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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The struggle for visual arts

    Roberto Bedoya, executive director of the Tucson-Pima Arts Council, asked the City Council for an increase in the organizations budget in January.
    Roberto Bedoya, executive director of the Tucson-Pima Arts Council, asked the City Council for an increase in the organization’s budget in January.

    Artist Anna Ochoa applied Nos. 1 through 12 along the building wall, trying to figure out where she would position each shiny numeral. Cristina Cardenas, an adjunct faculty member at Pima Community College’s Desert Vista campus led students in her Mexican/Chicano Mural Painting class to paint vivid representations of Hispanic culture on the wall, incorporating the history they had studied throughout the semester.

    The money to create the mural, produced by local Hispanic artists and students, was provided by the Tucson-Pima Arts Council in preparation for the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture Workshop at the Hotel Arizona from April 24 to 26.

    “”(The mural cost) $400 to make, but with the volunteer work it’s easily quadrupled or more through the value for the dollar,”” said David Aguirre, executive director of Dinnerware ArtSpace, 264 E. Congress St., the host of the mural.

    Cardenas, who received her master’s degree in studio art from the UA, is thrilled TPAC, a local arts organization that represents the city and Pima County and supports about 80 programs a year, is bringing the workshop to Tucson – a happiness that spread into her students’ ways of thinking.

    “”One of the reasons I decided to do this class is to get experience,”” said Angela Ramos, a student at PCC and a local artist originally from Brazil. “”I think it is a really strong place to start.””

    Tucson might not be seeing as much public art, however, if the City Council votes to cut funding for the already under-funded TPAC.

    “”That’s my job to a certain extent, to assure that our cultural art program is supported,”” said Roberto Bedoya, executive director of TPAC. “”We have been receiving six years of flat funding (from the city), and the national per capita support is $6, while we only get $.94.””

    According to an Arizona Daily Star article published Jan. 22, City Manager Mike Hein compiled a list, which included TPAC, of city funded programs that could possibly end up on the cutting room floor due to a citywide budget crunch that will result in a $5 million to $7 million thinner budget than last year. This spawned Bedoya, urged by Aguirre, TPAC board of directors members and the results of the Pima Cultural Plan, to ask for the city to double the arts council’s budget to $1.5 million.

    “”I told Roberto, ‘Let’s double our budget.’ I think it seems counterintuitive, but it is something we need to do,”” said Aguirre, a former member of the board of directors.

    Every two years TPAC has the opportunity to ask the City Council for an increase in funds. If funding from the city is cut, the arts organization will have to look toward other means of support, Bedoya said.

    “”We’d have to evaluate our services if we received a severe cut in our allocations from the city and then we would have to look at what we could do with the money we had,”” Bedoya said. “”The $691,000 that we get from the city is an important contributor to a $150 million product – so if they don’t see that as valuable then we will have to get the support elsewhere.””

    City Manager Mike Hein and Councilwomen Nina Trasoff and Regina Romero did not return repeated phone calls to address their thoughts on the budget increase request, an item that should show up on the city’s meeting agenda before July.

    Tucson has a hard time competing for national funds when cities like Los Angeles and New York have a thriving visual art community.

    “”How does a mid-size city get money from (national) organizations? I can’t change their policies; none of us are getting these monies,”” Bedoya said.

    Nancy Lutz, president of TPAC’s board of directors, said the lack of national funding has caused the arts council to re-evaluate its spending.

    “”The funding from the National Endowment (for the Arts) goes to the state,”” Lutz said. “”Big private foundations like the Rockefeller Foundation typically give to the coasts, around where they are found, toward causes they are most interested in, but a reasonable sized community (like Tucson) has been left out of that. A lot of national funding goes to museums – educational museums through symphonies.””

    While Bedoya can ask for financial assistance locally, there is less of a market than nationally. “”There is a very limited area in which I can prospect for support. I can’t compete with these constituencies, the monies that we do get are to pass through these doors to get to smaller groups,”” he said.

    Although some of the city’s funding comes from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, a state agency dedicated to supporting the arts industry in Arizona through grants to non-profit organizations and other means, most of TPAC’s financial coverage is from the City of Tucson.

    A lack of funding, although hampering, has kept Dinnerware ArtSpace an adaptive, creative entity over the years.

