From the south, Citizens Warehouse looks so desolate. So, well, dull. Pass the massive two-story poured-concrete building on West Sixth Street along the railroad tracks and you'll see a hulking structure with few windows and spotty paint.
But turn the corner and pull into the dirt parking lot and you'll see it vibrates with creative energy.
From the subground level BICAS, sculptures made from random bicycle parts seem to wave and beckon. Next door you are likely to see sparks fly as Ezequiel Leoni crafts his stainless steel furniture.
Go up the metal staircase and enter the second floor, and you may hear music playing softly, but little else. Peek into the rooms off the wide hallways, however, and you'll be bombarded visually with paints and film and recycled tin and any other material that can be used to create art.
A new book, "Citizens Warehouse," gives an expansive look at the warehouse, its history and its artists.
Or you can see for yourself. Some of the artists are participating in next weekend's Tucson Artists' Open Studios tour. Many of those who didn't sign up still plan to open their doors for the event.
Since 1994, Citizens Warehouse has housed artists' studios. About two dozen artists rent space in the building where they paint, they draw, they sculpt, they photograph.
Established artists who make a living with their work rub shoulders with emerging artists hoping they can one day do the same.
The group, called the Citizens Artist Collective, often meets to visit, or share a meal, or hold drawing sessions with models they've jointly hired. They pitch in to sweep pooled water from the roof when the rains come. They take turns cleaning the bathrooms and mopping the common floors. They pop in on fellow artists to say hey, chat, ask, advise.
There's a reverence in this 84-year-old building. Quiet, respectful, and a deep, deep commitment to making art.
"Citizens is the focal point of creative efforts," says Dirk J. Arnold, who is out to preserve Tucson's architecture with his miniatures of historic structures.
"The community of creative people helps to inspire more creativity."
Arnold is new to the studio space - he moved in Monday.
Painter Gavin Troy has been there for about 12 years. He echoes Arnold. The best part of having a studio at Citizens, he says, is "being surrounded by creative people."
But there are strong economic reasons for setting up in a Citizens studio, as well.
"For me, the best aspect is I can afford to have the space," says painter Katherine Josten, who estimates that she's been at the warehouse for 15 years.
Alec Laughlin, the president of the Warehouse Arts Management Organization, or WAMO, which manages the state-owned Citizens, says the cost to artists is roughly 30 cents to 40 cents a square foot. WAMO leases the 22,672-square-foot building for about $5,000 a year and is responsible for all of Citizens' maintenance, management and capital improvements.
Art may not always be made there - at some point, the Arizona Department of Transportation will put the building up for auction.
The warehouse district has historic status, and the likelihood of it being demolished is small, but its purpose can change.
"Won't appeal as condos"
"Hopefully, the building won't appeal as condos," says Laughlin, who paints and photographs in his Citizens studio.
"It would be a real loss if it becomes housing."
The sale won't happen until the LINKS project, the downtown arm of the Aviation Highway, is done. According to ADOT's latest estimates, that's about three years away.
Meanwhile, WAMO, which operates with one part-time paid staffer and a whole slew of artists who volunteer, is hopeful it will be in a position to purchase Citizens when that becomes necessary. (WAMO already owns the Steinfeld Warehouse, across West Sixth Street from Citizens.)
Until then, artists will stay tucked inside the massive building and paint, draw, sculpt and create art.
And there is nothing at all dull about that.
Who's who in the Citizens Artist Collective
Here are some of the artists with studios at Citizens. Find a full listing of the artists at www.citizensart.com .
An asterisk denotes artists open for next weekend's Tucson Artists' Open Studios tour.
Information and quotes were culled from responses to an email questionnaire sent to all the artists at Citizens:
Dirk J. Arnold
• His art: An architect by training, Arnold does historic preservation miniatures, creating models of buildings and refrigerator magnets of iconic Tucson signs.
He is the force behind next weekend's citywide Tucson Artists' Open Studios tour, but he won't be participating - he just moved into his Citizens studio on Monday, and will still be getting organized.
• His words: "My work tries to motivate people to think differently about the built environment around them - or even to notice it."
• His prices: The fridge magnets are $12; his miniatures range from $900 to $3,200.
• The group's art: Mixed media sculptures made with salvaged bike parts. Creating art is just one aspect of BICAS (Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage), according to Casey Wollschlaeger, who helps oversee the collectively run nonprofit.
• Citizens studio: 16 years.
• Her words: The group's main focus is "Combining creative recycling with bicycle advocacy to revitalize communities and give them an added sense of identity and well-being."
• BICAS prices: $12-$2,000.
* Rand Carlson
• His art: Tin collage, painting, illustration and cartooning.
• Citizens studio: 5 years.
• His words: "I scour thrift stores for used cookie tins, and cut them apart . ...
"I fashion them into images of landscape, wordplay and 'postcards.' Letters come from wrecked cars."
• His prices: $60 to more than $1,000.
* Cristina Cárdenas
• Her art: Figurative works in gouache on panel, mixed media, and ceramics.
• Citizens studio: Four years.
• Her words: "Drawing on my background as a Latina/Mexican born in Mexico and living in Tucson, my artwork reflects my desire and commitment to increase cross-cultural understanding."
"The subjects of immigration and cultural past are partially autobiographical, with a present reality of living by the border and still trying to reconstruct a partially forgotten history."
• Her prices: $250-$1,000.
* Titus Castanza
• His art: Still lifes, portraits and landscapes, primarily in oil and many in the style of the Old Masters.
• Citizens studio: Seven years.
• His words: "I am compelled to chase that thing in my mind that is nearly impossible to catch and to find the answers to questions about life, others, our world and oneself."
• His prices: $500-$25,000.
