The People of Tucson: Artist, Nadia Hagen-Onuktav

The People of Tucson put their spin on places to visit.

By Stacey Gregory

When you’re looking for inspirational places to explore around Tucson, who better to share insights than artist, designer, choreographer, and creator Nadia Hagen-Onuktav? This Tucson transplant was born and raised in New York City, moved to the West Coast, and discovered the Old Pueblo traveling cross-country to visit her grandmother, eventually settling here in 1992. Hagen-Onuktav founded Flam Chen Pyrotechnic Theater Co. in 1996 (producing daredevil acrobatics, pyrotechnics, and new circus arts), was named artistic director for The All Souls Procession in 1998 (the largest ceremony honoring the dead in North America), and became a founding board member of Many Mouths One Stomach in 2006 (an umbrella nonprofit that inspires and manifests modern festival culture)—all roles she continues to hold today.

 A woman in a colorful costume and yellow hat walks across stage holding a flaming circle in one hand.
Photo courtesy of Nadia Hagen-Onuktav

Nadia’s Tastes of Tucson

Hagen-Onukatav spends a lot of time at the MSA Annex; Flam Chen Pyrotechnic Theater Co. is the artist-in-residence producing shows at the MSA Annex festival grounds. So, she recently discovered Kukai Japanese Kitchen. Her go-to dish is the Mt. Fuji Don rice bowl served with spicy tuna, cucumber, avocado, masago, tempura flakes, and eel sauce.

“I would eat here every day even if I wasn’t right there all the time,” she said.

Outside of the MSA Annex, other favorites include La Chaiteria Neighborhood Cafe, which serves Latin-inspired dishes with vegan and vegetarian options, and Barista Del Barrio, an authentic and local coffee shop with a menu boasting award-winning breakfast bowls, quesadillas, and tamales including hemp tamales.

“I love Barisa Del Barrio’s breakfast bowls. You have to get there early to get one; they sell out quickly,” Hagen-Onukatav said.

Nadia’s Must-Do Experiences

Of course, a talented artist would be drawn to artistic endeavors. One of Hagen-Onuktav’s favorite places to visit in Tucson is Creative Machines, a multidisciplinary design and fabrication firm that creates interactive exhibits, kinetic rolling ball machines, site-specific sculptures, and public artwork. While they are not open to the public, those interested in design, engineering, and fabrication careers or those who have a strong interest in this art form, can e-mail the shop for a tour.

“They build some of the most amazing sculptures and installations in the country and ship them all over the world,” she said. You can see some of their creations around town, like the Toby the Griffin sculpture at Broadway Boulevard and Scott Avenue and the light-up doughnut in front of the Tucson Museum of Art.”

For those willing to travel to see more sights, she recommends The Arcosanti Project, an experimental town in the high desert of Arizona, 70 miles north of metropolitan Phoenix. Visitors can tour the world’s first prototype “arcology” structure consciously integrating architecture and ecology into its design, learning about its rich 50-year history that continues to influence young architects, urban planners, and designers from around the world.

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