Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
Rather than make the tough choices necessary to fix the state’s revenue structure, the Arizona Legislature ended its 2010 session last week after slashing many state-funded programs, most notably education on all levels, healthcare for children and the poor, and the state parks system.
The City of Tucson also has tough choices to make. In recent months, the City Manager has offered solutions, but many have been shot down.
In tough economic times, arts funding is an easy target. During the 2009 city council elections, local talk radio hosts and the Arizona Daily Star (formerly the Red Star but now a right-wing mouthpiece) hammered the Democratic-controlled City council for not being “business friendly”. Repeatedly, they called for cuts to arts funding as a way to solve the city’s budget crisis. This kind of talk makes great sound bites for the small government folks, but Tucson’s arts funding is already so paltry that eliminating it only nips at the edge of our budget problems. (Often, I believe that the right-wingers are just bad at math. Arizona’s and Tucson’s budget problems are cause by a tax structure that relies too heavily on sales tax. When sales go down– as they do in a recession– revenue plummets. Ultimately, we need to make the tough choices to fix our tax system, but that ain’t happen’ with our current state government.)
I believe that the dichotomy of “arts friendly” vs “business friendly” is just political rhetoric. Tucson has been blessed with a vibrant and diverse arts and music scene. The Tucson city government can be both “arts friendly” and “business friendly”. It is not an either/or situation as the right-wing local media would have us believe.
Supporting the arts IS business friendly. Three great examples of how cities have flourished by touting their arts and/or music scenes are: Austin, New Orleans, and Ashville, NC.
My friends and I recently returned from a trip to New Orleans to attend the 27th Annual French Quarter Festival. This is a free music festival that features only musicians from Louisiana. There were 12 stages of music and plenty of food, art, and dancing in the streets. An estimated 450,000 people attended that festival in 2009, and they expected more in 2010. We came for the music, but we spent plenty of money in restaurants, shops, and the B&B where we stayed. Local businesses kicked in funds to support and promote that free music festival because they knew they would benefit from hordes of tourists attending it. This is a prime example of the New Orleans business community working with the music and arts community for the economic and cultural betterment of the city.
Over the course of our long weekend in New Orleans, we repeatedly asked ourselves: Why doesn’t Tucson do this? Tucson has many music festivals– the Folk Festival, the Mariachi Festival, the Chamber Music Festival, the Blues Festival, the Blue Grass Festival, Club Crawl, etc. Do we bill ourselves as a music destination? Not that I know of.
Today is an Arts Day of Action organized by Tucson artists and TPAC. There will be several events around town to highlight the city’s arts and music scene. Here is a list of events:
– Arts for All, Coffee Reception, 7 – 9 AM (Arts for All, 2520 N. Oracle Rd)
– The Loft Cinema, Playing PSA videos all day (The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd)
– Invisible Theatre, Draping marquee, (Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. 1st Ave)
Downtown beginning at 5:30 pm:
– Jodi Netzer, a running butoh clown (starting at Maynard’s)
– Flam Chen/ Critical Stilts (between Maynards and the library)
– Jeff Grubic on sax (Pedestrian bridge between El Presidion Park and La Placita Village_
– Mitzi Dasheya Cowell and pals (Scooters in La Placita Village
– Katie Rutterer and New ARTiculations (La Placita Village Plaza)
– To-Reé-Neé (near the griffin at Scott Ave & 12th Street)
– Batucaxé and Acroyoga (near Armory Park, 6th Ave & 12th Street)
– Odaiko Sonora & Lorie Heald (on the Diamondback bridge)Denise Uyehara, Adam Cooper– Teran and friends, video projections (Amtrak depot, after 7:30 p.m.)
Check the Arts Day of Action website or tweet @tpacartadvocacy for additional events that may be added.
By ignoring the arts– or worse, by further cutting funding– Tucson is missing a perfect marketing opportunity to set itself apart from other tourist destinations. This is a wake up call to not only the city government but to business community and the arts community. I urge you to drop the us vs them attitude and work together.
This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.