Guerrilla Galleries

Alternative art spaces are muscling in where you'd least expect them.

When it comes to supporting the fine arts scene, local businesses and café owners have taken things into their own hands, and put them in the hands of their customers, by soliciting and showing work by a variety of established and emerging visual artists.

In the past year or so, places like Epic Café, Dada Art and Hair Studio, JAG (John Alexander Gallery hair studio), Cottage Café and Bakery, Zoë clothing boutique, newcomer Xoom Juice and others have found themselves coat-tailing on a progressive urban trend--found in places like San Francisco, Seattle and New York City--of making art accessible to the masses in a unique and interesting way that's a far cry from what fine-art museums and traditional galleries provide.

Along with your Painted Desert or Mt. Lemonhead smoothie at Xoom Juice, owner Ari Shapiro, self-identified advocate of the "New Pueblo" movement of hip businesses, intends that you will also share his appreciation for all forms of art, especially the photography collective that's up on the walls at both Xoom Juice locations on central and east Speedway.

"Art is integral to Xoom's image and it's one of my loves, in addition to music, which is also a big part of the experience here," he says. "I'm not here to push the artwork, although the artists do have a price list and I get a small percentage of a sale. We get several inquiries per day about the work and I like that it's more subtle than obvious, that it seeps in, adds to the environment, and people respond to it."

Like Shapiro, John Alexander of JAG and Addam Moreno of Dada have a shared passion for the arts. They see themselves as artists and have designed their hair salons to accommodate six-foot canvases as well as six ounces of conditioner. Both Alexander and Moreno offer their spaces to artists for a few months at a time without charge and accept no commission from the sale of any work. The work shown ranges in price from a few hundred to several thousand dollars--typical of most alternative art venues. It also inspires conversations with clients.

A client since Alexander opened, Judy Campas says she's thrilled to be a part of it all: "JAG is so different, and there's nothing better than to have the different art here to look at while I'm relaxing and taking time out for me."

It's not only the clients who have given Alexander rave reviews. Like owners of the other alternative venues, he has no problems finding artists willing to fill the space with their work. UA fine arts student Kevin Lucero Less, currently showing work along with fellow student Shinsuke Higuchi, says that what he loves about JAG as an alternative art space is that he doesn't have to deal with the ego of the conventional art market. He also appreciates that Alexander is genuinely interested in the art.

"John takes nothing and wants beauty in his salon; he wants to build community," he says. "Art is not about money and the Foothills. As long as people are seeing my work, I don't care what the venue is. I've tried Boyce, Davis-Dominguez and Vanier, and the response is always the same--they're interested in selling work by 'established' painters, a fancy way of saying they want paintings from famous people. ... I can't afford to have an ego, [but] you've got to let people in."

If it sounds like guerilla galleries are places that nourish both body and soul while building a new sense of community and inclusion, then count in Lissa Marinaro, owner of Zoë boutique, and Epic Café co-owners Rhonda Porter and M. Two Feathers. They also believe in supporting artists as a way to build their businesses while generating goodwill in the community.

"Being a café versus a salon, people linger here," says Two Feathers. "It's an opportunity to see the work, and that's a valuable thing for the artist. We don't want high-end work; we want local people, and this gives them a little exposure."

"And those 400 people per day who come through here are everyone from students to families with children to city council members and international visitors," Porter adds. "You don't get that at a conventional gallery."

Even though guerilla galleries are popular elsewhere, Marinaro, a painter herself, feels that Tucson has "its own special thing goin' on" and that the trend will continue here as more and more businesses see art's connection to the bigger picture. "Art, music and fashion go together more than people realize, and magazines have really drawn attention to that," she says. "It's now on the line where people can afford it, and [where] people who shop and don't usually buy art are. At first I wasn't sure it was going to work. Now I'd like to coordinate art shows with other businesses. It's truly unique, and people need to know that it would be well worth the trip."

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