LONESOME SIDEWALKS: On Rodeo Parade Night you decide to check out Art Walk. You figure it's not too cold, not too hot to be walking around the Tucson Arts District downtown. The last time you gave it a try was that evening late last summer when you pretty much got washed away by a monsoon storm.
You've been feeling guilty for not writing about Art Walk. It's been going on for almost a year and a half and it's always sounded like a great idea. An alternative to the Downtown Saturday Night street carnival, it's Downtown Thursday Evening, toned down and refined. No jugglers, no vendors, no dancing in the street. Nothing but art. The 50 galleries on the list put together by the Tucson Arts District Partnership are supposed to stay open from 5 to 8 p.m. on the last Thursday of every month.
Central Arts Collective, at the corner of Broadway and Fifth, makes a promising start. Your 7-year-old, dressed like a cowboy for the occasion, is delighted to find Joan DeMott Sullivan's giant wooden horse in the window. (Sullivan calls it a painted construction, but never mind. As a parent, you accept small favors where you find them.) Inside, among other things, there's more Sullivan, a bucking bronco in the back, some frantic human figures being pulled in two. And sitting the gallery is Sullivan herself.
How's Art Walk going? you ask.
"Well, actually, you're my first visitors tonight," she says. Uh oh, you think. It's already after 6. Where is everybody? Joan offers to check the Central Arts visitors' log, a surprisingly meticulous accounting of gallery guests. The list isn't so great. Two visitors for Art Walk on January 27. Twelve on December 29. Five in November. Five in October.
Joan thinks the tally's not too bad. She's an optimist, you can see that. "Sometimes when I sit the gallery we get no people at all," she says. "Then last Saturday we got 22."
Joan cheerfully gives you the printed Art Walk brochure and map and you set out. Right next door, Swanstock, the photography gallery and agency, is dark. Farther along, Meliora's dim windowfront gives just a glimpse of Bob Vint's architecture show inside. TCCC lets you in to take a look at some colored landscape photographs by Christopher Burkett. There are only a handful, but you know he's got a big show right around the corner at Etherton Gallery. Plus, Etherton has some new William Lesch photos and mixed-media constructions by Jeffrey Jonczyck, a newcomer whose work so impressed you a year or two back. So you head over there. No dice. Etherton's all locked up.
Not going too well. You promised your cowboy there'd be a lot of food at all the galleries. Big mistake. Not even close to the truth. You head north, where Puzey Gallery is dark. Then, luck returns, sort of. There's no food at Raw Gallery, cooked or otherwise, but at least it's open. David Belcheff is showing some wild mixed media acrylics on canvas, mixtures of paint and found objects.
Some pleasant, gray-haired women, art-loving tourists almost certainly, stroll in, undeterred by Raw's alternative rock blaring on the stereo. The only other Art Walkers you've seen.
How's Art Walk going? you ask.
"Well, there's not too much open," one replies. "Huntingdon Trading Company (Native American arts on Congress) was very nice and so was Pink Adobe and Berta Wright."
You forge ahead. Next stop is Bero Gallery, Raw's neighbor to the north, an alternative photography space. Rob Sidur's out front washing the windows, Beth Wachtel's inside. You hesitate to use the word "charming" in such a cool place to describe Sarah Allen's new show, but, heck, you say to yourself, it is charming, and provocative. Allen's put together an assemblage of vintage dresses and photographs of people in vintage dresses and old dress patterns.
Now you're both really hungry. The cowboy remembers the great spread at Dinnerware for the Molly Bloom performance last May. You head across Congress and find the Dinnerware lights on. No dinner though. In fact, gallery manager Nora Kuehl's about to go out and get some. Her food smells pretty good as you look at Ann Keuper's pig gut and pig bladder sculptures and Barbara Brandel's weavings and Linda Berkley's charcoal on cloth. Nora's feeling kinda sad about Art Walk.
"The whole idea was to avoid the carnival of Downtown Saturday Night," she says. "You can't look at art on Downtown Saturday Night. But maybe people are more interested in the carnival."
You run up the street and get some bagels. Except for one man loudly expounding on the sorrows of life to his silent dinner companion, the cafe is practically deserted. Outside you meet up with the rest of your family. Your 10-year-old can't wait to see the pig bladders but you make her stop at Image Gallery first, to look at some elegant prints by Garth Wallrich. You go back to Dinnerware four strong. Nora perks up. The noisy man and the silent man wander in too. So do two young women.
What will happen to Art Walk? you ask. The next day you call up Sarah Clements, Partnership director. Sarah sighs. "There are so many galleries downtown. We wanted to highlight them," she says. "But we're open to creating other mechanisms. If this isn't the vehicle we'll look at others."
That's too bad, you think. Poor Tucson. You hope more people will show up for the next Art Walk, March 30. They can get a brochure at the galleries or by calling Sarah's office at 624-9977.
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