19 November 2006

LAST STAND OF THE ALAMO


Some call our building, whose real name is the Steinfeld Warehouse, or the Old Steinfeld Warehouse, or the Historic Steinfeld Warehouse (home of Chax Press, Cynthia Miller, the Alamo Woodworkers Collective, Dinnerware Arts Gallery, Elizabeth Crider, Laura La Fave, Joe LaBate, David Aguirre, Nora Kuehl, and others — 16 artists in all, plus their employees, volunteers, interns, exhibited artists, organizational board members, etc.) the Alamo. It may be at its last stand.

We were all (and the tenant of another building, Zee's Warehouse) on Wednesday of this past week given eviction notices, by our landlord, the State of Arizona Dept. of Transportation. The State bought several buildings in the area more than 25 years ago in order to clear the way for a highway to be built through the area. The highway was not built, artists came to inhabit the buildings (ours was the first to become an artists' warehouse in the area), the state seemed to condone the idea, and we've been there ever since. Specifically, The Alamo Woodworkers' Collective has been at Steinfeld for 20 years, and Chax Press and Cynthia Miller have been there for 17 of those 20 years; David Aguirre has been there for about 17 years as well. We are now supposed to leave by January 31, 2007.

Last night, at a poetry reading in the building (presented by POG, which is supported in part by Chax Press), I kept looking up at the beautiful wood ceiling, at the time, I thought, one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I had difficulty concentrating on the poems (though they were fantastic: both Barbara Henning & Sheila Murphy gave terrific readings), as my mind was on the building that has been my home for most of my waking hours, and the home to a group of extraordinary friends and colleagues.

Earlier that day about 100 artists gathered for a photograph at the Steinfeld Warehouse (one of the photos taken is included with this post), all of whom are trying to save this building and to save the Tucson Historic Warehouse Arts District, of which the Steinfeld is a cornerstone. At this point we have many questions, few answers. We will do our best to resist and try and overturn the evacuation order, at the same time trying to find new homes. Some of us will not leave until we are literally forced out. A coalition is coming together, and I hope it can be effective not only in saving the buildings for the artists who are here now, but in finding ways for those artists to own the buildings, and to gain financial support for the rehabilitation of buildings as needed to meet building codes (all the time the buildings were in state hands, they were exempt from city building codes).

The state claims their intent is to "reintegrate the buildings into the neighborhood." This is actually what the artists have done for twenty years, in the process creating a kind of community that is all too rare, and continually threatened, in our world.

I want to leave the last word here to my friend John Sartin, a woodworker, photographer, and jeweler who has been a mainstay in the building, and in the district, for a good part of his life. This is his letter to the group of artists who are coming together to try and save Steinfeld and Zee's for the artists therein.
Hello Group!

My name is John Sartin and I am one of the original members of the Steinfeld Warehouse group. Although I now work mostly from a home studio, I have deep roots in the Downtown Arts Community that started in the very early days of The Splinter Brothers and Sisters Warehouse circa 1972. I have literally grown up as a downtown Tucson artist / craftsman. The issue of a thriving and vibrant arts community is very important to my personal well being.

After speaking with some of you at the Dinnerware meeting I have come to the conclusion that some of us have different hopes for an outcome. Some simply want a time extension and possibly compensation or moving assistance. Some would like to have an opportunity to purchase their building or get a long term lease at an affordable rate after rehabilitation. Some are involved simply because they believe in the importance of the Warehouse Arts District and the fair treatment of the affected people. Some just want to assure that the buildings will not be razed. What ever your personal agenda is, we must now come together , find our common focus and educate the greater community of Tucson in the true value of maintaining the continued use of these properties as affordable art and craft space. I think it will be necessary to show Tucson why these particular buildings and their tenants are critical to a healthy city identity. What have we given to Tucson over the last 20 years? Why do we deserve their support for fair treatment? Why should they care? What have we done for them?

Some answers that come to my mind are:

We have literally kept these building standing and not let them become eyesores while the transportation issues were being resolved. I think there is a perception by some that we have been the beneficiaries of cheap rent and should be happy to have had it and move on when told to. We know this is not true. We have paid the rent that buildings in such a state of disrepair could command. I feel we have quite a lot of sweat equity in the Steinfeld Warehouse. The fact that this grand building still stands is due totally to the people that have poured their cash and sweat into keeping the roof on it for 20 years. The State has turned a deaf ear to requests for help to preserve this important landmark. This building without renters like us would not have been a viable commercial property. The collapse of the roof and decay of the walls has been postponed only by our efforts. We have paid real world rents for this property when you factor in the money and labor invested. I feel in a very real way we have prevented the city from having to endure abandoned and decaying buildings a few blocks from city hall. We have been awesome caretakers of these splendid and now rare examples of Tucson's heritage.

