Impressions of Tucson, Arizona

Recently I got to spend five days in Tucson, Arizona. I’ve written about the food, the desert, Biosphere 2 and Kartchner Caverns, but it occurs to me that I haven’t really written much about the city itself.

After hearing so many horror stories about this red state, I was really kind of braced not to like this city, but from what I can tell from a lazy Google search, Tucson runs about 50/50 in its politics. I only saw one Joe Arpaio for Senate sign. (That still made me sick, but he did wind up losing in the primary, so yay for AZ!)

My first impression of the city was extremely favorable. Any city with an abundance of public art, in my opinion, is one in which the local government really cares about making the place livable. And there is art everywhere in Tucson. Even the overpasses are decorative. Where else can you say you’ve walked through a rattlesnake?

Rattlesnake

And I really loved this sculpture of a horse and its colt. Made in flat layers, at some angles it completely disappears.

 

And of course, I have a weakness for Kokopelli, and you see him absolutely everywhere. Even in the airport.

kokopeli

And then there’s the funky historic Fourth Avenue district, with its eclectic shops and restaurants and murals. I absolutely love the vibe there.

 

Between that and the fact that there’s hardly any traffic (compared to Seattle), and the amazing landscape that takes your breath away at every turn, I’d be tempted to move to this place.

Except for the blistering heat. Yeah. You can’t forget the heat.

Dry heat

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Public Art as a Yardstick

I love the fact that I’m now living in a city where public art is the norm. I often pass by sculptures and murals here in Seattle, and they never fail to make me smile. It’s always a pleasure to have a bit of beauty and humor or a dash of whimsy injected into one’s day. I love having my thoughts provoked and my perspectives challenged. And some of these sculptures kind of feel like a part of my family now.

I used to live in Jacksonville, Florida, where public art was rather thin on the ground. It was often viewed as too controversial, or not in keeping with family values. (Though I wonder if their statue of Andrew Jackson astride a stallion still stands? I bet it does.)

Some artists in Jacksonville have been known to go rogue, I think, out of sheer frustration. They’d paint any flat surface they could find. Sadly, they always seemed to be quickly shut down and/or painted over.

Allowing art in one’s city takes a certain level of political courage. (And I’m not talking about historical monuments and statues, here. That’s another debate entirely.) There will always be people who don’t like a particular piece, or they will misinterpret it. It is easier to offend than to delight or inspire, it seems. It’s a confident city council that allows self-deprecation and social commentary to be out in the open, for all to see. It’s a brave mayor that doesn’t see creativity as a threat.

I think one of the many factors one should consider when deciding where to live is the amount of public art in the city in question. That will tell you much about the quality of life that you will experience in that community. It will tell you a great deal about the maturity and emotional health of the municipality as well. These are considerations you should never overlook. The ability to express oneself is the hallmark of civilization.

Crane

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