Art Director

David Hoyt Johnson is associate director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. Since 1986, Johnson, 61, has helped steer the arts organization between politics and public reaction. Next week, TPAC is hosting a forum for mayoral candidates Bob Walkup, the Republican incumbent, and Tom Volgy, the Democratic challenger. City Council candidates have also been invited.

The organization recently released recommendations calling for better planning for cultural tourism, developing a cultural arts cluster and increasing arts funding through higher tourist taxes, among other suggestions.

"We're trying to bring back and promote a real plan for a cultural district downtown in relationship to Rio Nuevo," says Johnson. "We don't think the city's done a good enough job of seeing what's in the downtown core and working to promote and support it. -- If Rio Nuevo's built, there's a risk of sucking everything out of the existing core."

See how the candidates respond at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30, at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Stone Ave. For more information, call 624-0595.

Tell me in a nutshell what TPAC does.

We're the official community arts development agency for the city and the county. What does that mean? In 1984, the principle impetus for forming the arts council was to relieve the governing bodies of the two jurisdictions of numerous individual requests from arts organizations (requesting support for) their respective, very worthy contributions to the community. The symphony, youth groups and choruses were all coming to the City Council and the Board of Supervisors to ask for help. There was no mechanism for evaluating the quality of those proposals and their potential contribution to the community.

So the Arts Council was formed to create a mechanism to do that, to entertain applications for funding from public sources to support arts organizations that everybody said would make Tucson and Pima County a better place to live.

The Arts District's second principal role when it was formed was public art. (Tom) Volgy had initiated a very modest public art program, and there was need for someone to coordinate it, to help reach the artists, formulate the call for commissions and evaluate the quality of the proposals.

Arts education has always been fundamental and is always a part of what arts councils do, so those three roles were the founding principles of the organization.

What would you say are the high points of the last two decades?

I think we have performed extremely well in our grants program and in public art. There are now more than 80 arts and culture organizations funded through the Arts Council....

In public art, we've facilitated the commission of just less than 100 works since 1984. While some of them become really controversial, like Mountain Avenue or the library plaza sculpture, that's (two) among 100. That's not a high level of controversy and confusion. A lot of things went wrong with Mountain Avenue, but for the most part, our community is getting a reputation for having a lot of public art. These projects are all driven by small capital improvement projects, but collectively over a period of time, they've made some impact on the look and identity of our community.

Are there any pieces that stand out for you personally?

... Look at the first section of Mountain Avenue, from Speedway Boulevard to Grant Road. Few people remember how successful that project was. Most of them say, "Where's the art?" The art's in the sidewalk; the art's in the landscape; the art's in the pedestrian amenities like seating and shelters; the art's in the width of the bicycle paths, because the artists were engaged early on in the design that process to work with the other designers. As a result, the artwork is a lot more integral to the built improvements and makes everything better.

In regards to the controversial artwork on Mountain Avenue, has that been relocated?

There's a happy ending to that story. We and the transportation department put a call out to other neighborhoods for possible interest, and the most interested group was in the South Park area, the area near Silverlake Road and South Park Avenue. They proposed the possibility of the work being relocated in the Quincy Douglas Park, where there is, in fact, a huge detention basin. Ironically, it's a site where there's a lot of brown water, and it turns out the western edge of the park where the work is going to be sited is South Mountain Avenue.

After the neighborhood association and the parks department agreed upon that site, we went to the six residents who most closely located to the proposed site, and they're all enthusiastic about the installation.

Which goes to show you that communication can help avoid a troublesome situation.

It's communication, and a part of art is subjective response. We like some things better than we like other things.

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