Tucson Arts Brigade (TAB) is kicking off spring with a call to artists, from all backgrounds, to take part in a three-day mural festival dedicated to creating stories of culture through the arts.
Artists and groups of all styles and experience levels are invited to work alongside TAB, along with residents of the historic Sugar Hill and Jefferson Park Neighborhoods, to gather stories and transform them into murals.
TAB is a nonprofit, community mural arts and educational organization that specializes in offering youth, intergenerational and cross-cultural opportunities for civic and social engagement. They partner with the City of Tucson, the University of Arizona School of Art and other organizations to give opportunities to artists wanting to engage with the community.
“Making connections and getting people involved is a key aspect to these projects,” said Michael Schwartz, TAB President. “Breaking down barriers between people and letting them into a community where all are welcome is important.”
The organization, established in 1996, focuses on giving back to schools, neighborhoods, businesses and other non-profits and is “a national model for sustainable community development through the arts,” according to their website.
The “Artists Call: Neighborhood Mural Festival” is intended to gather artists of all backgrounds to submit submissions for ideas on a set of murals for the Sugar Hill and Jefferson Park neighborhoods.
Sugar Hill is a historic neighborhood, which now encompasses the El Cortez Heights, Feldman’s, and Northwest neighborhoods. The area was home to many from Tucson’s African-American community, and is an area with diverse history and thriving culture. The idea for this mural is that it encompasses what the community represents.
Submissions are open to everyone and are encouraged by TAB. UA students in the School of Art are taking part in this community engagement as well, and according to Schwartz, it is a “great way to get the opportunity to work with other artists and maintain that relationship between local artist organizations and the university.”
Artists working on murals with TAB are supported by the Tucson Metro Chamber and the City of Tucson, both economically as well as through an increase in art representation in the city, according to Schwartz.
“The work we do has to adhere to the city objectives, however, the individual neighborhoods we enter into have a large say as well to what art is displayed,” Schwartz said.
TAB asks each neighborhood what they would like to see, and then they send out a call for artists who can complete that vision for the community effectively. This gives local and younger artists experience doing commissioned work, according to Schwartz.
The School of Art has a long relationship with TAB and Schwartz, who is also an alum of the school. After the first set of murals went up in downtown Tucson, the school organized a panel discussion on campus that brought together some of the mural artists and city planners involved with the project.
As planning began for the second round of murals, Colin Blakely, current director of the School of Art, and other faculty members provided feedback on planning and discussed the possibility of having students and/or faculty involved in creating the next group of murals.
“The Tucson Arts Brigade mural project serves as an outstanding example of how the arts can connect with communities,” Blakely said. “[It] provides a unique and striking identity to a city.”
Blakely encourages students and members of campus to volunteer with TAB or contribute to the mural projects because it builds a relationship with the art community.
“It is just one example of the arts in Tucson and it is a project I am delighted to have the School of Art involved in,” Blakely said.
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Miss Hazard, a U.K. graffiti artist, illustrator and designer, has worked with TAB on their mural projects and believes “organizations like the Tucson Brigade are so important.”
Her experience as an artist with TAB has provided her with a positive outlook on the effect of her art within the community. Continuing as a well known artist in the U.K., she looks back at her experiences with TAB as a stepping stone in her career.
“When you paint a surface, like a large building, it makes it relevant to the community,” Hazard said. “I understand how when people paint walls and surfaces that they are not supposed to, people may feel threatened or intimidated, whereas when you paint something like a mural its powerful and makes people feel proud of their own city.”
According to Hazard, TAB listens to the community and makes sure that the people of the city or neighborhood are well represented with each mural. Hazard attended several community meetings before she started her mural, the “Bronx Wash” mural located at the intersection of E. Linden Street. and N. 4th Avenue.
The elements she included in her ‘mark on Tucson’ included trying to make her mural central to what she felt would embody the community. The gila monster pattern and other elements within her work show the intentionality she took to create something the community would relate with.
“I think from what I’ve seen in Tucson, the artwork is of such high quality it would be great to see more of it around the city and near the UA,” Hazard said.
She remembers her interactions with Schwartz well, and hopes that TAB will continue working with the community and interacting with the city to paint more murals. She will also be returning to Tucson at the end of the year to continue her work.
The artists are an important aspect to the mural progress, but also, students and community members who volunteer and work with the artists in the creative process are a key aspect to making the projects come together, Schwartz said.
“We focus a lot on neighborhoods that the UA influences, knowing the UA School of Art has a lot of talented artists and wanting to bring the college community and the city community together,” Schwartz said.
The “Artists Call: Neighborhood Mural Festival” is an open opportunity to all who are interested. Submissions are due April 2, 2018 and can be found at their website: http://www.tucsonartsbrigade.org
For those who do not volunteer, there are other opportunities to help TAB by donating needed materials or money to help make the art possible.
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