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Tucson arts groups snag $450k in federal CARES grants

Tucson arts groups snag $450k in federal CARES grants

After months of struggling through COVID-19 closures, Southern Arizona arts organizations landed nearly a half-million dollars in federal funding to help them stay afloat as the pandemic rages on.

Four Tucson organizations — Lead Guitar, Museum of Contemporary Art, Southwest Folklife Alliance (organizers of the Tucson Meet Yourself Folklife Festival) and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra — each received a $50,000 National Endowment of the Arts CARES grant, and the Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona received a $250,000 grant.

The foundation was one of only nine community arts agencies in the country — the city of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture was another — to receive the maximum grant from the NEA’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security program. In all, 855 organizations nationwide received CARES grants.

The Arts Foundation will spread the wealth to arts groups throughout its eight-county, largely rural region that stretches from south of the Gila River to the Mexico and New Mexico borders. Most of those smaller communities are often overlooked when it comes to arts funding, said foundation Executive Director Adriana Gallego.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to truly embrace and stand in solidarity with all of our communities,” Gallego said. “This will be an opportunity for us to be able to financially endow these communities in Tucson and Pima County and all of the eight counties that we serve in a way that can really stamp our path for a future relationship and solidify more opportunities to work together. … This is a way for us to ensure those funds are distributed within the rural communities we serve and also strengthen relationships of our tribal communities.”

The money will come in handy to help Arizona’s arts community, which has been dark throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Orchestras, theaters and dance troupes had to abruptly end their seasons, many with performances still on the books, back in March when Tucson Mayor Regina Romero banned gatherings of 50 or more.

The new season for most of those groups is still two months away, and most are still working through the numbers and waiting to see where the state will be in terms of controlling the pandemic.

So far, the numbers have not been encouraging. As the state’s confirmed cases rise — going from just over 13,000 when Gov. Doug Ducey reopened the state on May 15 to more than 101,000 this week — organizations including the TSO are playing a waiting game.

“We are clearly watching the scenario on a day-to-day basis,” said TSO CEO Stephen Haines.

The TSO will use its CARES grant to continue paying its 45 core musicians through Aug. 30, when the orchestra and its musicians union contract expires.

Haines said the orchestra has made no decisions regarding the 2020-21 season, which is set to begin Sept. 25. The Music Hall, where the orchestra performs, has been closed since March, and there’s no indication that it will reopen any time soon.

And when it does reopen, chances are audience capacity will be limited to half of the hall’s nearly 2,300 seats.

“As we look forward, we understand that the ability to have large-scale gatherings is challenging,” Haines said. “We are working with the musicians and the entire team to make those determinations very soon.”

More than 3,100 groups applied for grants through the NEA CARES program. In total, the groups requested $157 million — more than three times the $45 million available.

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

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