Funky Night for a Cultural Cause

The Latin funk, Grammy award-winning Grupo Fantasma will perform at the Rialto Theatre's inaugural fundraising gala this Saturday, Feb. 9. The group, whose horn section has played with Prince several times, has traveled the world to perform in international festivals and for U.S. troops overseas. The band's fan base has grown in Tucson after playing at the Rialto twice before and performing at last year's Festival En El Barrio.

Grupo Fantasma has also been featured on popular TV shows such as Breaking Bad, Weeds, Ugly Betty and Law & Order.

"We really like them a lot," said Curtis McCrary, executive director of The Rialto Theatre Foundation. "So we were really excited that they were going to be around on the date of our gala."

Brownout, a subgroup of members from Grupo Fantasma, will also perform at the gala's after-party, which can be attended separately with a $10 cover charge.

Since the Rialto reopened in 2004, it has survived on ticket sales and merchandise sales during concerts. Because of the kind of shows it hosts, many community members are unaware that the Rialto Theatre Foundation is a nonprofit, according to Lisa Wagenheim, a board member of the foundation.

While there's been talk about having a fundraiser since the theater reopened, the big push to make it happen came last year when the board added members and formed multiple planning committees. The Rialto survived the recession and a boycott by musical groups over Arizona's immigration laws, but it has struggled to keep its doors open.

Funds raised at the gala will help pay for repairs and improvements to the Rialto, including to the restrooms and the dressing rooms under the stage, said McCrary, noting that the building is almost 100 years old.

McCrary said it's unusual that the foundation hasn't had a fundraising event since the Rialto reopened given that it has helped other local nonprofits raise money.

"It's exciting to be finally doing an event specifically for us to fundraise because it's something that we as a nonprofit need to do," McCrary said.

Wagenheim said that when she reached out to the community, she found that many people had direct, personal experiences with the Rialto and were happy to donate money or help in other ways.

"I think each person seems to tell their own story about how much they love it and why they love it," Wagenheim said.

Donations already received for the gala include items for the silent and live auctions as well as food that will be offered during the event. Items set for auction include signed UA memorabilia, art, gift cards and guitars.

"It has been very gratifying to know that there is so much community support out there," McCrary said.

McCrary hopes that more-stable funding for the theater will lead to more shows and bring more people downtown. Having more people enjoy Rialto shows also helps neighboring businesses, McCrary said.

"I think the Rialto Theatre serves the community first and foremost," McCrary said. "That was the idea in the first place ... it would be a community resource."

McCrary said the foundation also wants the Rialto to become a key part of the changes that are happening in downtown Tucson.

"I have no reason to doubt that what's currently in process right now is a transformation of downtown," McCrary said. "I've never seen so much change and great things happening all around us." Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, a big supporter of the Rialto, will be a guest speaker at the gala.

McCrary said he enjoys his job because the Rialto is a place where people go to have a good time and see artists they have come to love.

"So the fact that this is a home for that and for people to have that spiritual moment, it rubs off on us in a nice way," he said.

Wagenheim said the foundation will be pushing for more people to join the Rialto's membership program, which includes discounts on tickets and drinks, and the ability to buy tickets before they go on sale to the public. "It's a constant reminder that you're part of that organization," she said.

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