As a Tucson resident for 41 years, I am personally pleased to support downtown development as an extremely important focus for Tucson. An exciting and vibrant downtown is vitally important to successfully market the city as the place where businesses want to locate.
What strikes me, however, is that arts and culture are conspicuous in their absence from the messages from our elected officials, our leaders of economic development and our service clubs as well.
As a longtime arts enthusiast, I decided to do an Internet search on the contributions of the arts to Tucson's downtown. Quite frankly, my research surprised me.
Briefly, I began by looking up the major performing arts in downtown Tucson and the theaters in which they perform, to determine the capacity of the house. As much as I could, I looked up each one's 2012-2013 season to see how many performances they provide and/or what their websites say about the size of their audiences.
The annual (unscientific but conservative) results on the number of attendees are as follows, if each plays to a full house:
• Broadway In Tucson 101,000
• Rialto Theatre 100,000
• Fox Tucson Theatre 100,000
• Tucson Symphony Orchestra (downtown concerts only) 98,000
• Arizona Theatre Company 89,000
• Arizona Opera 22,890
• TOTAL 510,890 downtown visits
Note that this total does not include organizations such as Arizona Friends of Chamber Music or Beowulf Alley Theater, only because the data were not available online. Furthermore, these numbers did not include the visual arts venues such as the Tucson Museum of Art, Etherton Gallery, Philabaum Glass Studio and Gallery, Davis Dominguez Gallery, Obsideon Gallery, The Drawing Studio, Sonoran Glass School, Dinnerware Gallery and many, many others. And finally, these numbers do not include other museum venues like the Tucson Children's Museum, the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum or the Jewish History Museum, all of which bring people downtown.
Imagine a downtown without the arts! What business would want to locate in a city where the downtown closes at 6 p.m.? A city without arts and culture at its core?
Yes, an improved convention center is very important, and a convention hotel would be a great addition. But I submit that the impetus for a vibrant downtown resides with the Tucson arts, all of which benefit Tucson residents and their children as well as Tucson visitors.
Support for arts and culture in our city is a critical component of a vibrant downtown. Clearly. the business generated by more than half a million downtown visits must be recognized as a vital component in the development of a sound economy. Isn't it time to acknowledge the contributions of Tucson's historically creative and vital arts community?
Barbara R. Levy is the chair of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Board of Trustees. Email her at Barbara@levyfundraising.com