Spring is the perfect time to dine al fresco in the Old Pueblo, and Urban Picnic 2010 offers the ideal venue to enjoy lunch and art while supporting professional ballet.

"We have so many supportive artists and some serious collectors who donate beautiful pieces of art (for the auction), so it is the arts helping the arts," said Cynthia Hansen, chairwoman of the upcoming fundraiser to benefit Ballet Tucson and Bicycle Inter-Community Art & Salvage (BICAS).

The annual picnic luncheon and art auction originated 13 years ago as a fundraiser for the Temple of Music and Art; five years ago it became the primary fundraiser for Ballet Tucson.

It is based on a unique premise: custom-designed "lunchboxes" that take shape as lidded boxes, hinged containers and other vessels created by local artists. Mediums for the one-of-a-kind pieces range from aluminum, bronze, steel, wood, glass and leather to bicycle parts.

"The lunchboxes are each artist's interpretation of a lunchbox: the idea is that if you like an artist or collect their work, this is an opportunity to get something super-unique. Normally you can't just walk into a gallery and find a lunchbox by an artist like Joanne Kerrihard" Hansen said.

In addition to the lunchboxes, Hansen said the event has expanded to include a live auction featuring upscale art and jewelry. This year's event, which will be Friday, will include an original hand-pulled lithograph of "Iron Cross" by Rufino Tamayo.

Hansen expects the caliber of art to appeal to collectors throughout the Southwest and said funds raised at the event are particularly vital to Ballet Tucson.

Ballet Tucson, established in 1986, became Southern Arizona's sole professional ballet company six years ago. Outreach by the nonprofit company includes ballet lessons to economically disadvantaged area schoolchildren and free tickets to performances for local children and their families.

The troupe also works closely with Ballet Arts, a professional dance-training school for ages 3 through adult.

Performances include contemporary and classic works - the season finale is "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on May 22 and 23 - and feature a Children's Ensemble of 100-plus dancers alongside the professional company.

"Tucson now has five professional arts groups that many cities around the country can't claim to have, and we are working around the clock to keep this going," said Hansen, who is also president of the board of directors for Ballet Tucson.

"Because of its nature, dance is an art form that touches the lives of so many children and young people and continues to be a part of their lives and development into adulthood and beyond."

If You Go

• What: 2010 Urban Picnic.

• When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday

• Where: La Encantada, 2905 E. Skyline Drive.

• Cost: $45 per person.

• Festivities include mimosas and a picnic lunch provided by Armitage Wine Lounge & Café, live music by the Ed DeLucia Jazz Trio, performances by Ballet Tucson, a silent auction of juried artwork and a live auction of one-of-a-kind "lunchboxes" and original works by artists such as Rufino Tamayo, Barbara Gurwitz, Vytas Sakalas, Sara Spanjers, Barbara Farmilant, Curt Brill, Troy Neiman and William Skiles.

• For tickets or more information, go online to www.ballettucson.org or call 903-1445.

Contact Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net