Tucson is home to a multitude of artists - painters, writers, directors, performers, musicians.

We're very lucky.

But are the artists?

A recent National Endowment for the Arts study has found that attendance at performing arts events has slipped.

And ask any visual artist how it's going and we're willing to bet the answer is "it's a struggle to make a living with art."

So, why make art?

That's the topic of the Art Matters panel discussion series slated for Saturday.

The panel is made up of artists, administrators and a socio-cultural anthropologist, Dianna Repp, who is a faculty member at Pima Community College.

Repp, who specializes in art and spirituality, as well as death and dying issues, has long been interested in the topic of art and culture. Art serves many roles in cultures, she said in a recent phone interview.

"Art is a catalyst," she said.

It can reshape social order, and "call society to account for past and present actions," she said.

Art can also be a witness, a personal expression, a spiritual activity, and is often ephemeral, she added.

And it's changing - or at least the way we engage in art is changing.

"We are living in a high tech age," she said, "so people are craving high touch." She calls that a yearning for the "virgin experience."

"The desire for personal engagement with the art; for a unique experience."

Clearly, the topic "Why Make Art?" is one that should jolt conversation.

"The report from the NEA has gotten us all thinking about the future of the arts," said Cynthia Meier, co-founder and managing and associate director of The Rogue Theatre, which co-sponsors the Art Matters series with the Star.

While the news in the report is not particularly uplifting for artists, few seem to think it will go away.

"Art is an attempt to understand who we are," said Meier. "That's why we go, and that's why we create."

In addition to Repp, the panelists are:

• Moderator Jory Hancock, dean of the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts, and a professor in and director of the UA School of Dance, rated one of the top in the country. He was a professional dancer for many years.

• Lauren Rabb, curator at the UA Museum of Art.

• Joseph Rodgers, co-founder of Dancing in the Streets, a school for at-risk kids. Like Hancock, he, too, was a professional dancer for many years.

• Recording artist Gabriel Ayala, a member of the Yaqui people, and a classical guitarist with a national reputation. Ayala will open the discussion with a short piece of music.

• Joseph McGrath, co-founder of The Rogue, where he is the artistic director. He acts, produces, directs, writes, and is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Drama.

• Stephen Wrentmore, Arizona Theatre Company's associate artistic director. He has headed theater companies, directed and written. Wrentmore recently moved from his London home to join ATC.

• George Hanson, finishing his 15th season as Tucson Symphony Orchestra's music director and conductor.

If you go

Art Matters, a discussion on the arts in the Old Pueblo.

• Topic: "Why Make Art," a panel discussion on why we make art in light of dwindling audiences.

• Sponsored by: The Arizona Daily Star and The Rogue Theatre.

• When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: The Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd.

• Cost: Free.

• Information: 573-4128.