Tucson’s Art and Culture

From my friends at #HowToTucson and #ThisIsTucson, a look at Tucson’s Arts and Culture:

Tucson is the kind of place where you can feel comfortable picking up a paint brush for the first time, says Kate Marquez, the executive director of the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance.

Not only do we have an abundance of arts institutions such as museums and performing arts venues, but we also have a vibrant community of artists and makers who all make their home here, Marquez adds.

And it’s not a snooty sort of artists’ community, but rather one that is welcoming and accepting. Whether you want to paint or weld, chances are you can find a place to learn.

🎭 Cultural diversity

Let’s start with our diversity. Tucson benefits from both its proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border and its history. (Our region was part of Mexico at one point).

In Tucsonyou’ll see cultural influences from the area’s Indigenous inhabitants, including the O’odham and Pascua Yaqui tribes. From there, you see traditions introduced by Spanish settlers, German and Irish immigrants and Latino and Black communities, among others. This fusion of cultures influences theater, music, visual art and so much more. One of our favorite places to experience and celebrate this is at Tucson Meet Yourself, an annual festival that showcases our community’s diversity.

We’re also a university town and a winter hub for retirees, meaning Tucson plays host to people not just from around the country, but also around the world.

Oh, and it’s relatively affordable to live here. Combine that with our gorgeous landscape and sunny, (mostly) snow-free winters, and you’ve got a masterpiece waiting to happen.

🎨 Our arts community is accessible

Spend any amount of time here, and you’ll get the feeling that Southern Arizona is actually a community made up of hundreds of smaller communities, Marquez says. We definitely agree with that. Tucson even has a community of mermaids, believe it or not. More on that in a minute.

There are guilds, societies and cultural groups for everything from stand-up comedy to quilting and photography. If you have an interest, Google it, Marquez says. Chances are you’ll find your people.

These smaller communities of individual artists and makers together form an eclectic, diverse creative sector. Marquez adds that so many people come to Tucson with a genuine curiosity and desire to participate. There are so many connections to be made here. 

And while Tucson cannot always offer the same opportunities that Phoenix does, it does offer community and ways to get involved.

In Tucson, we turn our homes into galleries and our festivals into museums. There is also art to be experienced all over the city. #ThisIsTucson has several lists tracking the murals and public art we find around town. As of writing this, our murals list had around 70 murals!

There is also art to admire in more traditional contexts. Performing arts organizations such as Arizona Theatre CompanyTucson Symphony OrchestraTucson Ballet and others delight from stages. Museums and gardens such as the Tucson Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson and the Tucson Botanical Gardens provide peaceful places for contemplation. And historical sites such as Mission Garden and the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum share chapters from Tucson‘s history.

🎪 Tucson loves its festivals

Marquez says that we have one of the liveliest festival scenes in the state, with events filling many of our weekends.

In a normal year, spring and fall weekends in Tucson thrum with energy, as festivals of all kinds jockey for space on the calendar. Our festival season typically spans October to March — AKA when it’s not a million degrees outside — and includes events that draw people from around the world.

And while many of these events are canceled or will look different in 2021, we still consider them an essential part of Tucson‘s yearly rhythm —  even if they are temporarily on hiatus. Here are some of the biggest ones to know about.

Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil ShowcaseFor a little more than two weeks in February, vendors from around the world converge in Tucson at dozens of venues to sell gems, minerals, fossils and other items.

La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Tucson Rodeo: The yearly rodeo includes the Tucson Rodeo Parade, which is said to be the longest non-motorized parade in the country.

Tucson Festival of Books: The events draws more than 100,000 people to the University of Arizona campus to meet authors, attend book discussions, shop for new reads and more.

Fourth Avenue Street Fair: The street fair features artists from around the world, crafters, entertainers and food vendors twice annually, in spring and winter.

Cyclovia Tucson: Select streets are closed off to cars so you can play, bike and walk in the road.

Return of the Mermaids: Tucson is full of landlocked mermaids and they all come out in costume to celebrate the monsoons every August. There’s live music, a DJ, art vendors, kids activities and a costume contest.

Tucson Meet Yourself: This is one of the best places to experience Tucson‘s fusion of cultures, showcasing the diverse culture, food and art of the people who live here. We also call it “Tucson Eat Yourself” because there is so much good food.

All Souls Procession: More than 150,000 people gather near downtown to walk together, some in costume, some carrying memorials or altars to celebrate, mourn and reflect on those who have died.

Winterhaven Festival of Lights: A whole neighborhood is transformed into a lit up wonderland for Tucson to explore.

Really, it’s impossible not to engage with the arts in some way in Tucson, whether you consider yourself an artist or not. And if you don’t, well, we wouldn’t be surprised if Tucson changes your mind.

More to explore