07 September 2006

THE WHEELS TURN

and turn and turn.

Hours and hours have been taken from my time in the last several days meeting City Council members, going to council study sessions, speaking at regular council meeting, etc. The issue is a development to go right across the street from the chax press studio, a development by Town West developers that will provide downtown housing in the form of 140 to 150 condominiums, generally priced at $350,000 or more. The spot is the largest vacant piece of land in the Tucson Historic Warehouse Arts District. Two years ago Mayor & Council adopted a Master Plan for the district that foresaw this parcel as filled with an outdoor performance space, affordable housing for artists, arts retail space for art supply store, galleries, and space for nonprofit arts organization, all coordinated with a connecting art walk throughout the district. I am president of the Warehouse Arts Management Organization, a group that came into being through that Master Plan. WAMO has been continuously working on the development of the district, solving problems of artists in old buildings that have difficulties to overcome, and trying to focus the city council & staff's energies on honoring the Master Plan. This particular parcel is a major connecting point, perhaps THE major connecting point.

The working heart of the district is the Steinfeld Warehouse and 6th Street studios. This is where more artists and arts organizations create their work than in any other similar conjunction of buildings. Chax Press is here, the Alamo Woodworkers Collective is here, Dinnerware Art Gallery is here, dance companies are here, youth organizations are here; it's impressive, not only for Tucson — it would be impressive anywhere. That's the heart. The brain, at the other end of the district, is MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art. Still struggling in its early development, but entirely promising and thoroughly professional, MOCA curates the myriad practices of contemporary art into exciting and educational exhibitions and programs. Heart & brain. Connecting them is the bloodline, the Toole Avenue corridor of artists' warehouses, performance spaces, educational organizations in the arts. It's lively there, as blood should be. Steven Eye's Solar Culture, in particular, is where one goes for "the news" in contemporary music, and where any artist can find their work welcomed. In some ways, it's the anti-museum; we need that, too. The final connecting point in this bloodline would have been this parcel that is now to be a 12-story condomium project. What a missed opportunity! This could have been the piece of the puzzle, as envisioned in the Master Plan, to ignite the district and give it a place for outdoor art and performances, coffeehouse and restaurant for gatherings, retail that supports the arts, and a place where more artists could live at affordable prices. Well, it isn't going to happen. The city has ignored the desires of artists and has ignored the very intent of their own approved Master Plan, while claiming this new project is the "first major investment in the Warehouse Arts District." It may be the first major investment within the district, but it's not an investment in the district and what the district hopes to accomplish and develop for the arts.

I'll keep updating this issue, and I'll try and supplement this post soon with some photos of the warehouse arts district.