Over the fall, students and employees alike delighted in taking a turn on a large, bright red swingset that appeared out of nowhere in front of the Modern Languages building. In reality, it was a small part of a big effort from Arizona Arts to make sure everyone on campus has a meaningful arts experience.
The installation, called “Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0,” was a joint project involving Arizona Arts Live, the University’s performing arts presenter, and the Office of the Provost that was designed to spark fun and bring enjoyment to campus.
Andrew Schulz, vice president for the arts and dean of the College of Fine Arts, says the swings were proof of how investing in physical space can enhance how the campus community experiences the arts. An initiative to take that concept campuswide is now underway.
When he took over the position in the summer of 2018, Schulz said he inherited incredible academic programs in the four schools that make up the college – the School of Art, the School of Dance, the Fred Fox School of Music and the School of Theatre, Film and Television – as well as a full slate of exhibits, concerts and performances for the campus and Tucson communities.
“Where we were really lagging was in the facilities to match the quality of our students, faculty, programming and curriculum,” Schulz said.
Schulz arrived at a time when the University was finalizing its strategic plan and beginning work on a campuswide master plan. He says he took the opportunity to begin work on an Arizona Arts master plan that could align with the University’s master plan. He says a yearlong study and ongoing work with the Planning, Design and Construction office resulted in the Arizona Arts Master Plan, a comprehensive blueprint to create an arts and culture district on campus.
“The process was a chance to think coherently and strategically about how to imagine a campaign over eight to 10 years of renovation and new construction that would really refashion the arts on campus,” Schulz said. “This benefits not only our students and our University, but also the entire community and Southern Arizona. We want to play a role in transforming Tucson into an arts destination.”
The big picture
The Arizona Arts Master Plan is a significant part of the Arizona Advantage pillar of the University’s strategic plan, which calls on the University to “integrate the arts throughout the university experience and beyond.” It also aims to position the University as both an international arts and culture destination and as a driver for regional economic development.
“The arts play a central role in our strategic plan,” said University President Robert C. Robbins. “Investing in the arts means investing in a foundation of learning, creativity, discovery and community engagement. This ambitious plan will further position the University as a leader in creativity-based education, and I am very excited to see its impact.”
In Arizona, the arts is a multibillion-dollar industry, according the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. In its 2020 Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account report, the bureau said the sector added $9.6 billion to Arizona’s gross domestic product and employed more than 79,000 people. The state has room to grow in that sector, ranking No. 19 in the United States in industry value added and No. 20 in employment.
But the most important opportunity for growth, Schulz says, comes in the form of human enrichment and understanding.
“The arts provide so much value in terms of helping us understand what it means to be human, understanding what empathy is, understanding how to tell our stories and how to understand the stories of others,” he said. “The arts provide this incredible lens into the human experience.”
What’s happening now, what’s happening next
Those on campus will notice upgrades to some Fine Arts facilities have already been made. The Center for Creative Photography’s entryway was renovated late last year. That project included the construction of a new interdisciplinary gallery in the lobby, which is now featuring an exhibition created in partnership with the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. The CCP, which opened in 1975, is also creating a new cold storage facility, which will extend the longevity of color film and prints.
Another completed renovation transformed the main lobby of the School of Art as well as the shared courtyard for the school and the art museum – both buildings date back to the 1950s – to create a welcoming patio and more open space. The Lionel Rombach Gallery was moved from an interior location with no outside visibility to the front of the new space so that student art is now the first thing visitors see when entering the building. The project also created places for students to relax, socialize and collaborate.
Up next is the renovation of the Marroney Theatre, which opened its doors in 1956 and houses student theatrical productions. The project, which should begin in November and take about a year to complete, will refashion the lobby, with light as a theme.
“It’s important to think about what places look like at night, since many events take place at night,” Schulz said.
The college is also in the planning stages of a renovation of Centennial Hall and a new site for the University of Arizona Museum of Art. Schulz says the museum, which is located on North Olive Road and shares space with the School of Art, “needs its own front door.” Plans also include a revisioning of the Arts Oasis sculpture garden.
Attracting top talent
Much like athletics, the College of Fine Arts recruits nationally, with about two-thirds of students coming from out of state. Schulz says the competition for top students and faculty is stiff, as the University and the Tucson community go up against traditional arts hubs like Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago.
“Fortunately, there’s an attraction to this place. The Sonoran Desert is of interest to a lot of creative people,” Schulz said. “But just like with athletics, great facilities are critical for the success and training of our students.”
Schulz points to the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre as “the proof of the value and power of great facilities.” Completed in 2003, the 29,000-square-foot complex presents about 50 performances each year by dance majors.
As one of the more modern venues on campus, the theater is doing its part in attracting talent. Duane Cyrus, who recently was named director of the School of Dance, says the facilities played a significant role in bringing him to Tucson.
“The studios are really interesting and attractive to me,” said Cyrus, who comes from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “I appreciate that the students can perform on a stage that looks close to what a professional performance space is, and I was attracted to the space beyond the stage and what the audience was going to experience.” (Read more about Cyrus on the College of Fine Arts website.)
The talent attraction benefit extends beyond the University’s campus, says Celeste Tracy, who sits on the board of Tucson Young Professionals, an organization of people ages 21-45 that aims to help the city and its young professionals grow. When looking for somewhere to live, she says, people want a city with a vibrant and cultural arts scene.
“What that means is that the arts is a pivotal investment for a growing city like Tucson,” Tracy said. “Investment in arts venues and organizations is an investment in the city. Not only does it allow us to attract strong arts talent to the area, but it also helps us attract talent of all industries.”