Arizona Arts Live bringing Kidjo, Lila Downs to Tucson

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Angélique Kidjo is playing an Arizona Arts Live show at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Thursday, April 7. (Courtesy Sofia and Mauro)

Arizona Arts Live has four more concerts before it wraps up its 2021-22 season, which Executive Director Chad Herzog said saw a sellout concert with jazz and pop superstar Jon Batiste in March and increased visibility for the University of Arizona arts presenter three years after it launched to replace UA Presents.

On Thursday, April 7, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo will play an Arizona Arts Live concert at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Next, Tucson favorite Lila Downs follows on April 28, with a show at Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd., on the UA campus.

“On campus, our path and our hope is that every student, faculty and staff member has an arts experience and a live performing arts experience with Arizona Arts Live,” Herzog said.

Arizona Arts Live began to take shape in October 2019, months before the COVID-19 pandemic began and pushed back the 2020 season. As director of the organization, Herzog had to seek other creative and interactive outlets to cater to the university other than live performances. Some of his ideas included “Mi Casa, Your Casa 2.0,” which featured oversized bright red swings installed at the UA Mall in 2021. Students and others in the UA community enthusiastically participated, swinging their stress away in between classes and on lazy afternoons.

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“Arizona Arts Live, just like UA Presents, aims to bring the world to Tucson with having the best performers from all around the world,” Herzog explained. “We’ve been working a lot with regional artists and any artist that comes into town, we have them sit in town for a few days at least so they get to know Southern Arizona and Tucson.”

Herzog said Arizona Arts Live’s biggest success was Batiste’s Centennial Hall concert March 4, which was initially part of the 2022 HSL Properties Tucson Jazz Festival in January but was postponed.

“It was a huge success; it was our first sell out. The energy [Batiste] brought to stage was infectious; it was a really special night,” Herzog said, adding, “but we continue to be challenged.”

Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, Herzog has found that audience members and performers are still not comfortable attending indoor events. Herzog said he recently had to cancel New Zealand’s Indian Ink Theater Company performance, “Mrs. Krishnan’s Party,” in response to the UA lifting its mask mandate on campus and relaxed protocols nationwide. 

“The number of things that we have cancelled, postponed, or rescheduled or scheduled again and again is happening all the time. It’s hard, and it’s happening all across the U.S.,” Herzog said.

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While Arizona Arts Live has faced a string of scheduling conflicts since its launch, Herzog remains hopeful for the organization’s future through the help of student insight and financial donors. 

This year, Arizona Arts Live received less than 3% of its budget from the University of Arizona and qualified for a federal government grant of just over $2 million. Other funds come from donors.

“I’m really proud of the way this grant works. It keeps the ecosystem of live performances going without focusing so much on how many tickets we have to sell,” Herzog explained. “It’s allowed us to focus on supporting artists here in Southern Arizona. They can start to make a living again. We’ve also tried to make performances as accessible as possible to everyone.”

Herzog said Arizona Arts Live has a goal of pricing student tickets at $10 in hopes of encouraging students to attend its live events. 


*El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.


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