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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    At the Table: Herb Stratford

    For this installment of At the Table, the Arizona Summer Wildcat put Herb Stratford in the hot seat to get inside the mind of one of Tucson’s cultural movers and shakers. He is the founder of the nonprofit organization that rescued Fox Theatre from the wrecking ball, professor of arts management at the UA, and a photo artist. Stratford walked a couple blocks from his Central Tucson home to grab a cup of coffee and talk about efforts to rebuild downtown’s cultural scene, his personal art aesthetic, and summer programs currently playing at the Fox Theatre.

    You have headed up a summer series for the Fox Theatre that plays episodes from old serials every Saturday afternoon. What inspired this program?

    We’ve always done a summer movie series of classic movies. Back in the old days, the Fox and the Mickey Mouse Club were partners, so parents would send their kids to the theatre from 10 to 12 every day. The world is a different place now, so we wanted to recreate some of that but also update it for a modern audience. This program is a little bit of nostalgia for things that used to happen here.

    What motivated you to undertake such a huge project like restoration of the Fox?

    I think it’s a combination of the architecture, the history, and maybe the opportunity. I almost feel like there was an opportunity, a window, to apply the things that I had learned in my life to make an impact, to make something happen. But it’s interesting because the more we drew people to the Fox, and the more you draw people to these projects, the more the energy behind them snowballs into something amazing.

    Downtown is in many ways a skeleton of a more vibrant time. The structures are there, but the community has fled to other parts of town. Is reviving the building more than just saving historic structures? Do they represent community also?

    I think one of the things that strike me the most is when I go to another city and I see other downtowns. They evoke an urban sense of place. To me, it seems like every space should create that sense of place, especially if the elements are there. But the other thing about the issue of downtown is that things like this slowly come along. People hear the word ‘revival’ and they expect to go downtown the next day and to be blown away, when in reality things like this take decades. They take persistence and political will, and you have to recognize that not all of those elements will come together at the same time.

    What do you think is the best solution to attract Tucsonans back down to these centers?

    You need a mixture of homegrown Tucson originals, while finding a way to communicate to people why these businesses and resources are so great. A lot of if has to be word of mouth and a lot of it has to be experiential. But things also have to be constantly updated in order to keep drawing a crowd. We need programming that appeals to a modern, evolving community. It’s about having a little bit of everything, being proactive, and responding to different things happening in the community.

    I think that if you look at all the work you’ve done – in the community, artistically, in the business world – it all speaks to a sense of home. Not in the traditional sense of the word, but in a more altruistic sense. With that in mind, how would you describe the creation of home within a community and within a city?

    For me, a lot of my work is about memory and that aspect of a sense of place and a sense of belonging. I think creating that sense of memory and place is very important and it might be one of the reasons why I’m so inspired by these pieces of our history. They defined our place and they defined our sense of home. Back in the day, you used to know a lot of your community, but now the sense of space is so different and we’ve lost a lot of that sense of community. I think there is a certain nostalgia for lost time that makes sense to me, especially since we have become so transitory. I don’t think it is a conscious thing for me, but I do think I am trying to make a sense of a smaller time – not a simpler time – just smaller.

    How do you connect to the concept of nostalgia?

    My parents went through a pretty awful divorce when I was about 25. So I think a lot of the work that I was doing at that time was very cathartic. It was looking back on things and then overanalyzing and remembering. That informed my work for quite a while. So I think that in a way I am pining for something. It’s not conscious – I think it would feel false or untrue if it was forced. But I do think it is integrated into a lot of my work. Things have to have a sense of history to them, but I try to bend the story that history lends things in order to make them more interesting.

    A strong trend in our generation, as far as what appeals, is putting an old twist on new and fresh things. How should downtown businesses balance nostalgia for the old days and historic content with new programming that will appeal to a fresh audience?

    The challenge is to mix the low risk programs with more cutting edge things. And, in that sense, it’s all about relationship building among businesses in order to draw programs to the right buildings. But it’s also about trying to touch different groups of people and see if you can create the experiences that they want. It all falls back on the programming and always keeping the big picture in mind.

    One of your new endeavors since leaving the Fox has been a teaching in gig with the UA. Could you talk about your experience as a professor of arts management?

    Arts management, to me, is trying to blend both sides of your brain. Teaching is rewarding in that I’ll get a group of core students that will really engage and go above and beyond in their work. It’s interesting because I feel like if any of my students remember something I told them at an important part of their life, then that’s great and I did my job. I feel like I have something to offer and I want to contribute, so I like that it gives me an opportunity to give back.

    How do you want to be remembered in Tucson?

    As somebody who made a difference and had a positive impact. Also, it would be nice if people, down the road, look at the Fox and say, “”There’s something here that is important to us, and it is here in part because of this guy.””

    If you could address all of Tucson in one sentence, what would you say?

    Come to the Fox. You paid for it, so come see it.

    Fox Theatre
    17 W. Congress St.
    Summer Classic Movie Serial Series
    Saturdays, 1 p.m., $5

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