Healthy Support: Local Gallery Owners Win TMA’s 2021 Ambassador Circle Lifetime Achievement Award

Mark and Kathleen Sublette will receive the 2021 Ambassador Circle Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tucson Museum of Art for their commitment to the preservation of the art of the American West and the role they’ve played in expanding access to art in our community.

The Ambassador Circle Lifetime Achievement Award was created in 2017 to honor an artist, community member or patron who is dedicated to advancing art both at TMA and in Southern Arizona. Every year, a panel of museum staff and members of TMA’s philanthropic Leadership Circle select the winner.

“Mark and Kathleen have really helped shape the future of the art of the American West,” said TMA Director and CEO Jeremy Mikolajczak. “This entire community has benefited from their generosity.”

The Sublettes have donated numerous art pieces to TMA over the last 15 years, including indigenous textiles, work by Tucson artist Maynard Dixon and, most recently, 59 pieces of indigenous pottery from the Rio Grande region of the Southwest. Some of their donations are on display in TMA’s new Indigenous Arts Gallery, which opened to the public on March 10.

Mikolajczak explained that the new gallery is a “community curated model.” Gallery curators have been working alongside indigenous advisors from various tribal communities to make decisions about the pieces that will be displayed and to ensure the narratives being told are supported by native peoples.

Mark and Kathleen met in the late 1980s while they were in medical school at the University of Arizona. Soon after they met, they became a formidable art collecting duo. They have collected and elevated native art together for decades. They showcase both historical and contemporary indigenous art pieces at Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, 6872 E. Sunrise Drive, which they’ve owned and operated as a team for more than two decades.

“It’s critical to show the insane artistic merit that the Native arts have, which in every form and fashion are just as compelling as any other kind of art form that’s out there,” Mark said.

Since 1992, their gallery has displayed important western and indigenous art, textiles and jewelry. It is also home to the Maynard Dixon Museum. Considered to be one of the pioneers of Western painting, Dixon documented the traditions of Arizona tribes and the West through his work.

Medicine Man Galley has enriched the community of Tucson not only though the work it showcases, but also by attracting artists and collectors from all over the country. Mikolajczak said there is a “ripple effect” that occurs when people come to Tucson to visit their galley. They often times become ambassadors for the art of Tucson and the wealth of cultures that exists here.

In addition to supporting Native artists, the Sublettes have lent a hand to many other local artists throughout their careers and encouraged them to donate their work to TMA so the museum can grow its collections.

Mark described museums as critically important reflections of the community. He said it is of paramount importance to develop local artists and display their work to help people learn about different cultures and ideas that they may not otherwise take the time to appreciate.

The Sublettes were both surprised and honored to be receiving the 2021 Ambassador Circle Lifetime Achievement Award. As they look toward the future, they hope to continue to use the Sublette Family Foundation for the Arts as a platform to advance the arts in Tucson and Southern Arizona by filling in the gaps in the Tucson art community and helping local artists create work.

“I think it’s important that we all try to improve our communities in whatever ways we can,” Mark said. “If you happen to get an award, well, that’s a bonus. But it shouldn’t be what you’re trying to go after.”