David Aguirre and I sit in the loft office of his studio/gallery and together ponder the future.
Things have been kind of uncertain for our community’s “creative class” lately – especially those whose livelihood depends upon the delicate downtown ecosystem.
Artists such as David used to be definitive of Tucson. Since Rio Nuevo, their footing seems less sure.
For some time an odd feeling of jeopardy has hung in the heart of the city.
Suddenly, threat has become reality. After nearly 20 years of peaceful tenancy and with little warning, the artists of the Steinfeld – a beautiful old railroad depot that is the keystone of Tucson’s historic Warehouse Arts District – have been served with an eviction notice courtesy of the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Of course, the issue here isn’t the fate of one building. It’s about what that one building symbolizes.
With so much conflict in the air over what downtown Tucson should become, more and more people are losing sight of what downtown Tucson is – what it always has been: a proud representation of our community’s uniquely woven culture, a subtle masterpiece of individualist spirit and community dedication. In a word, authentic.
Unlike the rest of the strip-mall sprawl around here, downtown actually has history and character, and despite shameful neglect has tenaciously clung to its identity even through the dark ages (aka the ’90s).
Anchored by a few local mainstays, the area has remained a haven for the idealists among us, especially the entrepreneurial ones.
Despite the near draconian rule of the suburban big box, gutsy local business folk continue to roll the dice downtown, bless their masochistic hearts. Often as not, these well-intentioned upstarts last less than a year or two.
Nonetheless, their dogged persistence has proved an invaluable life-support system for the ailing soul of our city.
Meanwhile, the fate of one of downtown’s greatest functional monuments, indeed one of the tent poles of Tucson’s heritage, is on the chopping block – and our artistic community’s collective neck along with it.
City leaders claim to support the cause of imperiled downtown artists. And to its credit, David assures me, the city is working with local arts leaders in an attempt to buy the endangered Steinfeld from ADOT.
Nonetheless, I muse, logic – or perhaps survival instinct – raises the question: With so much at stake downtown, is it really so paranoid to be looking over our shoulders?
“Supportive” or not, the city has big plans for downtown.
And as they’re revealed, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how struggling artists and small local businesses fit in.
Will the eviction of the Steinfeld go down in local history as the shot heard ’round Tucson? I hope not.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Downtown revitalization is a great idea.
I’ve also seen how easily these things can spiral out of control.
As Rio Nuevo morphs from concept to construction, an unwavering belief in Tucson will be our most valuable tool.
We the people, not some stack of feasibility reports, are responsible for the future of our community.
If Tucson turns into Scottsdale, we’ll have nobody to blame but ourselves.
For his part, David is ramping up involvement of the local arts community in Rio Nuevo planning.
I plan to recruit a motley crew of discontents and start a free press magazine dedicated to keeping Tucson real.
So what are you gonna do about it?
Amy Lynn Glor is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Arizona journalism department. E-mail: email@example.com.
Central Tucson Gallery Association: 629-9759
Warehouse Arts Management Association, president Charles Alexander: firstname.lastname@example.org