* Nick Georgiou
• His art: Sculpture, portraits and other images created out of discarded books and newspapers. His work has received international attention.
• Citizens studio: Four years.
• His words: "Books and newspapers are becoming artifacts of the 21st century."
"Whatever we used to read off paper, we're now reading off digital screens. My work is not only about the decline of the printed word in today's society but its rebirth as art."
• His prices: On request.
• Her art: Abstract paintings, installation works and sculptures. She often incorporates her poetry into the pieces. She currently has a show at Davis Dominguez Gallery, so her space won't be open for the tour.
• Citizens studio: About 15 years.
• Her words: "Creating art is a way for me to be in touch with my inner source of wisdom."
"I create art as a means to experience and share personal, intimate revelations concerning the nature of reality."
• Her prices: $300-$16,000.
* Alec Laughlin
• His art: Impressionistic look at the human form in acrylic and charcoal.
• Citizens studio: 1 year.
• His words: "The arts are an essential component to our humanity and further develop betterment of our society and environment."
"Visit Rome and imagine what it would be like there if the arts were not heralded as they were in times past. The city would be quite unremarkable, as compared to what it is today. The arts have historically played a critical role in community revitalization, development and cultural evolution."
• His prices: $250-$5,000.
* Ezequiel Leoni
• His art: Functional furniture crafted from metal and woods.
• Citizens studio: Seven years.
• His words: (His reason for making art is) "the desire to make ordinary objects more interesting, appealing."
"In the beginning I tried to be humorous and whimsical; now I think I am more abstract. Some pieces are very busy, others more controlled."
• His prices: $25 to $7,000.
* Patricia McNulty
• Her art: Figurative art in ink, acrylics and oils. McNulty is also a commercial illustrator and designs T-shirt art.
• Citizens studio: Four years.
• Her words: "As an artist, I reshuffle ideas, parts, concepts, continually forming and reforming with color, line, shape, subject, the core elements of my life and experience."
• Her prices: $20-$400.
* Tony Rosano
• His art: Kinetic sculptures, often made with found objects.
• Citizens studio: Eight years.
• His words:" I like to find useful things in the trash or at thrift stores and turn them into useless things."
"I turned an antique hair dryer into a robot. Once I found a giant carrot by the side of the road, and once I found a prosthetic leg. Mannequin and doll parts are a common theme in my kinetic sculptures. A lot of my sculptures light up, move and talk.
"People generally don't ask me how I made something, they just look at me funny and ask me why I made it."
• His prices: $30-$3,000.
* Michael B. Schwartz
• His art: Abstract and figurative works in acrylic. He also does public art works and murals. Schwartz creates murals with Tucson's youth through the Tucson Arts Brigade.
• Citizens Studio: Nearly a year.
• His words: "When I look at the world I feel the condition of the environment, the contention between people, the beauty, the potential, the mystery."
• His prices: $80-$6,000.
* Gavin Troy
• His art: A mix of mediums to create often abstract paintings.
• His words: "Line, shape, form and color come together to create an unfolding story of the journey."
They mix "both the internal and external experience to create a harmonious composition."
• His prices: $25 to $3,000.
More artists with studios at Citizens Warehouse
Matthew Diggins, Jack Doyle, Jeff Farmer, Joe Hatton, Laurel Hansen, *Joanna Pregon, Robert Redding, Jeremy Singer, Christopher Stevens, Jenny O. Wall.
If you go
• What: Tucson Artists' Open Studios.
• When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and next Sunday.
• Where: All over Tucson. Find the roughly 140 participating artists and locations at www.tucsonopenstudios.com
• Cost: Free.
"Visit Rome and imagine what it would be like there if the arts were not heralded as they were in times past. The city would be quite unremarkable, as compared to what it is today."
Alec Laughlin, president of the Warehouse Arts Management Organization
Steinfeld to reopen
The Steinfeld Warehouse is getting all prettified and ready for its close-up.
The historic building at 101 W. Sixth St. had been home to art studios and galleries before it was deemed unsafe and vacated in 2007.
In 2010, the Warehouse Arts Management Organization bought the building for $1, plus a $250,000 fee that gave WAMO the right to develop the property. The city owns the land.
Extensive work, including a new roof and a shoring up the structure, has already been done. WAMO is preparing to launch a fundraising campaign to raise the $750,000 needed to complete the work.
The Steinfeld Warehouse is still about 18 months away from being ready for full occupancy, but has already hosted gatherings such as the Rodeo Days Arts Celebration Downtown in February.
Its first new tenant, the nonprofit Xerocraft, moved into the warehouse late last month and will initially pay a reduced rent in exchange for making improvements to the building, said Alec Laughlin, president of WAMO. He expects other organizations to follow suit.
Later this month, Dinnerware art gallery and WAMO will team up to present arts-related events at Steinfeld.
When it is finished, Laughlin says, there will be about nine apartments with artists' studios attached, a community arts center, shops, galleries, and a performance stage in the courtyard.
How to help
• Warehouse Arts Management Organization, the Tucson nonprofit committed to preserving some of the warehouses in the historic neighborhood for artists' use, accepts donations. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to P.O. Box 1882, Tucson, AZ, 85702, or online at wamotucson.org
Citizens Warehouse is at 44 W. Sixth St. Find more information on the artists with studios there at www.citizensart.com
“Citizens Warehouse” introduces the artists and history of Citizens through essays and photographs. Samples of each artists’ works are included in the 140-page, full-color, 8-by-10-inch book. It is expected to be ready and available for purchase at Citizens Warehouse during the open studio tour, and it can be ordered online at www.citizensart.com The book is $40. A limited number of volumes signed by all the artists is $200. Proceeds benefit Citizens Warehouse.
Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at email@example.com or 573-4128.