Spring Arts 2021: This Spring, Tucson’s Galleries, Museums Offer Art, If Not Parties | Arts: Feature

Last year around this time I was cheerfully writing about the great upcoming art exhibitions, dance concerts and plays scheduled for the spring: paintings at the UA’s Joseph Gross gallery by a talented young Liberian refugee; a modern dance in Reid Park by the up-and-coming Hawkinsdance troupe; and an Irish play by acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh at the Rogue Theatre. 

I didn’t see any of them. They were all shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.

Things are getting better now, we hope. The vaccine has arrived and this miracle drug  just may bring us back to life—eventually.  

Meantime, the arts in Tucson are staging a sort-of come back. It’s been tough, but galleries, curators, theater directors, musicians and dancers are using their creativity to keep the arts going. Most of the active theaters are putting their plays and other events online, though some have ventured into doing in-person plays, with the numbers of audience members limited. 

Some museums and galleries have gone totally online, staging exhibitions you can check out safely on your computer at home. The venues that have opened have moved carefully, with eyes on safety and strict pandemic protocols. 

If you want to go a gallery or museum, here’s what you have to do: wear a mask, practice social distancing by staying away from others, and plaster your hands with the sanitizer that is supplied. The Tucson Museum of Art and some others also require ticketed timed entry to keep the number of visitors lower than usual. And you may find the ticket taker who greets you is behind a plexiglass shield.

A final tip before you set out to look at art or buy a theater ticket: call ahead, because COVID. After all, as John Lennon said, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.


Visual Art Venues That Are Open 

Terry Etherton, proprietor of the 40-year-old Etherton Gallery downtown, is surprisingly cheerful in a tough time. 


“I’m doing well,” he says by phone. “I’ve been able to stay in the game.”

Etherton, whose gallery is the best outlet in the city for modern and contemporary art, has had good success selling work online during the pandemic. And he has just been awarded his second Paycheck Protection Program loan from the federal government, a program to keep small business afloat during the crisis. The program got hefty criticism when multi-million dollar companies pocketed piles of money, but it’s been a boon to arts enterprises and other small businesses. 

Etherton got $48,000 that is to be used strictly for rent, utilities and payroll. If he sticks to those rules, the loan is forgiven. 

“That covers everything for two months,” he says. “That’s huge.”

That’s not the only good thing happening at Etherton. It’s been open since the summer and  mounted several quality exhibitions. 

The gallery just finished up an exhibition of Tom Kiefer’s work: exquisite photos of migrant belongings that were stolen by Border Patrol. And he’s opening a new photos show this week. Photography is the gallery’s specialty, and For the Record: Documentary Photographs from the Etherton Gallery Archive will be pulled from their own holdings. The photos are by giants the field, the likes of Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Bernice Abbott, Lee Friedlander. A new Danny Lyon portfolio will also be on view. 

Etherton is renowned for its opening receptions, packed with crowds and thick with conversations. Not this year, not this time. There will be no party. Every day, new show or not, no more than 10 visitors are allowed in the gallery at one time. 

Open regular hours, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. 135 S. Sixth Ave.; 624-7370; ethertongallery.com. Free.  

Nearby, MOCA-Tucson is this art city’s museum for cutting-edge work. It re-opened months ago with a show that is apt for the times: Working from Home: New Commissions from Tucson. It’s still up through March 28. Five artists have work in the Great Hall, a giant room that handily deals with social distancing. One of the artists, Miguel Fernández de Castro, made an exact replica of a gate that allows free entry between the Tohono O’odham Nation on the U.S. side of the border and Sonora, Mexico, on the other. Raquel Gutiérrez uses texts and images to meditate on El Tiradito, the beloved downtown shrine.

A sixth artist, Tucson native Nicole Miller now based in LA, has a piece responding to racial and cultural upheavals. Her laser and sound installation can only be seen from outside, through the museum window. Miller, a Black artist whose career is soaring, made a memorable installation at MOCA several years ago: it chronicled the last day of school in a red brick Tucson school. 

A new MOCA exhibition, April 10 to Sept. 19, will be the first solo show in the southwest for the renowned Mexican artist Pia Camil. She will construct a large-scale installation filled with colorful second-hand T-shirts, in a piece that highlights commerce and poverty. 

MOCA is operating under limited hours, noon to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 4 Sunday. 265 S. Church Ave., 624-5019; moca-tucson.org. Free during the pandemic.

The Tucson Museum of Art right now is about all things Wyeth. The main galleries are filled with works by the famous family of artists: N.C., Andrew, Jamie and Henriette Wyeth. The thick, colorful paintings by the lesser-known N.C. Wyeth are a delight; as an early 20th century illustrator, he made marvelous oils of pirates and fishermen and Minute Men. The Wyeths’ works are on view until May 28. 

The museum is also still celebrating its new permanent Kasser Family Wing of Latin American Art, featuring everything from pre-Columbian ceramic figures to today’s hard-hitting political artworks. The museum has plenty of space to keep you away from fellow visitors. I’ve found that late in the day you can almost have the place to yourself. Be sure to sign up on the website your timed entry ticket. 

Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday to Sunday. $7 to $12. 140 N. Main Ave. 624-2333; tucsonmuseumofart.org

The Tucson Desert Art Museum on the far east side is awash in history these days. Three separate shows document three different western stories. The Dirty Thirties: New Deal Photography Frames the Migrant’s Stories displays the photos of masters like Dorothea Lange that reveal the desperation of Dust Bowl refugees. Buffalo Soldiers: The 10th Cavalry exhibits David Laughlin’s contemporary paintings of Black soldiers in the post-Civil War West. All the Single Ladies: Women Pioneers of the American West dismantles misconceptions of the strong unmarried women who went West. 

