Photo: Maria Inés Taracena
Casa Libre's TC Tolbert and Kristen Nelson.
Casa Libre en la Solana
is moving out of the Fourth Avenue casita they've called home for more than a decade. The nonprofit, literature nest is one of many tightening the belt as Gov. Doug Ducey's poor (to be polite) budget choices begin to trickle down to local arts organizations.
In a beautifully written newsletter
, Casa Libre also announced long-time assistant director TC Tolbert
is saying farewell to that role and spending the next year—still in Tucson—writing his book on worldwide violence against transgender women of color—a rather not-spoken-enough-about issue.
But amidst all the changes hitting Casa Libre in upcoming months, creator Kristen Nelson is staying positive, calling some of the changes scary, hard and disappointing, but referring to the others as exciting.
In realizing the shrinking budget could no longer afford the casita, and many programs and workshops, Nelson has been holding on hard to a metaphor a Casa Libre intern used to describe the ordeal, "It's like deadheading a flower."
"This part of the flower was beautiful, but it is no longer sustainable," she says. "I recognize that a part is dying so that another part gets to grow. There has to be mourning and grief and then also comes the joy."
A lot of their funding comes from the Arizona Commission on the Arts
(the state's arts agency)—the commission had to absorb a $1 million cut this year, leaving them with about $2.3 million for the programs, services and grants they offer—and the Tucson Pima Arts Council
, which has seen about 45 percent of its support disappear since 2007. Then there's relying on donations, but "We have a lot of supporters who are writers themselves, artists themselves, educators themselves," Nelson says.
In a year where education and the arts, once again, suffered but private prisons and corporations got a generous contribution from the state Legislature, Nelson hopes one day Casa Libre and other organizations will no longer have to rely on state money, because it is clear that anything of social value is of zero priority.
But the only way that is going to happen is if "citizens of this city, state, and country decide that it is worth it to pay people for the art they make, curate, and facilitate," otherwise "venues such as ours will continue to shrink and close."
Over the past close to 12 years the Casa's been in place
, Nelson says they have served more than 10,000 people, many of whom are Native American, LGBT, Mexican-American writers and other underrepresented, and oftentimes demonized communities.
Casa Libre's focus—giving them an outlet for their voice—is still very much alive. And, for the time being, they will host readings in the soon-to-be former venue's back courtyard, which was donated to Casa Libre.
Also, they will continue to occasionally host events for local writers, who have the option of renting the venue's middle courtyard, and some workshops.
During July and August (when they will be moving out of the casita), they'll review their budget situation. "Look for the new face of Casa Libre in the fall but with the same commitment to community, inclusion and literary celebration," the newsletter says.
Nelson is sad but confident that they will figure out a way to keep the Casa alive for another 11 years-plus.
"Thank you for your continued support of what we do here; we need your minds and hearts and presence as much as ever."