Recent media accounts of the proposed development deal downtown raised the usual hue and cry of the taxpayer voices against “handouts” for artists. Why were the two selected arts-related groups scheduled to get funds from the Stiteler/Martin deal? Due to the location of the proposed development, these two groups were poised to both benefit from the development and also potentially be harmed by the deal. WAMO (Wharehouse Area Management Organization) and Skrappy’s were potential partners in support, which I believe the developers sought to engage as part of a grass-roots groundswell of warm-fuzzies. WAMO was also at the table as the original development agreement included master planning of much of the warehouse district just north of downtown. Skrappy’s has been in search of a home for some time now after vacating their space at the rear of the Rialto block on Broadway and this deal would have given them some security for the near future. (I am omitting the Rialto Theatre in this post as I believe that angle of the story has already been covered in many places).
How, as a community, can we support the things that help define us and enrich our lives? Can we support specific artists whose work we all agree is significant? No, not likely. It is not possible to get any large group of people to agree on anything, art especially. Can we find ways to support places which are dedicated to presenting the arts, and places which allow artists to continue to work – at a reasonable cost? Yes. We support the Tucson Museum of Art, music, dance and theatre venues in many ways (government grants, etc.). I believe supporting the conservation of the warehouse district is one way to ensure that artists are still a part of the urban experience.
Disclaimer – I worked for the Tucson Arts District Partnership when that group established the warehouse district – late 1990′s – and am familiar ,and friends with, a number of artists currently working in this area. I also watched downtown lose a lot of character when early adopters (pre-Rio Nuevo) thought downtown was hip & cool but were forced to leave. We lost great businesses and arts spaces due to greedy landlords (Yikes, Berta Wright, The Arts District Bookstore, Cafe Magritte, etc.). While I will admit market forces and other elements had a hand in some losses, I would love to have these ghosts of downtown back today. If we lose the warehouse district in the near future we will lose another barrio – an arts barrio waiting to be CAREFULLY brought to fruition, and one that we cannot replace easily anytime soon. Let’s hope other developers can recognize a value in this gem that is awaiting support.