No defeatist attitude here: Tucson's artists take pride in our community

"Good luck, Tucson; you'll need it."

This is part of a comment left at by an out-of-state reader regarding Tom Danehy's July 15 column, "Tucson Used to Have an Identity; Now It Has an Identity Crisis."

The reader states that she and her husband were considering retiring to Tucson, but decided against it. Liberalism, the badly run Tucson Unified School District and our water problems are cited as some of the reasons behind their decision.

Of course, someone reading the local news will get a taste of our problems—Rio Nuevo's woes, sprawl, fleeing professional sports teams, squabbles regarding development and so on. There's a lot of focus on what we don't have and don't do.

But take a look at the heart of Tucson, and you'll see a different picture. The events calendar is packed with concerts, art exhibitions, dance performances, theater productions and an assortment of other arts and cultural activities. Tucson does succeed—as a thriving arts community.

For our size, we have a multitude of talent—from poets and musicians to muralists and circus artists. Even better, this collective is supportive of one another. "A benefit for" are words often attached to local events.

A prime example of the supportive spirit among artists is the Tucson Artist and Musicians Healthcare Alliance (TAMHA; This all-volunteer organization started in 2007 and became an official nonprofit last year. Their mission is "to provide health care resources to artists and musicians in Tucson." According to board member Leia Maahs, the underlying vision is to "support the sustainability and vitality of the arts community."

Maahs says the alliance came about when the Tucson Pima Arts Council began facilitating a cultural-planning process. Community groups and task forces began discussing how artists and arts advocates could support a strong arts and cultural center here. At the same time, David Slutes of Hotel Congress was researching initiatives to provide emergency relief for musicians.

"We realized we were having the same conversation and joined forces. (We focused on) how to create some kind of structure that really recognizes and values the work of practicing creative professionals in our community."

Maahs says that TAMHA provides info about local health-care resources and other organizations that support artists such as Fractured Atlas ( TAMHA also offers an emergency relief program to members—providing up to $1,000 to cover emergency medical needs. That money comes from two annual fundraisers: the Great Cover-Up at Hotel Congress, and a summer show at Plush, which is taking place from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday, July 31. (Read this week's Soundbites for more information.)

Membership in TAMHA is open to artists in a wide variety of disciplines; graphic arts, creative baking and playwriting are some of the examples. A mere $5 affords artists a lifetime membership; arts supporters pay $10.

"Tucson is one of the most unique artistic communities I have had the privilege of living in," says Maahs, who has a background as a visual artist and an arts administrator. "We have ... really talented artists coming from multiple disciplines. We also have this wonderful boisterous community of emerging artists who move to Tucson because it's a small to midsize community, relatively inexpensive to live in, with the resources of a major university and amazing venues for the arts."

Within the artist community itself, Maahs says there is an extremely supportive environment. "It's supportive, not just within each respective discipline, but cross-disciplinary. There seems to be an aesthetic and culture of arts appreciation and creativity within this region that is thriving. ... There's a spirit of D.I.Y. about Tucson that is very grassroots, very progressive, in the way that there's a sense that as a creative professional, you really have the capacity to make what you want to do happen."

Maahs says folks in the artist community have a sense of pride about living in Tucson. Regarding the defeatist attitude that flows through our town, she asks, "Why do we believe that we don't have what we need right here?"

Indeed. Many artists here see the beauty of creation, have supportive relationships and value the rich cultural history of our region. To help highlight what's good here, our artistic community needs to be appreciated and promoted more.

Perhaps a new slogan is in order—Tucson: Where art is a way of life.

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