By Andrew Coan
Arizona Summer Wildcat
If you've ever been to Downtown Saturday Night, ever eaten at Cafe Magritte, or seen a play at a.k.a Theater Company, then congratulations. You have just taken part in some way in the Tucson Experience known as the Downtown Arts District.
But what do we really know about how the Arts District is run? Where do they get their funding from? These are questions that need to be answered. Because if we don't know how the Arts District works, then we have no say over what happens to it in the future.
According to The Arizona Historical Society, the Arts District was created in the late '80s to help revitalize the downtown area after businesses moved away to other parts of the city in the late '60s and early '70s. By the mid-'70s downtown Tucson was a ghost town. Many ideas were tossed around for revitalization, and the idea of today's Arts District won.
The Arts District Partnership, which oversees the District, says that the Arts District is funded in part by grants from The City of Tucson's General fund.
Sarah Clements, director of the partnership, says that "money is put into the fund for the arts through a City Council-approved surcharge of $1 per person, per night on hotel rooms in the city limits." Clements stresses that the money from the city comes from only the imposed surcharge, and that taxpayers do not fund the district.
From the general fund the money goes into grants for various arts groups. Last year the Arts District received $230,000, which is 80 percent to 85 percent of the district's annual budget.
The arts district is home to about 200 businesses which help run roughly 13 programs, including Downtown Saturday Night, The Phantom Galleries, which takes abandoned buildings and turns them into facades for artists to display their work, the Art Space Devel
opment Loan program ─which works to preserve art space downtown; and The Thursday Night Art walk on the last Thursday of each month, are all Arts District programs. City funding, in part, helps the district afford these programs.
While the district is flourishing now, there could be problems in the future. City funding may dry up due to tighter budgets, community opinion, or just plain politicking.
"Anyone who isn't worried about city funding is just not looking at the issues," says Clements.
Still Clements does see a bright future for the district. She feels that it just needs the time to properly grow.
"The district is on a drip system, which we hope will allow it to grow roots," she says.
Clements hopes for wider community support in the future, and wants to make downtown the hub of the city, like it once was. She thinks that the Arts District is serving the purpose that it was intended for successfully.
No matter what you think of The Arts District, it is clear that it is here to stay. With continued support from the city and the community, The Downtown Arts District is going to be a haven for artists and small businesses for years to come.
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