You've probably never heard of Dwight Metzger or the Gloo Factory, but if you've been in Tucson for longer than a few hours, you almost certainly know of their work.
You may have seen one of Dwight's stickers on the back of a car, his posters in a shop window, his fliers tacked to a bulletin board, his newsletters on a coffee table, his buttons on a backpack, his campaign signs in a neighbor's yard or his T-shirts on a fellow Tucsonan. If it can be printed, stamped, copied, silkscreened or otherwise reproduced, Dwight does it. The messages, campaigns and artwork represented are rarely his, but he believes in just about all of them. Simply put, he is the John Peter Zenger of modern Tucson.
You probably haven't heard of Zenger, either, since he lived a couple of centuries ago. Like Metzger, he was an American of German descent who believed that no nation could remain free without maintaining the liberty of its citizens to engage in "speaking freely, writing or publishing their sentiments." Like Metzger, Zenger often published things that were critical of established powers. In 1735, Zenger was briefly jailed for seditious libel, a rap that he beat with a revolutionary, yet common-sense legal argument: The criticism was true, and therefore could not be libelous, let alone seditious.
People like Metzger and Zenger are essential to any democratic community. It was our luck that, on his first night in Tucson—Christmas Eve 1988—Dwight ran across the annual homeless encampment in front of a downtown government building, where he connected with a thriving and creative activist community and decided to stay. He was inspired by firebrand author Ed Abbey's final public reading to volunteer with the Earth First! Journal, as perfect an example of civil liberty as there ever was. At one point, after paying a corporate mega-printer $300 for stickers that ostensibly promoted resistance to such entities, it dawned on him that the movement—all the movements—needed an amplifier.
For years, he gradually gathered equipment and clients while guerrilla-printing in spare rooms and garages. A decade ago, he rented a 3,000-square-foot downtown warehouse space from the Arizona Department of Transportation, one of several buildings seized by the department through eminent domain in order to complete the Barraza-Aviation Parkway. Ironically, that project was scuttled by political resistance; the buildings survived and were rented out at low cost to various creative interests. The Gloo Factory was born.
Named by Kim Young, founder of Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage (better known as BICAS), the Gloo Factory houses several independent media projects, including peacesupplies.org, which appeared in the Tucson Weekly's Best of Tucson® this year. Like BICAS, the Gloo Factory was "an idea that needed to happen," as Dwight put it, and both projects thrived precisely because of stable, subsidized spaces that gave form to their creative fire. Other cultural gems of downtown Tucson have traveled similar paths, including Tucson Puppet Works, Flam Chen, Solar Culture and numerous local artists. "A unique community evolved downtown," said Dwight. With a degree in fine arts, he fit right in, manufacturing the "gloo" that holds a community together.
Now, due to city of Tucson paralysis, political calculations, developer deal-making and gentrification that is pricing working artists out of the district, the Gloo Factory and the warehouse-artist community could be disintegrating. Right next door to the lush, green courtyard of the Gloo Factory is a dusty vacant lot where several buildings once stood, a barren memorial to overblown, high-rise proposals that never got off the ground.
Long story short, the state is preparing to auction off the Gloo Factory building, and unless he can outbid developers, Dwight will be evicted. If he had a nickel for every button, sign, shirt, sticker and piece of paper he's printed over the years, Dwight could easily buy the building for cash. But he doesn't; one reason is that he has printed so many of those items for free. Minus an infusion of funds, political help, an offer of suitable space elsewhere or all of the above, Dwight is facing the devolution of the Gloo Factory to the unsustainable days of garages, spare rooms and too little space for all the work that needs done.
If you're a supporter of any of the hundreds of campaigns and organizations Dwight has helped over the years, if you value his place in our community, or even if you just want to support the principle that entities such as the Gloo Factory are essential to a creative and democratic society, go to savethegloofactory.org and see what you can do to help.