Remember the early days of the pandemic, when staying home was a novelty? When everyone thought they could sail through a couple of weeks on the couch?
Painter Theressa Jackson has memorialized those now distant times in a self-portrait, a jaunty watercolor that she titled "Quarantine Queen."
In it, a plucky Jackson is outfitted with every essential an isolation queen needs: a jar of spaghetti sauce, a box of pasta, and a bag of beans; a measuring tape for home repairs, the all-important TV remote; a painter's brush; and a roll of toilet paper floating through the air like an angel. A crown of cactus flowers circles Jackson's head.
"I created this painting when the strangeness of 2020 was first becoming reality," she writes in an artist's statement. "Beans and toilet tissue and pasta were precious, the saguaros were still blooming, and all the oddities that now feel like everyday life still seemed peculiar.
"In many ways, I felt more optimistic than I do today."
Jackson clearly is not the only one weary of the long months of isolation. Every part of life has been affected in the nearly six months since Americans went home to fight the spread of COVID 19. Weddings have been postponed, schools have gone virtual and funerals have been cut short. Millions of workers have lost their jobs and others have caught the disease on the job. Some 6 million Americans have fallen ill from the virus; more than 180,000 have died painful COVID deaths.
Tucson's famously lively art scene has endured some bleak months. It's been ages since art lovers have flocked to art museums or packed gallery openings or sat with strangers in theatres for hours on end.
But artists have been busy making art at home. Tucson painter Gail Marcus Orlen has been painting canvas after canvas that wrestle with the demon virus; posted on Facebook, the paintings feature deadly COVID orbs moving alongside her typical fantasy birds and angels.
Raices Taller 222 Art Gallery and Workshop has created an exhibition that probes life under the coronavirus. Jackson's witty painting is a highlight of the online show, Corozones Unidos (Hearts United), which runs Sept. 12 to Oct. 24 on raicestaller222.com.
"It's about work made during the pandemic," says the gallery's John Salgado. As the entries showed up in late August, he was a little surprised that most of the images were "not dark. They're about what the artists have been doing."
Richard Zelens, for instance, has made a sun-filled painting, "In Isolation," that tallies up the pleasures of sheltering in the Sonoran Desert spring. Pink flowers stretch up toward the blue sky, and we can see the Catalinas in between the plants' green stems. A faithful dog stands ready to banish loneliness.
David Contreras's "Santa Sombrita" (Saint Shadow) is more foreboding. A black and white linocut print, it pictures a person in a mask, looking like a scary La Llorona, the folklore character who haunts the borderlands.
But if the virus is a kind of La Llorona, Tucson arts have begun fighting back, armed with every health protocol possible. The Tucson Museum of Art opened up in late July, and in August Tohono Chul followed suit. Etherton Gallery is up and running and Philabaum Glass Art Gallery just reopened Sept. 2.
Arizona Theatre Company has pushed back its live performances until January, but other companies are trying out live performance again. The feisty Invisible Theatre is planning live shows with a vastly reduced audience. The Rogue Theatre is also hoping to perform live plays, backed up by filmed versions for fans wary of returning to the theatre.
Over at the University of Arizona, the Center for Creative Photography and the University of Arizona Museum of Art are still closed,. CCP director Anne Breckenridge Barrett wrote to museum patrons that she's hoping to open up this fall, but that won't happen any earlier than Sept. 30.
Here's a quick look at the state of the arts at the beginning of month seven of COVID-19. Be prepared to follow the health rules in all the venues. Wear that mask!
The Tucson Museum of Art re-opened to the public on July 30. The just-built Kasser Family Wing, housing the Latin American Art collection, is "grand and beautiful, and shows off the collection," chief curator Julie Sasse says. It holds 3000 works of Latin art, from Pre-Columbian clay works to contemporary paintings.
In the main gallery, Sasse's show, Southwest Rising: Contemporary Art and the Legacy of Elaine Horwitch, takes a deep look at the gallerist who put southwest artists on the map, including famed Native artist Fritz Scholder. Sasse even spent four years writing an accompanying book. The show opened to fanfare Feb. 29, but few saw it: the museum shut down within weeks. Art lovers have one more chance; the show has been extended to Sept. 20
Also this fall, the competitive Arizona Biennial opens Oct. 1, which will feature work by 83 artists around the state. The usual festive Biennial opening party is definitely not happening.
