Without a doubt, Tucson needs to support artists who are sensitive to our local culture and who create new awareness for what is specific and relevant for this place and its community. In recent urban history, artists have always been the most creative about exploring new sites in cities and appreciating change in urban flux, very much to public benefits.
The community also deserves museums for art exhibitions other than commercial galleries. MOCA has proven to be a unique environment for addressing contemporary tendencies in the arts and, therefore, our culture in general. The museum has done so by curating stimulating shows of both local and out-of-town artists. MOCA itself has faced space problems recently, having been asked to move to a new, less appropriate location.
It is unreasonable that this conflict about space and interests seems to be taken deeply personally by the artists mentioned in the article, especially as it could damage both MOCA and its director's visions and, ultimately, the richness of our art community.
When I came to the Toole Shed in the early 1990s, the building contained a thriving community of artists with an excellent relationship with MOCA. In the last few years, I have watched all those artists leave, one by one, pushed out by Russell, their studios turned into office space or turned over to Russell's husband and friends. I was appalled to read Russell's glib response to this forced exodus: "Not everybody likes contemporary art." The people in the building were making contemporary art, from figurative to conceptual. The painters, sculptors, photographers and illustrators who filled the Toole Shed Studios included many award-winning artists who had spent years, prior to Russell's arrival, making the Tucson arts scene vibrant and diverse, enriching the whole community.
We previously enjoyed such a good relationship with MOCA that many of us exhibited our work in its gallery, as well as in better-known galleries and museums. To dismiss us as people who "don't like contemporary art" is condescending and absurd. What we don't like is being kicked out of our studios by a newcomer to the Tucson arts scene with a narrow vision of what constitutes art, and an inability to treat artists who do not fall into that narrow vision with respect, or at least good manners. That extraordinary community of artists has now dispersed, and the greater Tucson community is the loser here. I hope the MOCA board takes note.
The Toole Shed is a failed experiment in anarcho-communist autonomy. What the Toole Shed tenants wanted and expected was very different from what they were willing to provide for themselves. There was, from 1998 to 2003, an opportunity to secede from MOCA, in essence to form our own nonprofit to fix our own swamp coolers, clean our own toilets--you know, self-govern. We couldn't get it together.
As recently as 2005, I failed to inspire a tenant revolt; the tenants would not band together, even with Russell's blessing. The tenants felt more entitled than obliged. The 30-day lease that the state (and now the city) held over us made that additional work a crapshoot. Limited autonomy would have provided only limited security.
Toole Shed co-founder and tenant, 1992-2006
Tim Vanderpool accuses Russell of being an empire-builder. In reality, she has worked tirelessly, as have the others involved with MOCA, to keep it afloat and make it a robust and successful institution. Unfortunately, some people, namely Beckie Kravetz and the others quoted in the article, are unwilling to accept change in any form if they feel it affects them negatively. Their self-interested worldview does not allow them to see what MOCA has the potential to do for Tucson or their fellow artists. As for Kravetz, she is a professional artist who can certainly afford studio space. The MOCA studios should be reserved for emerging and visiting artists.
Nearly every sentence in the article merits a rebuttal, but that would require more time and space than is available. Vanderpool should be ashamed of his journalistic methods.
My mother was Cherokee. They invented an alphabet (the first tribe to do so) in order to better achieve a peaceful coexistence with white culture. The tribe allotted personal land holdings to members, and tribal members developed farms, plantations and many businesses. This earned them a federal military escort along a Trail of Tears to the Indian territories of Oklahoma. Stragglers were shot or bayoneted, and tribal properties were seized without compensation by greedy whites. In Oklahoma, the Cherokees, along with other tribes, soon found the promise of home an illusion. My mother grew up in Depression-era Oklahoma, where being Indian was about equal to being a ghetto dog today.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs ran schools for Native Americans where children who had been forcibly removed from their parents resided nine months a year. While there, they were forbidden to use their Indian names, wear native dress, speak their language or observe any ritual or spiritually significant occasion.
I think Native Americans would be happy to forgo the apology and the reparations if the feds would just free up the billions of dollars collected from corporations removing resources from reservation lands in the last century. Or even maybe if the feds would quit destroying the records the Native American nations need to show how much they are owed. The feds have been collecting the royalties, right?
I realize conditions in the ghettos are tough (been there, done that), but the reservations tend to be more Third World, with unemployment as high as 60 percent.
I'll tell you what: When black people apologize for that Buffalo Soldier b.s. and start including Native Americans in the consciousness of who has been wronged in this country, then I'll get on board with the whole apology-to-African-Americans thing. How about a Native American month, and I ain't talking about Thanksgiving!