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Art in Your Neighborhood

Artists' studios are like beetles in the desert: They're everywhere, but they only show themselves when the timing is just right.

This weekend, the timing is just right. The spring Tucson Artists' Open Studios tour will showcase 66 art studios and offer the public a rare glimpse of more than 100 artists in their working environment.

From the far east edges of the Old Pueblo to the northern tip of the city--including, of course, the downtown and university areas--studios will be throwing open their doors and shedding light on what, exactly, goes on inside.

Many of the artists will be working; others will be shaking hands and networking; all of them will be ready to discuss and explain their work to the public, according to Dirk Arnold, an event organizer and local artist whose work includes miniature façades of historic Tucson buildings and refrigerator magnets with old business signs, like the No-Tel Motel and Ye Olde Lantern signs.

The tour is different from other art tours, because people will be walking into the studios where artists live, think and produce--not galleries, where only the finished product is on display, says Arnold.

"The idea is to get the public into art studios and (for the public to) get to meet the artists and see them in their natural habitat, as it were--to see artists at work," says Arnold. "For the artists, especially for the emerging artists and people who don't get gallery representations, it's an opportunity for them to get exposure to the public. And I think most people will actually be selling their work."

Barbara Powell says there are few galleries where she can show her art on the far-east side of Tucson, so she'll open her home near Agua Caliente Regional Park to showcase her paintings.

"I don't have a lot of ways to expose my art, and I have a ton of art," she says. "... I've got so much art around here, it's just piled up. My house is big but, you know, you only have so many walls."

With a quarter of the studios east of Craycroft Road, the Open Studios tour gives the public a rare chance to check out the Old Pueblo's eastside artists, as well as artists from almost every other corner of the city.

The Northwest Art Center will be representing the westside, featuring several artists and art students demonstrating techniques from the jewelry and pottery classes taught at the center, all while networking and selling their work, according to Jada C. Ahern, an art instructor who has worked at the center since it opened four years ago.

In her time at the center--which offers classes to the young, the old and "people who have always just wanted to play in clay"--Ahern says she has seen a lot of great art made on the western edges of the city.

"There's a huge amount of talented people with their own studios (on the northwest side)," she says. "Some of the people actually come to my studio just to get out of their own studios. There's lots of great talent there."

South of downtown sits a small cluster of glass studios headed by Sonoran Glass Art Academy, a nonprofit organization teaching hands-on classes to university and high school students for school credit; the public can also take the classes. As one student, a retired man, put it, the classes are "the most fun you can have with your clothes on."

The Sonoran Glass Art Academy and surrounding galleries are sometimes bypassed, according to studio manager William Justiniano, because they're off the beaten path. He says the Tucson Artists' Open Studios tour helps people find the warehouse studio and allows them to watch glassblowing demonstrations, buy art and pick up information about classes.

"Every time we do the Open Studios tour, we have someone come back here after," he says. "Whether it's to buy something or to take a class ... it really helps."

Justiniano says the economy and the already-thin budgets of most artists make it difficult for them to advertise. As a result, artists rely on the public to seek them out.

Arnold agrees studios outside of downtown don't get enough recognition and says the Tucson Artists' Open Studios tour may just change that.

"It helps to show that there is a vibrant art community that's beyond just downtown, although I am a big downtown booster. It shows there is stuff going on not just downtown," says Arnold. "There's art in your neighborhood. There's art in your own backyard, and this is an opportunity to find it."

The Tucson Artists' Open Studios tour is free; visit the Open Studios Web site for a list of participating studios and locations where you can pick up a map. Then hop into your car this Saturday and Sunday, March 14 and 15, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., to check out the art the Old Pueblo has to offer.

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