    “”We have had to change our operating mechanisms to keep up with the economy,”” Aguirre said. “”It reminds me of this story, ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ There are two mice and one day the cheese is gone so one mouse goes to find it and the other stays behind and dies. It just shows that you always need to look for the cheese.””

    The return and benefit of the arts may be larger than representatives of the city might realize.

    “”There is a huge value on the arts, through the number of participants – cafes, restaurants use art – but on the city level being a part of a budget puts you on the same level with firefighters and the argument gets weaker,”” Aguirre said.

    Alfred Quiroz, a UA art professor, local artist and former TPAC board of directors member, said it is hard to compete with miners and firefighters for money because it is more difficult to see those investments.

    “”There are no products. You have to pay to see dance or a symphony, while the art galleries are free and the art is expensive,”” Quiroz said.

    Under-funded arts organizations aren’t just at the local level; it is a problem plaguing cities across the United States.

    “”Arts are frequently targeted,”” said Maurice Sevigny, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the UA. “”People don’t realize that arts help with education as a whole. It is a problem to fund the arts when the same people that like the arts are being courted by every art program in town, because there are a lot of groups that need support.””

    The Florida Legislature is considering a bill that would either cut $5 million or $10 million of grant monies to be distributed to arts organizations across the state if passed, according to an article published in the Tallahassee Democrat on Tuesday. A bill is also circulating in the Arizona Legislature over transferring funding from the Arizona Arts Trust Fund to be used to fill abandoned mines, according to an article published by The Associated Press on Sunday.

    Maintaining program operation isn’t the only aspect of funding. Aguirre, also a member of the Warehouse Arts Management Organization, is hoping for the potential of a revitalized downtown district.

    “”We used to call this the ‘art district’,”” Aguirre said. “”Now there are more bars and fewer galleries, but that is changing.””

    If the warehouses in the warehouse arts district along the railroad tracks are redesigned, it might be possible to sell them for low prices, expanding the diversity in the area, Aguirre said.

    “”We want to keep it a cool district, keeping the creativity,”” Aguirre said.

    This re-design is outlined in the Pima Cultural Plan, a roadmap laying out the necessary changes for Tucson’s art scene to adequately provide for artists and the community’s quality of life.

    Quiroz thinks the visual arts in Tucson are already dwindling due to a lack of city funding.

    “”Now there is hardly anything downtown. Most art galleries are at Sixth and Sixth, aside from a couple on Fourth and Congress or in the Foothills. And that was what was keeping downtown viable,”” Quiroz said.

    He cited the ’80s and early ’90s as downtown Tucson’s visual art scene peak.

    “”There was Dinnerware and Downtown Saturday Night which drew huge crowds and was great exposure. Then someone realized, ‘Oh, we can feed these people and sell earrings,’ and it turned into a swap meet,”” Quiroz said. “”One time I was working at a gallery on a Saturday and we had so many people there and we ran out of chips and salsa and some lady was very irate and told me ‘I can’t believe you ran out of chips and salsa’ and I said, ‘Well, why don’t you buy some art? If you buy some art we can afford to buy chips and salsa!'””

    Quiroz said downtown turned into a zoo on these nights, causing some art galleries to stop opening for the event. “”The reason it all worked so well was support from the city and TPAC and then the funds just dried up,”” he said.

    Quiroz is amazed that TPAC has withstood a funding deficit and still provides for arts organizations in town.

    “”If we didn’t have TPAC in place we wouldn’t have as much public art,”” he said.

    Sevigny said some cities have groups like businessmen for the arts, but an official government appointed arts council is out of the norm in other states. “”This community has been very strong about the quality of arts and is very aware of the diversity.””

    Although it is recognized that Tucson has a strong arts community, points outlined in the Pima Cultural Plan have still gone un-researched.

    “”We haven’t addressed our needs. One of the highest frustrations is not having adequate or cultural facilities,”” she said. While the city’s quality of life is impacted, TPAC might have to find additional funding if the city checks out, placing the difficult job on Bedoya’s shoulders.

    “”We don’t have a great philanthropic community that contributes to the arts council. People donate to their individual groups of choice,”” Bedoya said. “”We are the largest supporters of arts in the area – if you are running a small theater you go to the arts council, you go to the community foundation and you go to the state for funding.””

    If the City Council doesn’t recognize TPAC’s budget increase request, it could lead to harder times for local artists and organizations. “”We have stretched our artists and organization and we are reaching a breaking point,”” Lutz said.

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