Who are you and how did you first get involved in the community?
I’m Sharon Nordyke, and I helped found Chalk It Up!, the Electric Light Parade, and the Pandemonium Steel Drum Band. … I came to Prescott for a fire inspector job with the city in 1981. That, itself, was very community oriented. One of my favorite things about my long career there was researching children’s museum’s and building a hand’s-on exhibit for the “Learn Not to Burn” program, which was held in the old Ponderosa Plaza. There was tremendous support from the chief, who budgeted the money to help build many interactive exhibits like a giant smoke detector that kids could crawl through. Kids were bused there for fire prevention week. I also performed with the concert band and orchestra at Yavapai College, followed by a long tenure with the Prescott POPS Symphony. I’d come from a background of playing French horn for many years. Getting involved with musical groups and performing helped me get to know the community.
So you were involved with the community from the outset. What inspired you to create new events and groups in town?
The inspiration to bring an event to the city has always been motivated by my interest in sharing an exceptional experience I have had elsewhere. In the case of the Holiday Light Parade, I was sitting on the curb in the city of Phoenix, watching their light parade and it was so fun, I thought why don’t we have one in in Prescott? Today, take our holiday light parade — it’s magical, it’s not just a parade. What better way to kick off the holiday season than to bundle up and head to one of the most scenic downtowns anywhere, with your family and friends in tow. The parade is held at night and the brilliancy of the colored lights is magnified as they reflect off a hundred polished surfaces. It’s almost like clouds of colorful fireflies dancing down the street in front of you. When I’m standing there waiting for the parade to start, the excitement and anticipation is almost palpable in the air. I feel like an excited child seeing the parade for the first time, but I also feel a great deal of pride, after all it’s my baby. So, that’s one specific example.
I organize fine arts-related events because I want everyone to be immersed in the creative process. Artists of all ages and abilities can create art on the ground at Chalk It Up! Prescott. It’s like visiting an art museum where you get to be the artists. There’s something very special about the out-of-doors environment where you’re given a box of pastels and join hundreds of others on the ground around you to spontaneously create art. And almost anyone could learn to play a steel drum in the Pandemonium Steel Drum Band. It started in 2002 as a family band and over the next 11 years quickly grew into a multi-generational community band with up to 20 members. My favorite performances were Acker Night, what a great turnout we had from the community. I’m often asked why we disbanded and the answer is that we downsized our home and no longer had the rehearsal space. Inspiration for Pandemonium came from watching a group of middle schoolers from Sedona. They were having so much fun that I decided to give it a try. Being a life-time musician has enriched my life in countless ways. Sharing that gift with others has been my greatest joy and privilege.
There are tons of great ideas out there, but very few become realities. How do you take something from the idea stage to actually happening?
Well, there’s definitely a planning process and you need to recruit your friends as a think tank so you can begin to figure out the logistics. The budget, that’s a big one, and how are you going to fundraise for this thing? I think it’s best to just do some brainstorming. When you do that, you see what needs to be done and how to delegate it. You have to meet frequently to talk about your progress, and it really is a group effort. I think the biggest challenge, initially, is sharing your excitement with people who are willing to get on board and put time into the event. … Creating a special event takes more than someone with an idea. I can see both the big picture and the details without feeling daunted by the process, but still need to surround myself with a cadre of family, friends and coworkers who bring with them the necessary planning and organizational skills. Together we work tirelessly and spend hundreds of volunteer hours to make sure each event offers the best experience possible. Events only become sustainable when they become endearing to the public. … In each case, I had a solid group of friends that I could call on who I knew would help. Because of my background with the City of Prescott, I already knew how to tap the resources there and solve some of the problems, like blocking off streets, getting necessary permits and covering all the safety issues.
What advice do you have for people who want to start events?
I’d encourage people not to be intimidated. If you have an idea that you’re excited about, chances are that you can excite other people about the idea and more easily than you might expect. A lot of these things start with a conversation across the coffee table. All it takes is that one other person to say “I’m in.” … Events endure because ,at the end of the day, people want to learn, they want to experience something that stimulates them in a different way and they want to participate in something that’s extraordinary.
Is that first year really the hardest?
It is because you don’t know what you’re up against. When you go into a second year, you know what went well and what didn’t and, hopefully, you took notes during the event. You should write down everything, including little things that may seem trivial at the time. When you get back together with everyone it helps to have those notes to refer to. It’s almost always easier to do an event the second time. You already know the problems. … You have to do a debriefing almost immediately after an event — not just the first year, but every year — otherwise you’ll forget what went well and what didn’t. It’s also important to get everyone together and pat yourselves on the back a bit.
What’s something from one of your events or groups that you’ve struggled with?
For the chalk festival, we always struggled with how to acknowledge the folks that did really outstanding work. We went through several evolutions of how to do that and always wanted a system of awards, even if they weren’t monetary, to acknowledge that. The judging process was always tricky, too, as well as the labeling of spaces. Sometimes someone would go home and it was, “Who did this great piece of art on Space 26?” It got better through registration, but hundreds of folks come through. You can always do some kind of logistical thing better.
Were you raised as someone who took initiative in the community or did that come later in life?
I wasn’t raised with that example, but I was raised with a family with a great amount of creativity. That was part of my upbringing. When I first moved to Prescott, it wasn’t unusual for us to make some type of parade float and participate in things like that. That was modeled in my family and I tried to model that for my kids. Now I’m trying to model that with my grandkids.
What are you up to these days?
These days I’m honing my woodworking skills at Yavapai College and playing homemade instruments called a tubulums with friends in my garage. My wood sculptures are contemporary and occasionally displayed in local galleries. The tubulum, well it looks like a plastic pipe organ of sorts and it’s just plain fun to play.