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Art Picnic Time! 

Cynthia Hansen, now Ballet Tucson's board president, was seduced by one of the company's performances six years ago.

"I went to a performance, and I was just so moved," Hansen said. "It was the wonderful quality of the dancing, and the obvious collaboration. I was so impressed, and I just wanted to become involved."

Hansen immersed herself in the company and the wider world of ballet—which offered her a break from her marketing and finance background. She has watched Ballet Tucson—founded as the Ballet Arts Foundation in 1986—grow tremendously in the last six years, and was even present to celebrate the company's transition into the professional sphere during the 2004-2005 season.

"(My husband and I) saw this little gem and couldn't believe it was in Tucson, and no one knew about it," Hansen said. "A lot of people don't know that we have a professional ballet company in Tucson, with dancers who have performed professionally all over the world."

Ballet Tucson is known by many Tucsonans for its annual Nutcracker performances, and is closely associated with Ballet Arts, the company's dance school for adults and children. However, Ballet Tucson's small size makes it difficult to expand financially, according to Hansen, which forces the organization to rely on donations and fundraising events.

The Urban Picnic, Ballet's Tucson's annual art-auction fundraiser, is critical to the company's budget goals. The event is in its fifth year of being managed by the company, after being started by the Tucson Arts District Partnership 13 years ago.

"The largest fundraisers make the biggest difference," Hansen said. "It's one of our most important events."

Those in attendance will get to escape the hustle and bustle of the city through a silent auction and a picnic lunch. Ballet Tucson will be making lunchboxes available to attendees, but in a unique way: Each box was created by an artist, based on his or her interpretation of the lunchbox theme.

The art auctioned off at the event will include a variety of pieces, including one by Rufino Tamayo called "Iron Cross." Other artists participating include Daniel Stolpe, Laurie Brussel, Don Weller and Manuel DeLeon. (Visit www.ballettucson.org/urban_picnic for a preview of available art and lunchboxes.)

Ballet Tucson performers will dance, and comedian Armen Dirtadian will be acting as master of ceremonies as the Ed DeLucia Jazz Trio provides live music.

This year, Ballet Tucson partnered with Tucson's bicycle advocacy/recycling organization, Bicycle Inter-Community Action and Salvage—better known as BICAS. The two organizations will split the proceeds.

"We picked BICAS, because the artists believe in it and support it," Hansen said.

Collaborative arts fundraisers have been especially important to Hansen, because the creativity that the partnerships create allows the event to draw in more supporters.

This year, Ballet Tucson has searched out premium pieces of art to auction off, in the hopes that it will set a precedent of quality for future years.

The proceeds will benefit both organizations in their missions to garner support for the arts and foster arts education. And not only is the event a good cause; it's also a really good time.

"People come; they enjoy a nice picnic lunch and a mimosa," Hansen said. "They have a chance to get high-quality art; they have a chance to take something nice home. ... There's no pressure, and it's fun to support the arts."

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