13. City of the Arts

By Loni Nannini

Against a backdrop of statuesque saguaros and epic sunsets, Tucson is renowned as a distinctive stage for visual and performing arts and culture.

Tucson was ranked No. 15 of “52 Places to Go in 2023” by The New York Times for its thriving arts scene and was named a Conde Nast Traveler “Top Place to Go in North America in 2024” for historic Barrio Viejo. The rankings reflect the diverse palette of arts organizations, festivals, venues and experiences that can be found here.

A 2021 study by Southern Methodist University DataArts found that 37 Tucson arts organizations – 36 with budgets under $5 million – generated more than $34 million in salaries and benefits to local residents and expenses paid to local businesses. 

The local nonprofit arts and culture sector alone generates $87.7 million in annual revenue, according to a 2020 study by the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance.

“Economic development is more than simply individuals in our community possessing the right skills,” said Michael Guymon, president and CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber. “Cultural amenities rank high on potential employees’ and visitors’ lists and Tucson’s arts and music scene grows with each passing day.

“Between the Tucson Museum of Art celebrating 100 years this year and the HSL Properties Tucson Jazz Festival seeing record crowds in its 10th year, Tucson is arts rich and providing unique and memorable experiences for people of all ages.”

Iconic Venues Host World-Class Performances

Built over two centuries, Tucson’s theatres and venues have shaped the star power of the Southwest. 

Distinctive spaces host performances by Arizona Opera, Arizona Theatre Company, Ballet Tucson, Broadway in Tucson/A Nederlander Presentation, Tucson Symphony Orchestra among many others. 

Iconic venues include the Fox Tucson Theatre, with more than 100 events annually, including nationally touring talent. Renowned for its circa-1930s “Southwestern Art Deco” grandeur, the Fox recently launched a $26 million capital campaign to fund a 20,000-square-foot expansion.

“The Fox and other downtown venues are committed to building the infrastructure necessary for growth in the arts overall,” said Bonnie Schock, Fox’s executive director. “The pace at which the arts have recovered post-pandemic versus other industries is extraordinary. People want experiences more than goods, and these experiences are a huge part of the cultural identity of any given place.”

Rich cultural identity is reflected by the 1920s-era Rialto Theatre and century-old Hotel Congress across the street. Hotel Congress is acclaimed for Club Congress, the outdoor Plaza Stage, and the Century Room that features live jazz nightly. The refurbished Rialto averages about 300 shows annually and is recognized by Pollstar as a Top 100 Major Club Venue worldwide. 

Other notable spaces include the 1927 Spanish Colonial-style Temple of Music and Art; the Leo Rich Theater; and the newly upgraded Linda Ronstadt Music Hall at the Tucson Convention Center. Teatro Carmen has recently completed Phase I of an $8 million renovation to include a 300-seat space for theatre, music and film, a bar, restaurant and patio.

“This was a hub for the Hispanic, African-American and Chinese communities: It was a melting pot of cultural history in the Barrio Viejo and is the oldest performing arts venue in Tucson,” said Herb Stratford, president of nonprofit Stratford Artworks and co-founder of FilmFest Tucson.

UArizona brings Art to Life with Arizona Arts 

The University of Arizona takes the arts to the next level with Arizona Arts and Arizona Arts Live. 

The Arizona Arts triad comprises visual and performing arts and enrichment experiences through Arizona Arts Live (formerly UA Presents) at venues such as the Center for Creative Photography and Stevie Eller Dance Theatre, academic programs through UArizona College of Fine Arts, which features the Schools of Art, Dance, Music, and Theatre, Film & Television. 

Through more than 600 performances, events and experiences annually, Arizona Arts is an ambassador of arts in the community.

“The work we do in Arizona Arts − ranging from the professional training in our academic programs, to the arts innovative programming in our presenting units − is deeply woven into the vibrant arts ecosystem here in Southern Arizona,” said Andy Schulz, UArizona VP for the Arts and dean of the College of Fine Arts. 

Unique Collaborations Fuel Cultural Synergy

The collaborative spirit embodied by the Tucson Desert Song Festival and HSL Properties Tucson Jazz Festival has truly raised Tucson’s international profile. 

The Tucson Desert Song Festival provides grants to fund rare vocal talents − including artists who perform at the Metropolitan Opera −for the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, Arizona Opera, Ballet Tucson, True Concord Voices & Orchestra, Tucson Guitar Society and others.

“Typically, regional groups can’t afford the substantial fees of major vocal talents, so the festival enables them to bring talent to Tucson that they can’t otherwise afford. This has a major impact on the cultural life of the city,” said George Hanson, festival coordinator.

The HSL Properties Tucson Jazz Festival, which attracts global jazz performers, is a destination event that sold out 70% of ticketed offerings in 2024.

“People come for the festival but they stay for the food, the hotels, the attractions, the history and the cultural vibrancy that Tucson offers,” said festival director Khris Dodge.


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