The New Deal and the Buffalos Soldiers end June 30. All the Single Ladies will be up through December.

Limited hours 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday to Friday; 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. $4 to $10. 7000 E. Tanque Verde Road.; 202-3888;


The Tohono Chul exhibition hall is in an historic house set in a lovely desert garden on the north side. The galleries have been open since the fall; ticketing reduces the numbers of people inside. But if it feels too crowded, you have the luxury to go outside to stroll among the cacti—or get lunch outdoors at the Bistro—and go back to the gallery when it’s emptier. And it you’re staying home these days, you can use your own computer to see a virtual show of the current exhibition, Encompassing Arizona. 

It’s a “rotating, revolving and evolving invitational exhibition,” curator James Schaub writes. Tohono Chul is known for championing Arizona artists, and Encompassing shows off plenty of them. Schaub has been keeping the ongoing exhibition interesting by changing the pieces in and out. The current version is filled with brightly colored works that cheer the spirit—a nice choice during a pandemic.

John Birmingham has an array of joyful abstractions in acrylic on paper: they’re playful, dance-y paintings in orange,  yellow, lavender and red. Nicholas Bernard makes pungently colored earthenware ovals that beg to be held in your hands. (Don’t do it!) They remind me of the late Rose Cabat’s lauded “feelies.” 

The Entry Gallery opens PaperWorks: Forming the Effect, Affecting the Form this month. Nine paper artists, including Jo Anderson and C.J. Shane, have created works that reflect on the Sonoran Desert’s extreme drought. Native art and jewelry is on view at the Welcome Gallery

Open seven days a week: gardens open at 8 a.m., the galleries at 9 a.m.; both close at 5 p.m. Admission $6 to $15. 7366 N. Paseo del Norte. 742-6455;  tohonochul.org. 

Arte de la Vida in midtown is busily selling Mexican vintage masks and religious retablos that are beautiful, says co-proprietor James Goodreau. The store has  also had a splash with a local artist who paints Frieda Kahlo wearing a mask—with hooks hanging below where you can stash your own masks. But Arte is not staging its usual art openings for artists for fear of attracting too many people. The partners are seeing 12 to 15 customers a day, and so far have only had to turn away two people who refused to wear a mask.

“Last year in February we had our best month ever. In March it died,” Goodreau says. “But we’re still here.” 

Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday. 37 N. Tucson Blvd. 398-6720;


Pop Cycle on Fourth Ave. reopened at end of January. This local, women-run gift shop and gallery is a delightful potpourri of local art by local artists, many made from recycled materials. Homemade shirts, stuffed toy saguaros, vintage photos are just a few of its treasures. If you prefer not to go inside, Pop Cycle offers curbside pickup and home delivery. Order on


Now open noon to 5 p.m. Friday to Monday. 422 N. Fourth Ave., 622-3297;


Philabaum Glass Gallery is alive and kicking the same name under new owners, Alison Harvey, the gallery’s longtime manager, and her husband, Dylan. Master glass artist Tom Philabaum and his wife, Dabney Philabaum, sold the gallery after a 35 year run in the Five Points neighborhood. Keeping with the Philabaum tradition, the Harveys deal with some 50 artists around the country. And of course they will continue to sell Philabaum’s own works. Right now Kenny Pieper of North Carolina is exhibiting his blown glass pieces, using traditional Italian techniques with contemporary twists. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. 884-7404; philabaumglass.com. Free. 

Up in the Foothills, most of the art galleries have been open for months. The long-running Jane Hamilton Fine Art venue in Plaza Colonial specializes in southwest, western and contemporary art. Proprietor Hamilton follows all the usual COVID rules, and with the benefit of an outside space adjacent to the gallery she can extend art openings into the outdoors. 

“People love going outside, especially at this time of year,” she says. Sculptor Peter Eisner had an in-and-out opening a few weeks ago; his boldly colored sculptures that blend steel with fused glass are still on view.

Despite the pandemic, the gallery is doing so well that Hamilton recently rented additional space, complete with a patio, across the street. She’s enlisted artists to paint in plein-air 11 to 5 every weekend, Dawn Sutherlund on Fridays, and Alexandria Winslow and Zulia Gotay de Anderson alternating on Saturdays. The next art opening will be in the Annex, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 6, honoring the 50-year career of gallery regular Fancisco Franklin. A painter and sculptor in the Mexican tradition, he’s calling his show Mariachis & Angels & Other Such Things.

And on March 19 and 20, Hamilton celebrates the gallery’s 29th anniversary; the party goes from 4 to 7 on Friday night and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, in the main building. 2890 E. S. Skyline janehamiltonfineart.com.

Settlers West Fine American Art represents dozens of artists who make fine realist and romantic paintings and sculptures of the old and new west. When you walk in the door, you’ll find the gallery filled with works picturing cowboys, native people, landscapes, and animals.

Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. 6420 N. Campbell Ave. 299-2607; settlerswest.com. 

Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery features “cowboy and western imagery by historical and contemporary artists.” Interestingly, Sublette has created a museum within the gallery housing a treasure trove of work by the late, great Maynard Dixon (1875-1946). Inside the museum, you can see 150 pieces of his art and ephemera.

6872 E. Sunrise Drive. 722-7798; medicinemngallery.com. Call for hours. 

Madaras Gallery is showing work by 26 guest artists and by Diana Madaras, the gallery owner, an artist known for her desert paintings. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. 3035 N. Swan Road; madaras.com. 


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