain. The event is organized by Many Mouths One Stomach, a non-profit arts collective, where Hagen is the financial officer.

Individual donors make up half the revenue to stage the Procession. Donations boxes will be found along the Procession route.

About half the budget goes to barricades, sanitation, cleaning the streets, the Tucson Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Service. Fifteen percent goes to promotion and 25 percent to artist stipends.

“Close to $10,000 goes to cross the freeway frontage roads,” Hagen said. That’s how DPS is involved: They have jurisdiction over the freeway frontage roads.

Until three years ago, the Procession ended at the Franklin docks – the parking lot across 9th Avenue from the Steinfeld Warehouse. Two years ago, the finale was staged where the Joint Courts Complex is now under construction. Last year, the Procession was brought to the Mercado San Agustín.

The Procession started in 1990 with a ritualistic performance piece by local artist Susan Johnson, who was grieving the loss of her father. The All Souls Procession revolves around All Souls Day in the Catholic world, Nov. 2, and is especially inspired by Mexico’s interpretation as Dia de los Muertos.

“I think the purpose is giving people that freedom to find meaning for themselves,” Hagen said. “When you suffer a loss, it can be a very lonely place. The Procession allows us to integrate.”