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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Solar culture gets burned

    Solar culture gets burned

    Music aficionado Nick Jett, a political science senior, has spent many of his weekends and weeknights at concerts – some at popular music venues in Phoenix, others at Club Congress and The Rialto Theatre here in town. However, one particular venue stands out in Jett’s mind as he recalls his most memorable concerts.

    Solar Culture has been the backdrop for the arts in Tucson for the past 20 years. The Postal Service, Explosions in the Sky and Rilo Kiley are only a few of the many concerts at which Jett stood in awe of art and music.

    “”(The Postal Service) was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I think this was the first and only time they toured and their only stop in Arizona,”” Jett said. “”Solar Culture’s turnouts are completely unpredictable sometimes.””

    But Jett is one of the many Solar Culture attendees who are questioning the venue’s future.

    For the past 20 years, the non-profit gallery located in Downtown Tucson’s warehouse district has created an intimate setting for musicians and artists unlike any place in town. Art is displayed from floor to ceiling by anyone who wishes to submit their work, and touring bands like the Arcade Fire, Interpol, Fugazi and PJ Harvey have passed through town – stopping only to perform on the stage amidst the art.

    Leaseholder Steven Eye, an artist himself, began renting the warehouse, at 31 E. Toole Ave., in 1987 from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

    Eye said the building was owned by ADOT because of plans to tear it down, making room for a parkway through Downtown Tucson. The parkway was built in a different location however, and Eye found himself an Art-Deco-influenced space built sometime around 1904.

    “”It was a very dirty, old produce warehouse with lots of soul,”” Eye said. “”It must have been sitting abandoned for years because it was such a mess.””

    He opened the gallery and venue to anyone interested in creating and experiencing art and music.

    The building is now under a microscope after the Arizona Daily Star published an article on Aug. 26 citing the problems and possible dangers with the warehouse’s old conditions. The article said, “”(Solar Culture) was written up by several inspectors for sagging floors that don’t have adequate support for the load they bear, and for an exterior wall deteriorated and cracked from long-term water damage that may have reduced its stability. An Army Corps of Engineers inspector called the building “”dangerous”” in 1999.””

    Eye said while the Star is correct about their findings with the buildings’ inspections, the problems were not life-threatening.

    “”We took great care and fixed the most serious of those problems,”” Eye said. “”Everything we could fix, we have fixed, and we are completely renovating from top to bottom.””

    The issue with the building’s future is difficult to understand because the state owns the property. If the city of Tucson is able to acquire the warehouses, leaseholders may purchase them from the city as long as they meet city regulations regarding safety, said City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff.

    “”My goal is to keep local arts groups in their ambience,”” Trasoff said. “”The basic philosophy of the council is that we want to support the arts along Toole Avenue.””

    Trasoff suggested warehouses like Solar Culture make improvements on the building’s conditions to meet with the city’s code of safety, no matter the state’s decision.

    Currently, Solar Culture is in the waiting room. Upcoming music events are moving to various venues around town. Ben Kweller, who was scheduled to perform at Solar Culture, will now perform at Club Congress on Tuesday.

    For Eye, this is frustrating. After the Star’s story ran, he began outsourcing to some of Solar Culture’s beloved local artists and fans to raise money for any repairs needed in the future. At this point, Eye just wants to make sure he remains the leaseholder at the gallery.

    “”I have been volunteering to run this building and provide creative opportunities to the people of Tucson and the heroic traveling musicians that grace our city,”” Eye said.

    For Joey Burns, lead singer and guitarist for Calexico, Solar Culture played a key role in the early years of the local band’s success.

    “”We love Solar Culture so much that we’ve held many rehearsals there in between albums and tours to tap into that creative spirit. There is something about that room, the art lining the long warehouse walls, the wood floors, the outdoor deck in front and in back of the venue, and the undeniable beauty of the trains passing by,”” Burns said.

    Burns said Eye’s dedication to artists and musicians is without comparison to most figures in the business. Eye introduced the members of Calexico to singer, dancer and painter Salvador Duran.

    “”We later went on to record and tour together (with Duran) and with Iron & Wine,”” Burns said. “”This kind of heartfelt involvement does not come from most clubs or venues.””

    In the past, Calexico has performed many benefit concerts to help raise money for repairs and the improvement of the sound system at Solar Culture, Burns said.

    “”In addition to helping out when we can, we’ve always recommended other touring bands to play Solar Culture,”” he said. “”It is this cutting-edge type of character Solar Culture exudes that has attracted so many artists and audiences in the past. Why would you want to kill that?””

    Eye agrees that the Downtown culture needs the arts.

    “”Solar Culture is an incubator for new art and music. It is fertile ground for the seeds of inspiration to grow and create,”” Eye said.

    For Jett and many of his friends, Solar Culture has provided a space where art and music are shared on an intimate level. He regrets missing some of the venue’s infamous appearances, such as the Arcade Fire, in 2005, and Animal Collective last year, because they were sold out. It’s a double-edged sword for Jett, as he was glad to see such bands support Solar Culture.

    “”These are all huge bands that clearly could have played somewhere else but chose Solar Culture, I believe, because of the venue’s reputation throughout the music industry,”” Jett said. “”I can definitely attribute the environment of the shows to how much I enjoyed the performances I’ve seen.””

    Whatever the future brings, Eye said he remains positive about the arts in Tucson.

    “”Art is the natural way of giving back and sharing what we have experienced,”” he said.

    For now, Solar Culture will beat on. Eye planned a new art exhibit, titled “”The Dangerous Art Show,”” which will open Oct. 13. For more information about upcoming shows, visit

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