Like other reopened venues, TMA requires masks and social distancing. Timed tickets sold online help control the numbers of visitors. Hand sanitizing stations abound and guests can wash hands in the bathrooms on every floor. Reduced hours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.
Etherton Gallery downtown is open, and still exhibiting Go Figure, a show that debuted in March just before the statewide shutdown. It features four artists, multimedia artist Holly Roberts, painter Jack Balas, wood sculptor Robert Wilson, and Tucson painter Titus Constanza, who is showing interesting new work, of collages made from his own paintings and drawings.
Not too many people have seen the works, gallery owner Terry Etherton laments, but he's enjoyed having them up all these months because "they're so great."
In the fall, Etherton normally brings works to art fairs in the U.S. and abroad but most have been cancelled. Right now, he and the staff are putting together some 180 photos to be sold at an online auction. As for the next show, Etherton is pondering whether to mount an exhibition of Michael O'Neill's acclaimed photos of yogis worldwide, originally scheduled to be up this summer. He might put up the O'Neills in October, Etherton says, but he'll wait to see how it goes before he decides. As an alternative he might display some pieces from the gallery's own collections.
hese uncertain times, he says, "Everything's on hold." Ethertongallery.com.
The nearby MOCA-Tucson is still closed but in mid-August a commissioned mural went up on the vast windows of its Great Hall.
Black artist Jibade-Khalil Huffman created the giant multimedia work out of vinyl, video projections and sound, exploring "layers of violence." Video of the marching band at Florida A&M, a historically black university, provides a continuing cultural backdrop for the blurrier scenes of protests. Look for a monument it being toppled. The sound of the band's drums are intermixed with fragments of speeches from the civil rights movement.
To see it, stand outside the museum windows on West McCormick St. at Church Ave. or watch from your car. Twilight is the best time. The mural will be up 24/7 through Sept. 27.
Two Black Lives Matter murals by women, made shortly after the killing of George Floyd, are outside the MSA Annex, south of the Mercado on S. Avenida del Convento. The artworks are on the west wall of the annex and can seen day or night. Adia Jamille's work celebrates the happy times in lives that have not been lost. The brightly colored images include books, a binocular, running shoes, a rainbow, a child with a basketball. "Black Lives Matter," the lettering says, "When They Are Alive."
Nearby, artist To-Re-Nee Wolf created a series of panels of Black people: a woman kissing a man, somber adults in front of the stars in an American flag. In one, a family of three mourn the death of a loved one. The words "Remember My Name" are wrapped around them.)
The small downtown galleries are mostly going virtual. Contreras Gallery n
ear Sixth and Sixth is hosting an online political show from Oct. 1 to Nov. 29, just in time for the election and its aftermath. Satirical artists Gary Aagaard, Arnie Bermudez and David Wayne "Fitz" Fitsimmons do the honors.
The gallery is nominally closed, but if you wear a mask you can go inside during regular business hours, 10:30 to 2 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, and see Michael Contreras making jewelry and Neda Contreras painting. Contrerashousefineart.com.
The artist-run Untitled Gallery, physically in the Steinfeld Wearhouse, is staging a virtual reception for its show "Art as Resilience, Resistance and Respite," 6 p.m., this Saturday, Sept. 6. Watch on Facebook live. David Andres, curator of Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery, will judge the entries. Winners will be invited to put their artwork in a real-life show at the gallery in October.
Pidgin Palace Arts, a brand new downtown gallery, bravely opened in August. Danny Vinik has curate mounted a timely virtual exhibition, Virus 2020, featuring Mario Garcia's hallucinogenic drawings of plagues across the ages, from COVID to hanta to leprosy. Photographer Michael Berman's Trilogy of Stillness of the desert thoughtfully provides an image of a mask. Pidginpalacearts.com.
