World Margarita Challenge, Tucson 23 Festival and more canceled this summer in Tucson

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If you were expecting a few summer celebrations this year in the form of Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance’s legendary food and drink fests, prepare to be disappointed. The nonprofit announced the cancelation of the Tucson 23 Mexican Food Festival, World Margarita Challenge, Southern Arizona Salsa, Tequila & Taco Challenge, and a slew of concerts.

In a June 1 statement, SAACA executive director Kate Marquez said the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the organization’s ability to raise funds and host programming. The nonprofit closed the Catalyst center in the Tucson Mall in the spring and has since shifted its efforts to streaming online resources, partnering with local companies to host virtual art exhibitions, and compiling care packages for local assisted living and veterans care facilities.

In addition to closing Catalyst, SAACA also canceled nearly every significant revenue-generating event since early March and expects that trend to continue through the fall.



“Although the organization remains in a bit of a holding pattern today, we want you to know that we spend most days making active plans for the future,” Marquez said in a company press release.

The Tucson 23 Festival, scheduled to take place at the JW Marriott Starr Pass, celebrates Visit Tucson’s campaign marking the “best 23 miles of Mexican food” in the U.S. The event brings together dozens of restaurants, breweries, and distilleries for a celebration of the Old Pueblo’s culinary traditions.



The World Margarita Challenge has been a venture alongside Tucson Originals Restaurants for the better part of a decade and pits the region’s most experienced mixologists against one another in a battle for alcoholic excellence.

Much like the margarita challenge, the Southern Arizona Salsa, Tequila & Taco Challenge allows guests to sample and vote on a wide array of delicious drinks (and food) in an effort to see how really prepares Tucson’s best taco.

SAACA aims to bring these events back in the future, and the organization said it will donate marketing resources for those projects back to the restaurants and chefs “who have generously supported our work for the past 20-plus years.”

In the meantime, the arts nonprofit is working to create short- and long-term changes to its programming and general operations to adapt to the fluid COVID-19 situation. That will includes developing a new calendar for 2020-21, capacity, sanitation and layout modifications to events and facilities, and creating new art experiences and opportunities for local artists.

“We will continue to communicate, collaborate and inform you as we move through these very difficult times ahead, continuing to make investments and decisions which will become more mission and vision-centric than ever before,” Marquez said.

Despite closures, SAACA is “cautiously” moving forward with some of its fall and winter schedule, including the Patagonia Fall Festival (Oct. 1 and 11), La Encantada Fall Fine Arts Festival (Oct. 24 and 25) and the Oro Valley Holiday Festival of the Arts (Dec. 5 and 6).

As for the Catalyst Arts & Maker Space in the Tucson Mall, SAACA will keep the facility closed to the public, including drop-in and group activities, through Sept. 1 or until further notice. Space will be available to smaller groups for private events and reserved classes later this summer. Private rentals will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

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