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Fun With Catchphrases 

The Pima Cultural Plan draft is full of ideas and feel-good messages, but it needs fleshing out

Maybe boosters of the Pima Cultural Plan could better explain the recently finished draft through interpretive dance or oil on canvas, because they're having a hard time putting their thoughts into meaningful words.

The draft itself--divided into eight recommendation areas on how to prop up arts and culture in Tucson and Pima County--is a good start, and it will certainly benefit from the community's input. But as the plan stands now, it's light on details in some critical areas.

For example, it recommends that Tucson ratchet up "mixed-use development, grow retail sales, generate sales tax and other tax revenues, (and) preserve and grow creative sector employment," but it offers no clues as to how any of these goals can be accomplished.

Aren't all cities in the United States trying to encourage growth in those areas, with the possible exception of mixed-use development? It's kind of like saying someone with a persistent weight problem needs to shed pounds, without providing any means of doing so.

"There is the perception that the community has been undercapitalized--both the public and private sectors," the report stated in the government section, without telling readers who has this perception.

The draft contains another unattributed "perception," that the Tucson Pima Arts Council, the initiator of this process, "has lacked both leadership and clout and that it is weak and ill-defined vis a vis the city of Tucson and Pima County."

Organizers were pleased with the draft forum's healthy turnout on Wednesday, July 25, in the bowels of downtown's Main Library. About 100 people came to discuss the 58 pages of not-so-light summertime reading.

The arts in-crowd was well represented at the affair, with Anne-Marie Russell, executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, holding court at a back table, occasionally whispering to women who were buzzing around her like honeybees.

The forum was a great opportunity for those with vested interests to try to get a piece of the pie in some form or another. One woman wondered about the children--was there going to be money to expose them to arts?

A man, pointing to personal successes intertwining arts and environmentalism in Portland, Ore., vaguely requested that the plan be made as sustainable as possible. He won an offer to help draft some of its language.

Bill Bulick, a Portland consultant who had been hired to shepherd the drafting process, took charge of the forum dressed in a lumpy T-shirt, tucked into his pants up to his belly button. He spoke in flowery, unspecific language, using terms like "fragile cultural ecosystem" to describe Pima County's, well, fragile cultural ecosystem--whatever that is.

In a phone call the week after the forum, Roberto Bedoya, the Tucson Pima Arts Council's executive director, repeated claims about the precarious position of arts and culture in the county, after the Weekly asked him, in his own words, what issues the plan was trying to solve. He made the arts community sound like a delicate sparrow with a bad case of rickets, but he, too, didn't have any specifics.

"The problems are probably linked to how fragile the ecosystem is and how anemic it is," he said. "There's a great deal of vitality here, but it's also a fragile landscape."

"Undercapitalization." Blah blah blah."Pima County cultural ecosystem." Blah blah blah. "Cultural inventorying." Snore.

Stuffed shirts and bureaucrats might find these phrases fascinating, but what do they mean for everyone else?

Judging from a list of 10 "big ideas" released by the Tucson Pima Arts Council and the draft itself, some of the main areas being targeted are the lack of collaboration among individual artists and arts groups, a lack of cultural facilities, the need to preserve and promote Tucson's culture and, most importantly, the supposed need for money. In fact, money is at the heart of the plan, but it's the subject everyone seems to be dancing around, choosing instead to emphasize feel-good, but ultimately hollow, catchphrases.

The draft claims that Tucson lags behind many comparable cities when it comes to financial support from governments and individuals for cultural organizations. Even the problems that aren't explicitly about dollar signs will likely require cash at some point to fix them.

The city and county governments have already chipped in $30,000 apiece to get the plan off the ground.

"A good part of it is money," Bedoya admitted. "Yeah. I mean, I also would say that the elected officials are very sort of positive about the culture here--they're not an obstacle, but their resources, their contributions, have been sort of flat for many, many years."

Tucson City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, who--along with Councilwoman Karin Uhlich and Councilman Steve Leal, have been popping in from time to time to see what's going on with the Pima Cultural Plan--said her attention has been focused on putting out other brush fires in the arts community.

"I believe we have a responsibility to support the arts as much as is possible, but I don't know exactly what that figure comes out to," Trasoff said. "The work I've been focusing on in this first year and a half are issues such as helping MOCA stabilize in a building; finding a methodology for helping the Steinfeld artists move out, and hopefully having a building that they can come back to; looking at the Warehouse District; and actually just helping the community become more aware that the arts are an essential part of our community."

She said she's also been working on the "cultural side" by helping to secure funding "to the tune of tens of millions of dollars" for the Convento, the Sosa-Carrillo-Fremont House Museum, the Mission Gardens and westside museums. Trasoff wouldn't agree that government funding levels for the arts are low, saying that the only information she has on that comes from the Pima Cultural Plan--although she did say it wouldn't surprise her if that were the case.

The final draft of the Pima Cultural Plan is due in late October. Leia Maahs, community arts development coordinator for TPAC, said they're hard at work sorting through the comments they've received on the plan.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Daily Star has taken issue with one aspect of the draft in an editorial, saying that it made them "uncomfortable" to have a nonelected committee controlling public dollars.

"This is just a draft, so if somebody pushes back on that strategy, then it's totally appropriate," Bedoya said. "If there's pushback, there's pushback. It's a living document."

Has there been "pushback" on that front from anyone else, besides the Star?

"No," Bedoya said matter-of-factly. "But it is a draft."

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