Nearby, the long-lived Philabaum Glass Gallery is back from summer vacation and showing off glass artworks and jewelry by some 50 artists, including Tom Philabaum. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.
On the eastside, the Tucson Desert Art Museum re-opened Sept. 2 with limited hours, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday to Friday; 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.
Two shows that were shut down in the spring have been extended through Dec. 27. The REDdress Project installation by Métis artist Jaime Black brings to light the high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the U.S. Red dresses are hung throughout the space, evoking a "presence through the marking of absence."
In Buffalo Soldiers, David Loughlin has painted a series of works portraying Black soldiers who served in Arizona in the U.S. Cavalry in the late 1800s. The museum is also reprising a popular earlier show, The Dirty Thirties: New Deal Photography Frames the Migrants' Stories. tucsondart.org.
Up on the Northwest side of town, Tohono Chul has reopened both its botanical gardens and its art Exhibit House for limited hours. Galleries are open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Sunday; guests are welcome in the gardens 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Curator James Schaub has extended the spring show, On The Desert: The Discovery and Invention of Color, a landscape group show that "sets the color wheel spinning across the desert." Among the artists are two Tucson titans, Jim Waid (Along the Tanque Verde) and Barbara Rogers (Cultural Alchemy.)
A smaller show, Slices of Sonora by a married couple, Janet Windsor and David Windsor, finds the beauty in desert trees. "It's a beautiful show," Schaub says. "It was installed the day we closed." A third exhibition highlights colored ceramics by Nicholas Bernard.
Schaub plans to keep these works up through September but, like Etherton, he's waiting to see what happens before he programs for October. "We'll see how things proceed. Our goal is to be open seven days a week."
The Foothills galleries have been humming along all summer; most opened by late May, after Gov. Ducey ended the stay-at-home order.
Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery specializes in Native American and western art, including paintings by the revered Maynard Dixon. No workers were laid off during the shutdown, says staffer Katherine Wesolowski. Sublette kicks off the fall season Sept. 15 with Small Works by Howard Post, a western painter whose unique works—almost impressionistic—were celebrated in an exhibition and tribute at Tucson Museum of Art. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Jane Hamilton Fine Art is on summer hours, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The 28-year-old gallery shows some 50 artists, local and out of town, including western landscape painter Tom Murray. janehamiltonfineart.com.
Settlers West Galleries is gearing up for a Great American West show Nov. 21 to Nov. 28, featuring 53 invited artists. Meantime the 39-year old gallery will be showcasing an array of western and wildlife paintings and sculptures. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday. settlerswest.com
The Rogue Theatre, now entering its 16th season, is using every possible weapon against COVID-19 to get its devoted fans back into the theatre. And in doing so, its two directors have managed to create a new art form.
For sure, Cynthia Meier, managing and associate artistic director, and Joseph McGrath artistic director, are doing all the usual things: requiring patrons to wear masks and reducing seats by two-thirds, limiting the number of patrons and allowing for social distancing. They've hired a cleaning company. And going a little farther in the pandemic playbook, they are retrofitting toilets, faucets and doors to make them hands-free.
But here's what's different. In a usual performance, actors speak loudly, inadvertently spewing saliva into the air. Droplets like these are a major culprit in the transmission of COVID-19.
"To attack the problem of aero-spread, the actors will not speak at all during the play," McGrath says.
A sound technician will record the actors speaking every word in the play—in advance. Come the night of the performance, the masked actors will move around the stage to the rhythms of their own recorded voices.
"It's a kind of mime and dance," Meier explains. "We found creative limbs we didn't know we had."
Even so, before each play, the directors will check the current COVID numbers. If cases are not limited to 0.1 percent of the population (meaning fewer than 1 in 1,000 Pima County residents have the virus), they won't allow the show go on live. But their fans will still get to see it.
The directors hired filmmaker Tim O'Grady to film two nights of rehearsals of each play in the season, using three cameras one night and two the next, creating a professional-quality movie that patrons can watch at home. And if the show does go on live on stage, the film will serve people who don't yet feel comfortable going out to the theatre.
"We'll make our decision whether to open the week before opening night," Meier says. That means they will decide Sept. 3 if the season's first play, Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, scheduled to run for Sept. 10 to 17, will be performed live.
