Tucson has evolved into a 21st-century destination for the visual and performing arts. Here’s a look at some of the major players:
MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art)
Founded in 1997 in the HazMat building in the Tucson arts district, MOCA Tucson relocated in 2010 to 265 S. Church Ave.
It is the only museum in the city devoted exclusively to contemporary art from around the globe.
Under the new leadership of Executive Director and Co-Chief Curator Julio César Morales and Deputy Director and Co-Chief Curator Laura Copelin, the museum seeks to refortify efforts to “experiment with new ways small museums can function both organizationally and as responsive agents within their communities, serving as a locus for consequential projects with international reach.”
Programming at MOCA Tucson is commission-based and Morales and Copelin are committed to enriching the field of art through through-provoking exhibitions and salient conversations.
Current exhibitions include “Plein Air” through February 5; “Kenneth Tam: Silent Spikes,” which investigates the intersections of masculinity, race, and labor. Opening in January is “Cecilia Vicuña: Sonoran Quipu,” an exhibition featuring two major new works by Vicuña, including a monumental quipu installation and an artist book 30 years in the making.
Founded in 1971 as the Tucson Opera Company with two productions of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” at the Temple of Music & Art, Arizona Opera expanded to Phoenix in 1976. Since its inaugural year, it has produced more than 200 fully-staged operas and concerts. The company stages five productions per season, and its repertoire ranges from baroque, bel canto and verismo works to turn-of-the-century masterpieces, operettas and American operas.
The organization hopes to expand impact as the region continues recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, said Joseph Specter, the opera’s president and general director.
“Our birth city of Tucson has an amazing array of cultural offerings, and Arizona Opera is proud of our more than 50 years of service to this community,” said Specter. “As we look into our future programming, we are focused on how we can serve new and diverse audiences with this opera art form—from beautiful productions of traditional operas, to commissioning new operas, to serving students and others across the state with vibrant education and community programs.”
Arizona Theatre Company
One of just 80 League of Resident Theatres nationwide and the only one in the state, Arizona Theatre Company is also the only LORT in the country that produces in two cities: Tucson, where it originated in 1967, and Phoenix, where it began performing in 1978.
For 55 seasons, ATC has been on a mission to create world-class theatre that brings people together. To that end, the nonprofit subscribes to the acronym ACCESS: Artistry, Conversation, Collaboration, Equity, Stewardship and Sustainability.
“These values – ACCESS – are really important to us. We talk about them and live them constantly: They are our keystone. We want to reflect what is happening today on stage in relevant stories that inspire curiosity and creativity, while sparking empathy and joy,” said Gerry Wright, ATC managing director.
ATC also fulfills its mission through the ATC Academy, which offers theatre arts education and community engagement for children and adults. Programming includes in-school arts education residencies, internships and apprenticeships along with professional development for arts organizations and teachers.
In January, ATC welcomes Matt August as the Kasser Family Artistic Director.
Established in 1986 as Ballet Arts Foundation, Ballet Tucson became the city’s resident professional ballet company in 2004. It now employs 30 dancers from around the world to produce historic classics and innovative contemporary dance.
The company provides training for professional dancers through the School of Ballet Tucson, ages 4 to adult.
“Dance is the most powerful physical expression of art: It transcends words, and we are dedicated to bringing world-class dance to Tucson,” said Margaret Mullin, Ballet Tucson’s artistic director. “I am a native, and when I was growing up here, the arts had a huge impact on my life – they have become my livelihood. I am excited to deliver great arts experiences to all Tucsonans, especially the next generation.”
After a 14-year career as a soloist with Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet, Mullin is leveraging relationships with notable choreographers, stagers and dancers to bring performances of the highest caliber to Tucson.
“We have legendary choreographers and up-and-coming choreographers who are winning awards and collaborating in films, along with some Ballet Tucson favorites,” said Mullin. “We present traditional pieces, incredible new works by our dancers and work created by nationally and internally recognized artists. It is a fun blend.”
Broadway in Tucson/A Nederlander Presentation
Broadway in Tucson/A Nederlander Presentation is part of the nationally recognized Nederlander Producing Company of America.
Broadway in Tucson has brought the Broadway touring experience to more than 1.5 million patrons. In 2010, it partnered with UA Presents (now Arizona Arts Live) for a three-week, sold-out engagement of “Wicked,” at Centennial Hall, leading to an ongoing collaboration with Arizona Arts Live. Broadway in Tucson now presents five to six full-week shows and special events each season.
“We are the only organization in Southern Arizona that presents national touring Broadway productions. That is our niche and it sets us apart: We are a presenter of national tours that come straight from New York,” said GM Mario Di Vetta.
Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block 140 N. Main Ave.
On four acres, the Tucson Museum of Art offers a window into the past of “El Presidio,” the Spanish military outpost established in 1775 from which Tucson originated.
The museum was established in 1924 and features a permanent collection of more than 10,000 pieces of Pre-Columbian, Colonial Latin American, American, European, Indigenous, contemporary and folk art while also showcasing art of the American West. Additionally, it boasts a block of five historic homes, a gift shop and cafe.
The museum’s commitment to relationships with Indigenous communities to help present accurate and insightful information has also put it on the national map, said Norah Diedrich, the museum’s Jon and Linda Ender Director and CEO.
“This type of outreach, respect, inclusion and equity has become more and more important to the museum world in the 21st century,” Diedrich said. “The staff at the Tucson Museum of Art has been doing this for many years and the museum has received acclaim in the Southwest, across the entire county and around the world.”
For more than five decades, the Invisible Theatre has been a vibrant tour-de-force in Tucson’s live theatre scene.
Starting as a small collective of actors at the Odd Fellow’s Hall downtown, Invisible Theatre derives its name from the “invisible energy that flows between performers and the audience: That makes the magic of theatre. . .it is a collective wave of energy that touches us deep in our souls,” said Susan Claassen, managing artistic director.
The professional theatre was built on the belief that arts can effect change and inspire communities. “When selecting plays, we look for a modicum of hope where we can showcase seasoned talent with up-and-coming theatre makers,” said Claassen.
“If there is anything we have learned over the past several years. it is that the human connection and human spirit can’t be diminished,” Claasen said. “The arts provide a light for everyone to grasp onto and that is why they are so important.”
Tucson Pops Orchestra
The force behind “Music Under the Stars,” Tucson Pops Orchestra holds free concerts outdoors at DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center at Reid Park between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It also offers a secondary season in the late summer.
For 65 years, the nonprofit has been providing entertainment and bringing the community together with a repertoire that infuses the music of today with light orchestral classics. The orchestra features 55 musicians plus various guest artists designed to showcase diversity and variety.
Tucson Pops offers an introduction to orchestral music without the pressure of spending, according to Conductor Khris Dodge.
“Trying to find funding for an organization that can be inclusive to the entire community is a challenge, but the orchestra works diligently to overcome that. It is made possible through the support of sponsors, members of the orchestra, and people who attend and donate,” said Dodge.
Tucson Symphony Orchestra
The patriarch of performing arts, Tucson Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1928. Employing more than 250 musicians and staff, it’s the largest nonprofit performing arts organization in Southern Arizona. TSO engages with 120,000 children, students and adults annually through performances at the Linda Ronstadt Music Hall at the Tucson Convention Center.
“The TSO is uniquely the only professional symphony orchestra in Southern Arizona,” said President and CEO Paul Meecham. “As such, its goal is to reach the full diversity of the many communities in our region, both through concerts and through extensive music education programs in public schools. As the largest employer of professional musicians, it also complements and supplements the activities of many smaller and specialist music ensembles in the area.”