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Space for Tucson artists, creatives returns following coronavirus closure

Space for Tucson artists, creatives returns following coronavirus closure

From the June's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: Bars, gyms face shutdowns; Tucsonans worried telemedicine might disappear series

Back in December, the Southern Arizona Arts & Cultural Alliance swung open the doors of its grand experiment, the Catalyst Arts & Maker Space in the Tucson Mall.

The project, which gives musicians, arts organizations and makers space to create and collaborate, was just picking up steam when the coronavirus pandemic struck and it was forced to close in March.

At least 60 organizations from artists and robotics designers to musicians and chefs were regular users of the center’s five studios, said Kate Marquez, SAACA’s executive director.

Last week, Catalyst started allowing artists back into the space to pick up where they left off. The 14,000-square-foot center in the former Gap and Gap Kids store in the mall, 4500 N. Oracle Road, is still closed to the public.

Since reopening to artists last week, Catalyst has 10 organizations or individuals working there, including architect/artist Chris Lasch, academic affairs director of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

Lasch, who designed the Catalyst space, is working in the robotics lab to create a public art piece that will be installed overseas, Marquez said.

Before the pandemic, anyone could walk in and look at the art displayed on the center’s walls, pop into a culinary class or watch artists at work in glass-enclosed spaces.

“It was always intended to be a space where we could really reinvent what collaboration looked like,” Marquez said.

For example, a weaver who also cooks might team up with a culinary artist working out of the teaching kitchen, one of four designated spaces, Marquez said. Cooks who also are interested in dance might discover collaborations with dance studios using the space to rehearse.

“This was a functional space to where anyone and everyone could find a place to feel comfortable,” she said.

In addition to the teaching kitchen, Catalyst has a recording studio, a robotics lab, a main performance venue that was used for holiday shows in December, and an arts and crafts studio with a kiln.

The Oro Valley-based SAACA, which hosts arts and culinary events and concerts throughout Southern Arizona, had been working on Catalyst since March 2019, when Tucson Mall approached the group. The mall had worked with SAACA on its farmers markets and bought into SAACA’s vision of arts driving economic development.

“They saw our vision was that Catalyst was meant to start those new ideas and what types of new small businesses would be created when those projects leave Catalyst,” Marquez said. “The mall has all the infrastructure to do that, so we really saw that as an opportunity to cultivate those opportunities.”

Marquez said SAACA’s goal is to create 20 arts-centered businesses in Tucson Mall in the next five years.

In addition to Catalyst, Tucson Mall is also home to the enduring Arizona Rose Theater.

Had there not been a pandemic, Catalyst would have been home to dozens of arts summer camps and classes, all of which have now moved online, Marquez said.

Among those who were using Catalyst before the shutdown was a puppet show that had been in residency three weeks; robotics and engineering groups, Ben’s Bells, culinary classes and musicians.

Marquez said the public might be able to return to Catalyst in the fall if the state relaxes its social distancing restrictions that require limiting capacity.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

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