The only other Rogue play this fall, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by David Catlin, running Nov. 5 to 22, will undergo the same health protocols—and the audience will see the same novel dance-mime moves. theroguetheatre.org.
At Invisible Theatre, Susan Claassen is so determined to keep her shows going that she got her COVID protocols formally approved by the state Department of Health Services and she has a formal document to prove it.
The season's first play, Filming O'Keefe by Eric Lane, running Sept. 1 to 12, will have only 22 audience members at each performance, using only 25 percent of the seats—"boutique seating," as Claassen calls it. The play will be a "chamber" piece, with the actors performing while sitting on stools on the stage.
Masks are required, social distancing will prevail and patrons can't linger in the lobby. They'll use either the front door or back door to enter, whichever door is closest to their assigned seats. The play runs only 70 minutes with no intermission and the theatre will be cleaned by a pro service after every performance.
Invisible is also hosting two concerts this month. To-Ree-Nee Wolf steps up on Sept. 15 and 16; a Sept. 17 jazz concert with Christine Vivona and Rob Boone is sold out. Invisibletheatre.com.
The stage will go dark for a number of troupes this fall. Broadway in Tucson will not bring any of its traveling musicals to Centennial Hall until, COVID willing, Jersey Boys alights at Centennial Hall for a three-day run Jan. 22-24. The UA's Arizona Repertory Theatre has also cancelled all of its fall shows, unfortunately disrupting the training of the university's seriously talented theatre students.
Arizona Theatre Company is pushing all of its scheduled fall plays to the new year, leaving the Temple of Music and Art empty for months. But making up for that loss, ATC has organized a bevy of works in progress that will stream online. Next up is "Slow Food" by Wendy MacLeod, available Sept. 15 to 19; "Somewhere Over the Border" by Brian Quijada, Oct. 7 to 11; "Covenant" by York Walker, late October; and "The Realness," by Idris Goodwin, November. The digital shows will be readings rather than fully staged productions. The company is also doing various online interviews and talks. Arizonatheatre.org.
Gaslight Theatre has temporarily suspended plays in its theatres but at its Broadway location, it's staging outdoor music concerts in its new Porch Series (gaslighttheatre.com). Up in Oro Valley, the Gaslight Music Hall is offering drive-in concerts (gaslightmusichall.com).
Most of Tucson's theater companies are taking their talents to the internet.
Borderlands Theater is staying busy with a host for activities, mostly in partnership with other groups around the country. Lunada Literary Lounge livestreams Latinx poets on Sept. 17, Oct. 16, Nov. 15, Dec 14. Next up is a festival of Latinx plays, organized by Milagro Theatre and presented by Latinx teatros around the country, Sept. 27 to Oct. 4. October also brings a tribute to Tucson playwright Silviana Wood, Oct. 17 and 20. Borderlands is collaborating with Teatro Bravo in Phoenix on the short play Antigone at the Border, Nov. 20 to 22. borderlandstheater.org
Winding Road Theater Ensemble is having an "all digital season" with two plays scheduled for the fall. Tucson's Toni Press-Coffman debuts her new play Consolation, running from Sept. 25 to Oct. 11. Bryan Harnetiaux's comic play Dusk is next on Nov. 6 and 8. Playwrights can enter new short works for the third annual Eight 10s play festival (with each play just 10 minutes long). Entries must arrive by Sept. 30 at the latest but hurry - the contest closes whenever 300 entries arrive.
Something Something Theatre has one short play now on YouTube, in two versions, performed by two different actresses and shaped by two different directors. Valerie: A Cosplay Monologue by Asher Wyndham. Search on YouTube under the play's title.
Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre puts on a radio play, It Is Magic, Sept. 28 to Nov. 3. A Late Night with Scoundrels Cabaret kicks off at 8 p.m., Sept. 19. Tune in at scoundrelandscamp.org.
Live Theatre Workshop is presenting Musical Menageries for children online at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 11. The company is also offering kids' online theatre classes during challenging school year compromised by coronavirus. Livetheatreworkshop.com.