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UA students and faculty past and present join forces to raise money, inaugurate a brand-new studio building

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For two days next week, Tucson will aspire to be a Miami or a Venice or an L.A.

Those cities are famous for their super-hip art fairs, with art by the truckload on display in cavernous exhibition halls. Continuum, Tucson's first attempt at a fair, won't be quite so grand, but it will pack work by more than 100 artists into a single space for a brief period. The setting is the UA's brand-new studio building for art grad students, just north of campus at Mabel Street and Fremont Avenue.

"It's a great building, very cool," says Terry Etherton, proprietor of downtown's Etherton Gallery. "It's a luxury to be a student and have a studio in a space like that. It will be transformed into a little art fair."

The building opened to art students just last fall, though the UA's Rogers College of Law occupied it for the 2007-2008 school year while its own digs were being rehabbed. Until now, the grad art studios have been scattered on and off campus. Now, for the first time, they're housed under one roof, a setup that fosters conviviality and cross-pollination for young artists working side by side. There's studio space for 50, along with a seminar room, art gallery and sculpture garden.

Continuum officially inaugurates the space. A pricey Friday-night gala highlighted by performance art will be followed by an affordable scholarly Saturday, in which profs will give lectures and demos. Art will be for sale on both days, with proceeds benefiting the school.

Every artist in the mini-fair has some affiliation with the UA School of Art. Professors, staff members and MFA and BFA students past and present will show work in every medium, from painting to photography, and from printmaking to sculpture.

"It's a pretty super idea," says Dennis Jones, head of the School of Art. "It's a way of celebrating what we do."

The gala performance art is courtesy of a couple of current undergrads. Andrew Steinbrink has been painting inside a box, in the dark, ever since the semester began, explains Jamie Martin, the art school's program coordinator. He doesn't know what the artwork looks like. "He can't see what he's painting. What he painted will be revealed"--to the artist and to the attendees--"Friday night."

Natalya Kolosowsky will do an aerial dance while suspended from the rafters. Kolosowsky has worked with Flam Chen, the flame-throwing movement troupe, and they'll be on hand, too. "No flames, though," Martin says.

The art will be exhibited salon-style all over the walls, top to bottom, in the lobby and in the studios. Forty-four alumni artists responded to the call, including Adriana Yadira Gallego, a young painter who had a small solo show at the Tucson Museum of Art three years ago. Joe Forkan--a fine painter who graduated from the UA, once drew covers and comics for the Tucson Weekly, and now teaches at Cal State Fullerton--will be represented, as will Kitty Wales, who's been doing animal-themed "installation narratives" since getting her MFA in sculpture 20 years ago. Some 20 faculty old and new also join in, including new photog prof Frank Gohlke, an eminence who exhibited at the Center for Creative Photography last fall.

In a special nod to the impact of the UA School of Art on the local arts scene, three local galleries that depend heavily on UA grads and profs have been invited to set up mini-galleries: Etherton, Davis Dominguez and Conrad Wilde. Etherton and Davis Dominguez's UA artists tend to be mid- or late-career, while Wilde goes for the younger demographic.

"A lot of the artists we work with have been faculty or students," says Etherton, who will display work by 15 gallery artists. Proving the point, three of his Continuum artists are in Etherton shows right now. Nancy Tokar Miller, an MFA grad of the UA and a longtime Tucson painter, has a solo show at the Temple Gallery run by Etherton. And her major museum show In Retrospect opens Feb. 19 at the University of Arizona Museum of Art, one day before Continuum kicks off. A fluid painter who makes Asian-inspired near-abstractions, she travels around the world to find her subjects.

Bailey Doogan, a beloved professor emerita, is a nationally known painter who had a joint show at the Tucson Museum of Art and Etherton several years ago, exhibiting her challenging work about women, religion and the flesh. She's in the current group Etherton exhibition, and so is Alice Leora Briggs, an extraordinary draftswoman whose elaborate drawings are steeped in art history. A teacher at the UA a few years back, Briggs is also in a group show at Pima.

"We've been assigned a room and part of a hallway," says Etherton, who adds that most works will be priced in the $300 to $500 range.

Among the younger up-and-comers, Jessica Drenk, MFA 2007, will get a place of honor. "The plan is still evolving, but it might be a room-size installation," says Miles Conrad, who has her on his roster at Conrad Wilde Gallery. "Her thesis show was one of the best I've ever seen." Drenk routinely takes PVC pipe, toilet paper rolls and coffee filters, and recycles them into elegant abstract sculptures. A recent wall installation at Wilde consisted of thousands of paper coffee filters that were twisted and curved and layered.

Conrad Wilde will exhibit seven other artists, including Tim Mosman, a staffer at the Center for Creative Photography who just exhibited his painted abstractions at the edgy gallery in January. Davis Dominguez shows 19, including current prof Alfred Quiroz, a provocative political painter; frequent visiting prof Jan Olsson, a Paris-based painter; and abstractionist Josh Goldberg, who used to work at the UAMA. MOCA, Tucson's young Museum of Contemporary Art, also will honor four UA artists, including Dave Lewis and Jessica James Lansdon. (Speaking of new buildings, MOCA just announced plans to move into a new home, the fire station downtown on Stone Avenue, after the firefighters switch to new digs; see TQ&A, Page 22.)

As a fundraiser for the School of Art, Continuum was conceived months ago. But with the state Legislature slashing $57 million in university funding with a machete last week, the arts on campus took a hit. Hours will be cut at the sterling Arizona State Museum, whose unrivaled Southwest pottery collection has won attention even in the White House. Ditto for the UA Museum of Art. UApresents will stage fewer live shows of dance and music.

"We've been taking cutbacks for years," Jones says. "It's rough everywhere. We're not being picked on--it makes you rethink what you're doing. This fundraiser will help make us more independent of state money. I don't think we can sit back and feel sorry for ourselves. This is a real community effort."

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