Carol Varney has been named the executive director of the Arts Foundation of Tucson and Southern Arizona.

She succeeds Debi Chess Mabie, who left the foundation in October.

Varney moved to Tucson in July and brought an impressive résumé with her:

In San Francisco, where she lived for 20 years, she was director of the Bay Area Video Coalition, a nationally-recognized organization that provides the tools and the contacts independent media-makers need for success. She oversaw the 12,000-square-foot building that provided artists with space to work and chances to work together. Under her tenure, the organization received a John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, was named San Francisco’s first-ever Tech Sector Coordinator, and received support from the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and National Endowment for the Humanities.

She’s taking it a bit slow at first in her new position.

“I’m definitely going to get to know the arts and artists here before I make some great pronouncements,” she says.

“We’ll have open meetings to facilitate those, open office hours, to make sure we are connecting with those we serve.”

But that doesn’t mean she’ll be sitting on her hands until then.

She says there will be — but won’t give details — an upcoming public art maintenance program. She expects to be able to make an announcement about that by the end of the month.

Little money has been allocated for the maintenance of public art here, and many of the pieces are badly in need of it.

“The public art here was part of the reason I wanted to move here,” she says.

“I had been here before and drove around the city. Public art is so much a part of what the community is. That attracted me to Tucson. So did the number of performing arts organizations here. … I went to the Open Studios tour and there are amazing artists tucked away.”

Varney is a prolific fundraiser, and she has already applied for grants for programs that will benefit artists.

She also hopes to buck up the general operating funds for the foundation.

“The best programs in the world can’t be successful if the organization that offers the program is worried about paying the rent and keeping the servers running,” she says in a follow-up email to the interview.

“I was excited upon coming into the Arts Foundation to learn that General Operating Support grant support has long been in place, and I hope to be able to grow the funds the Arts Foundation offers for general operations to arts organizations.”

An issue she also hopes to tackle is secure work spaces for artists.

“One of the biggest things happening in San Francisco is the displacement of artists,” she says. “In ’95, when I moved to San Francisco, the art scene was incredible, but as time passed, artists were displaced.” They were pushed out to Oakland, and now are being displaced there, she says.

“I feel Tucson may be on the cusp of that kind of growth and I see some opportunities so that artists can have a place. … I believe in places that are open where art and community can be created. I’m hoping to preserve spaces that can work for artists and thrive and inspire all of us.”

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128. On Twitter: @kallenStar