Much to my distress, Southern Arizona Arts and Culture Alliance (SAACA) barged in, took over the tour in the fall of 2016 (or was subcontracted by TPAC - depending on your viewpoint). SAACA made a terrible mess of things. The mess was so bad that after one try with SAACA in 2016, I personally boycotted SAACA’s tour. I haven’t participated since then. I’m not the only artist to make the same decision.
Things have changed, and apparently for the better.
TPAC reorganized since losing open studios’ tour funding in 2015. TPAC is now known as Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona (Arts Foundation). Now for the first time in several years, Arts Foundation is running the fall studio tour again. The tour is being called Open Studio Tours with no reference to the city of Tucson. Unlike SAACA’s tour which included Benson, Tubac, and any place in between here and the Mexican border, the Arts Foundation tour is a more reasonable size, stretching from Catalina in the north to the southern edge of Tucson.
A persistent concern for many years among artists who do not live downtown has been that the wide area covered by the tour in only one weekend had the effect of funneling tour visitors to downtown studios. Visitors were able to see more art in a short period of time by going downtown. Artists who lived elsewhere were out of luck, despite paying the same tour fees as downtown artists. Heart of Tucson Art (HotArt) and Art Trails were direct results of this bias toward downtown.
Ms. Varney replied, “When Arts Foundation sent a survey to artists last year we asked myriad questions about the tours, their timing, etc.. This year, when we reviewed that direct feedback from the artists who submitted surveys, we made several changes; among them, moving the tours to November from October, and dividing the North/South tour boundary by number of studios of participants last year. We counted the numbers in various places across Pima County, and determined that the most equitable distribution of artists, over two weekends (what our funding allows for) would be north of Grant and south of Grant (in the past the dividing line has been farther north, and the county parameters less restrictive). At the Grant line, close to half of previously participating artists would be “north” and half “south”. Looking east/west or in other configurations was less equitable.”
I think this is an improvement over what SAACA was doing. But two issues remain:
1) The survey. I received a copy of the survey and was amused to see how inadequate it was. For example, I was asked to state which ward of the city I lived in. I’m in Ward 6. But of the wards to choose from on the survey, Ward 6 was not one of them. Ward 6 covers a huge part of midtown Tucson. So did the survey-takers even hear from Ward 6 artists?
My point here is that if arts administrators want to get good feedback, they must construct a survey that will give them accurate results and they must solicit responses from all over the city. If administrators make decisions on how to run a program based on faulty data, then the program will be faulty.
2) The downtown-elsewhere problem. Having two weekends in this fall’s tour is going to help artists who don’t live or have studios downtown. Having the cutoff at Grant Road instead of River Road is going to help artists who don’t live/have studios downtown. Also it’s good that Arts Foundation is going to allow several artists to be “guests” at studios around the city. That makes it possible to see lots of art at one place, especially if it’s in midtown, in east or west Tucson, or in the foothills.
That said, the imbalance still exists. The north tour has 42 artists signed up. The south tour has 81 artists. Ms. Varney said she is looking for an “equitable distribution” of artists. Clearly, that equitable distribution has not yet been found.
I think the biggest factor here is that so much money and effort has gone into “developing” downtown. Now we’re seeing in Tucson the same phenomenon that is happening in other downtowns in other parts of the country, Portland, Oregon, for example. Studio and gallery space becomes so expensive in the developed downtowns that artists end up moving out. We see that happening now in downtown Tucson.
Recent news reports say that downtown Tucson now has more than 80 (one source says 83) restaurants and bars. Many art galleries have moved out of downtown. Several are now located in the 6th and 6th intersection closer to the University of Arizona. I personally know of several artists who have moved their studios to South Tucson or elsewhere. It looks like the East Hive on Wilmot may become a new locus for Tucson artists (@EastHiveTucson on Facebook). As a consequence, the bias that has existed for years favoring downtown studios is waning. And with all those restaurants and bars, art doesn’t seem to be a top priority for visitors going downtown.
Meanwhile, Heart of Tucson Art (HoTArt) https://www.heartoftucsonart.org/home.html and Art Trails (https://www.arttrails.org/) will be hosting Spring Open Studio Tours as they have since 2016.
I’m not participating in the Open Studios Tour this fall due to a schedule conflict, but I’m not boycotting anymore. I hope to participate in the future.
To read my past editorials complaining, often times bitterly, about SAACA’s bungled attempts to run the tour, go to: https://www.sonoranartsnetwork.net/editors-page/open-studios-fall-2018
To learn more about the Arts Foundation's Fall Open Studio Tour, 2019, https://ost.artsfoundtucson.org/