We have provided the greater community an identity of a creative and inventive city that will accept and embrace culture in many varied forms. I see Solar Culture as a shining example of this. Where else can you go and see such diverse entertainment for a reasonable price in a safe and authentic environment. My kids love shows there as much as I do. I do not want to loose a venue like this. We also represent a community of involved and giving citizens. Just look at the wonderful article in the new publication ARIZONA FOOTHILLS TUCSON. There is an article about artists giving back to the community. Featured artists include Cynthia Miller, Charles Alexander and David Aguirre, outlining their generous community involvement. These are all people working in the buildings in question! There are many more examples of this nature just waiting to be brought to the attention of the public. We need to come together and show them we are worthy of their support.

We continue to enrich the community by working together, in close proximity, inspiring each other to do our best work. I love seeing my fellow local artists work in peoples homes. Just last week I went to a customers house and the first thing I noticed was a painting by Cynthia Miller over the fireplace. When I mentioned it, the owner told me it was one of her favorite things and how much it meant to her. I hope you have all had this experience and know the feeling of pride for a member of our special community of creatives. We are in a unique position to touch peoples souls. We are worthy of support from the greater community and should come together to ask for their assistance. The positive press we want will then follow!

Peace, John Sartin

9 Comments:

At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Ben Friedlander said...

A very sad story Charles. I hope you and the others can persevere, for Tucson's sake as well as your own.

 
At 8:54 AM, Blogger Morgan Lucas Schuldt said...

Please keep posting about this. If there's anything that can be done where you need bodies for protest, or fundraising, or anything else, please tell us when and where.

 
At 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Charles,

This is awful news. I hope you can get the state to see the light. It's like San Francisco c. 1999. Would testimonials about Chax Press from out -of-towners help? Best of luck ... please keep us up on what's happening!

 
At 11:13 AM, Blogger et said...

Charles, this is terrible to hear. What you say about the artists creating, co-creating the neighborhood is so true. I love Tucson and I love Chax Press! What can I do?
I remember the great meetings there with you, Tenney, and my Mom, and later with you, Cynthia, Paul, Ivy and my mom, with such pleasure.
Why are the beautiful things always so maligned and temporary?

Elizabeth

 
At 9:48 PM, Blogger charles said...

wow. first time I've checked comments since posting this. a week full of meetings, including two today with city council and a truly amazing group of artists involved with this struggle. the picture actually looks slightly better right now, but still far from a comfort zone. we have a stronger sense of the commitment of the City of Tucson to work with us to save these buildings for the artists & their work, including chax press. And we have the beginnings of a plan to make non-evacuation possible. We have two months of an extension on the eviction notices, which is a chance to work out that plan. It's still dicey, pieces have to fall into place, but I think everyone here is feeling a sense of hope that we did not feel a week ago. Thanks to all here.

Morgan, I will let you know when letters are going to be important.

Ben, Thanks for your support, & I will, sometime before this year ends, get you a note off about your really terrific mss.

Rodney K, yes I think testimonials about chax from out of towners will help. I think the time to send those will likely come sometime fairly soon, but not immediately. I'll post here again, and send emails out, seeking such response. Your offer is heartwarming.

Elizabeth, your presence here is well remembered, and I hope you come again! Please know there are a lot of very good people, smart and resourceful, who are working on this. There was a moment today, in the city council member's office, when I suddenly spoke up, so the city staff there would know something about the remarkable dozen or so people at the table, i.e. that they were people whose art hung in collections from Paris to Hawaii, people whose books have been exhibited and collected by libraries including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Getty in Los Angeles; furniture makers whose works are in the finest public and private buildings in the region; creators of national award-winning youth art programs; and much more. I was privileged to be among that company.

 
At 9:10 AM, Blogger et said...

Charles, This is all so heartening! I've been wanting to apologize for my last question (in my last post) which certainly sounds more flighty and trite than I meant; I think it was my deep-seated fear of eviction kicking in. I wish you all every good kind of luck and I will do whatever I can to help.
Have a good holiday, such as it is.
Love, Elizabeth

 
At 1:35 PM, Blogger poet CAConrad said...

Charles! If there's some way that those of us far away can help, please let us know! Can we write or even call someone or some agency down there?

SHIT! This really stinks!

CAConrad

 
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