A long, long time ago….Downtown used to be a hotbed of arts activity. As a 20+ year downtown veteran, I remember. I was even a part of the buzz for awhile as a staff member of the Tucson Arts District Partnership – the group tasked with downtown revitalization through the arts. Established in the mid to late 1980′s, after a feasibility study said that’s what we should do, the arts district burst onto the scene with a signature event – Downtown Saturday Night. Wildly successful in bringing the community to our urban core, it sadly ran its course and became a shadow of itself after a few years, but it was pretty amazing at its zenith. Thousands of Tucsonans walking the sidewalks (and spilling onto the street) to experience galleries, cafe’s, shops and performances of both art and music. New art spaces opening up in vacant storefronts (phantom galleries), the sight of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra performing in the Ronstadt Transit Center, artists in residence interacting with the public to create murals and other works of art.
Downtown Saturday Night was just one program of the partnership (Managed aptly by staff member Claudia Jesperson) and became our community arts showcase. Other TADPI programs included; Artists in Residence, Thursday Night Art Walks, the Art 30 publication, Phantom Galleries, Art studios, an Artspace loan program, Warehouse District master planning, the Phantom Sculpture program and on and on.
What happened to all of this good stuff?
Times change, with the illusion of free easy Rio Nuevo cash, and, the creation of the Business Improvement District (Tucson Downtown Alliance), a lot of additional cooks entered the kitchen. TADPI’s original, long serving Executive Director Sarah Clements moved on, and so did many other staffers (Mary Glenn, Mary Ellen Wooten, Myself – to start the Fox Theatre project) and an era ended. Are we better off now? Those who remember the glory days may not think so, but I think this era laid the groundwork for what came next. No doubt in fits and starts, but this activity did get a segment of the community comfortable with coming back downtown. The decline of the seedy bars (Manhattan, etc.) and rise of hip galleries (Dinnerware, Central Arts, Berta Wright, etc.) and eateries – R.I.P Cafe Magritte – along with retail like the Arts District Bookstore were the needed transition elements. I hope we see this type of success again soon, and if not let’s remember what we had – a small urban success led in part by a noble organization, thanks TADPI!