Acts of creativity often unfold behind closed doors, but every spring the Tucson Artists' Open Studios gives local artists an opportunity to welcome visitors into their workspace for a weekend of discovery and demonstration.
Now entering its eighth year, the Tucson Artists' Open Studios is a more grass-roots companion to the Fall Open Studio Tour, which is sponsored by the Tucson Pima Arts Council. While the two are formally unrelated, many of the same artists participate and are the main initiators behind its success, according to Dirk Arnold, the artist who has organized the spring event since its inception.
Arnold's motivation for creating a spring studio event was simple: In a strong "creative community" like Tucson, visiting every venue in a single weekend is flat-out impossible.
"My feeling is if there's only one studio tour a year, that's half as many opportunities for artists to show their work and for the public to view the works," Arnold said.
What began as a small tour of 35 artists has since quadrupled in size, uniting creative disciplines from acrylic painting to metal sculpture, and sprawling desert spaces from Oro Valley to the far corners of Tucson. While the earliest studio tours originated downtown, artists who set up shop in the outlying areas were eager to share in the interaction even if their art was already being displayed in local restaurants, coffee shops or more formal venues.
"When the art is hanging in a gallery somewhere, there's no connection there other than through the art itself," Arnold said. "This is the chance to meet the person behind the work and to find out more about the process that goes behind the creation of said work."
Unlike similar studio tours in other cities, up-and-coming artists who don't have a public place to show their work are encouraged to join Open Studios: with an application fee of $35 and no qualifications for approval, the event is "open to anyone" who wants to participate, according to Arnold.
"There are other cities where you have to pay $150 just to be considered to be on the studio tour, then go through a jury process," Arnold said. "This one is wide open to anybody who wants to get their work out and seen, to give them that opportunity."
After participating in the fall and spring events for 10 years with Endangered Architecture, his outlet for building miniature facades of Tucson's most historic and recognizable buildings, Arnold is well aware of the exposure that the Open Studios can bestow on "emerging" artists.
"Almost my entire professional art career has been studio tour-related," Arnold said.
The artists sign up on the Open Studios website in the weeks leading up to the event, providing contact information and the location of their studio, which in many cases is within the privacy of their home. Their page on the website lays out their chosen art form and a visual example of their work, and includes a mapping feature that shows where they can be found on the tour, which can prove useful for new participants. Arnold recommends that first-time tour visitors use the mapping feature to find studios closest to home on Saturday before expanding their horizons.
"On Sunday, pick some places across town and use that as an excuse to go on an outing and explore Tucson," Arnold said. Picking destinations in advance will help make the experience more seamless and, most important, help visitors plan ahead so they can frequent as many studios as possible, he said.
While many of the artists will be conducting live demos of their work and also offering some pieces for sale, some local artists appreciate the Open Studios for exactly what it is: a chance to share their passions with those who may not encounter art in their day-to-day experience.
"For people who are not artists, they're fascinated with how the workspace is organized, and just how people work in their spaces," said Robin Chlad, a local artist who sculpts mosaics, pottery and other decor from high-fired clay. "You always get an audience when you're explaining the process."
Chlad, who has participated in Open Studios for the past three years, acknowledged that some visitors are more inquisitive than others.
"I had an engineer come by last year and he wanted to know every little detail on how it works, and his wife ended up apologizing for him," she said with a laugh. "But it was OK! I always welcome any questions or any curiosities."