Tucson fest finds celebration in those we’ve lost.
A son who died in infancy. A best friend killed in an accident. A mother taken by cancer. Loved ones lost too soon.
For the past 25 years, the All Souls Procession—a 2-mile, human-powered procession through downtown Tucson—has given family and friends the opportunity to publicly grieve, honor and pay tribute to loved ones who have died.
Tens of thousands gather for the event. They carry signs with messages of love. They share cherished photographs and mementos. They create works of art, and offer hopes and wishes. They mourn, but also celebrate.
“This year, we expect close to 150,000 people to attend. The growth in the last 25 years has been astounding,” says Paul Weir, a board member and technical director of Many Mouths One Stomach (MMOS), the nonprofit that organizes the annual event.
“It’s the largest, most inclusive Day of the Dead-inspired event in the country right now.”
The All Souls Procession had modest beginnings in 1990, when local artist Susan Johnson, grieving the death of her father, created a ritualistic performance piece inspired by Mexico’s Dia de Los Muertos holiday. That early procession drew about 30 people.
Over the years, the event continued to grow and by 2003, it hit 10,000 participants. That’s when artists and others in the community formed MMOS to support the event and promote the public mourning and celebration of loved ones lost. Attendees now come from across the state and country, and sometimes the globe.
The All Souls Procession, a free event, costs organizers roughly $150,000 to put on and is funded through individual and business donations, grants and city funds. The return on that investment is huge: a $24.5 million impact in the community, according to a 2013 study by MMOS.
All Souls Procession Weekend, held Nov. 7-8, will include several unique, all-ages activities. The Procession of Little Angels will kick off the festivities on Nov. 7, when young children honor loved ones with their own procession. The following day, enormous crowds will turn out for the All Souls Procession, finale ceremony, and Dance of the Dead.
This year’s event features a live performance by musical guest Filastine and light sculptures by artist David Therrien. Organizers are also collaborating with Tucson’s January 8th Memorial Foundation to pay tribute to the victims killed at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ “Congress on your Corner” event in 2011. A detailed calendar of events can be found at allsoulsprocession.org.
But the return for individuals mourning and celebrating cannot be calculated.
“People in the West are waking up to how important it is to remember your ancestors, to remember your history, to honor your memories,” Weir says.
Written by Susie Steckner
Photography by Dominic Bonuccelli, Stu Jenks, Paul Davis III and Addie Mannan