graphicIn the early 1990’s, the Wall Street Journal stated that Tucson was "becoming a mini-Mecca of the arts in a regional renaissance." The city’s cultural and arts scene includes theater, photography, painting, music, sculpture, dance and literary arts. In fact, Tucson is one of only 14 cities in the United States with a full complement of performing arts, including a symphony, ballet, theater and opera. Not bad for a region of only 845,000. But the city’s cultural attractions date back to the 1860’s when the Titeres puppet shows and

Mexican circuses would come to town with acrobats, ropewalkers and clowns, or plays. City folks would set cactus afire so they could watch the performance at night. The later part of the 1870’s saw the last of the Mexican circus, and during the early 1880’s Tucson saw the opening of the Park Theater in Levin’s Park and Tom Fitch’s 700-seat Opera House at the southwest corner of 6th and Congress. By 1919, Tucson had the ornate Rialto Theater, establishing the "theater district." The Rialto fell on hard times in the 1970’s, but today has undergone a renovation effort to bring it back to its heyday. In 1907, a group of women known as The Saturday Morning Musical Club began meeting to plan productions and dream of building a "temple" to music and art in the city. That dream came true in 1927 when the Spanish Revival-style Temple of Music and Art was built downtown. Over the years, the Temple was the center of culture in town until it changed hands so many times that it fell into disarray. By the mid-1970’s it was in serious trouble, even though it was on the National Register of Historic Places. On the brink of being gutted or worse, it was saved through a community effort in 1986 and saw a million-dollar restoration effort that was completed in 1990.

In 1930, the Art Deco Fox Theater opened and was considered the movie theater of its day in the downtown theater district. Today, the theater is undergoing renovation at Congress Street west of Stone Avenue, adding yet another venue to the downtown arts district.

graphicAccording to a recent study by the Tucson/Pima Arts Council, the local art scene adds over $200 million to the local economy each year and employs some 4,000 people either full time or part time.

The Tucson-based Arizona Opera, Arizona Theater Company, Ballet Arizona and Tucson Symphony all have multi-million dollar budgets. Theater companies in Tucson produce programs that range from major Broadway plays and musicals, to original works, experimental plays, multi-cultural works and "Shakespeare in the Park." Musically, expect to see annual Blues festivals, Western Music conferences, Mariachi Conferences, Opera, Symphony, Pops and Jazz concerts and a major annual Folk Festival. Dance ranges from major ballet troupes, to Native American Pow Wows, Round Dance and Clogging festivals, and the Mexican Folklorico dancers.

The world-class University of Arizona Artists Series at Centennial Hall brings performing artists from all over the world to Tucson, as does the Tucson Convention Center each season. It should be noted that the Tucson performing arts "season" typically ranges from September to May. The reason for this is because it’s during this time when the University of Arizona and Pima Community College are in session and this is when the "snowbird," winter visitors escaping the snow of the East Coast and Midwest, arrive for their winter stay in the Old Pueblo. In the summer, major events slow, though the literary scene is non-stop and many smaller theaters continue to perform and the art galleries and museums remain open.

The focal point of Tucson’s art scene is the Downtown Arts District. This area of downtown Tucson was designated by the Tucson City Council in 1986, when they approved a $5.6 million allocation to create an Arts District and save the Temple of Music and Art on Scott Street as the anchor facility of the Arts District. The area is located in historic downtown Tucson clustered around Congress Street, where galleries, cafes and artist studios abound today. Every Thursday from September through May, the Tucson Arts District Partnership offers a free walking tour of downtown exhibition spaces featuring galleries, studios, shops, window displays and murals, from 5:00 P.M. to 7:30 P.M. It is also in this area where the historic Temple of Music and Art, headquarters of the Arizona Theater Company, is located and is included on the tour. Also downtown is the Tucson Museum of Art, located within a five-building Historic Block complex where the original Presidio of Tucson existed.

The University of Arizona Campus is a fine arts Mecca, with the Center for Creative Photography, U of A Museum of Art, Fine Arts Complex and U of A Poetry Center. The UA Theater Arts Department and Repertory Theater is one of the nation’s oldest theater departments, while the School of Music and Dance has been around since 1897. Pima Community College has its own art museums and performance halls as well.

Tucson has a wide range of theater experiences, from Shakespeare, to experimental, to musicals, and many smaller theaters that specialize in local works, many of which come from the Old Pueblo Playwrights. The stage could be a park, a concert hall, the University of Arizona or a small, experimental theater that seats 20 people. Some are huge, professional productions, while others may have no set at all and simply rely on the skill of the performers to convey their art.


Berger Performing Arts Center

Arizona School for the Deaf and the Blind
1200 W. Speedway 770-3690

Centennial Hall
University of Arizona
1020 E. University Blvd. 621-3341

DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center
Reid Park
E. 22nd Street & Country Club 791-4079

Center for the Arts
Pima Community College
2202 W. Anklam Road 206-6988

Temple of Music and Art
330 S. Scott Ave. 622-2823

Tucson Convention Center

Music Hall & Leo Rich Theatre
260 S. Church Ave. 791-4266


Arizona Opera Company 293-4336

Ballet Arizona 882-5022

Arizona Theater Company 884-8210

Tucson Symphony Orchestra 882-8585

Tucson/Pima Arts Council 624-0595

Tucson Museum of Art 624-2333

Tucson Arts District Partnership 624-9977

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