Drab Walls Hide Lively Cooperative for Artists

By Allen, Stories Kathleen | AZ Daily Star, April 7, 2013 | Go to article overview

Drab Walls Hide Lively Cooperative for Artists


Allen, Stories Kathleen, AZ Daily Star


From the south, Citizens Warehouse looks so desolate. So, well, dull. Pass the massive two-story poured-concrete building on West Sixth Street along the railroad tracks and you'll see a hulking structure with few windows and spotty paint.

But turn the corner and pull into the dirt parking lot and you'll see it vibrates with creative energy.

From the subground level BICAS, sculptures made from random bicycle parts seem to wave and beckon. Next door you are likely to see sparks fly as Ezequiel Leoni crafts his stainless steel furniture.

Go up the metal staircase and enter the second floor, and you may hear music playing softly, but little else. Peek into the rooms off the wide hallways, however, and you'll be bombarded visually with paints and film and recycled tin and any other material that can be used to create art.

A new book, "Citizens Warehouse," gives an expansive look at the warehouse, its history and its artists.

Or you can see for yourself. Some of the artists are participating in next weekend's Tucson Artists' Open Studios tour. Many of those who didn't sign up still plan to open their doors for the event.

Cooperative effort

Since 1994, Citizens Warehouse has housed artists' studios. About two dozen artists rent space in the building where they paint, they draw, they sculpt, they photograph.

Established artists who make a living with their work rub shoulders with emerging artists hoping they can one day do the same.

The group, called the Citizens Artist Collective, often meets to visit, or share a meal, or hold drawing sessions with models they've jointly hired. They pitch in to sweep pooled water from the roof when the rains come. They take turns cleaning the bathrooms and mopping the common floors. They pop in on fellow artists to say hey, chat, ask, advise.

There's a reverence in this 84-year-old building. Quiet, respectful, and a deep, deep commitment to making art.

"Citizens is the focal point of creative efforts," says Dirk J. Arnold, who is out to preserve Tucson's architecture with his miniatures of historic structures.

"The community of creative people helps to inspire more creativity."

Arnold is new to the studio space - he moved in Monday.

Painter Gavin Troy has been there for about 12 years. He echoes Arnold. The best part of having a studio at Citizens, he says, is "being surrounded by creative people."

But there are strong economic reasons for setting up in a Citizens studio, as well.

"For me, the best aspect is I can afford to have the space," says painter Katherine Josten, who estimates that she's been at the warehouse for 15 years.

Alec Laughlin, the president of the Warehouse Arts Management Organization, or WAMO, which manages the state-owned Citizens, says the cost to artists is roughly 30 cents a square foot to lease the 22,672-square-foot building. WAMO is responsible for all of Citizens' maintenance, management and capital improvements.

Art may not always be made there - at some point, the Arizona Department of Transportation will put the building up for auction.

The warehouse district has historic status, and the likelihood of it being demolished is small, but its purpose can change.

"Won't appeal as condos"

"Hopefully, the building won't appeal as condos," says Laughlin, who paints and photographs in his Citizens studio.

"It would be a real loss if it becomes housing."

The sale won't happen until the LINKS project, the downtown arm of the Aviation Highway, is done. According to ADOT's latest estimates, that's about three years away.

Meanwhile, WAMO, which operates with one part-time paid staffer and a whole slew of artists who volunteer, is hopeful it will be in a position to purchase Citizens when that becomes necessary. (WAMO already owns the Steinfeld Warehouse, across West Sixth Street from Citizens.)

Until then, artists will stay tucked inside the massive building and paint, draw, sculpt and create art. …

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