If you grew up in the Tucson music scene, you probably ended up at a show at Skrappy's—a DIY collective dedicated to uniting Tucson's at-risk youth through the general arts. The storied history of the space ended tragically when someone was shot to death at the Broadway Boulevard location's parking lot, so its various leases around town were never renewed. The owner/director moved to California after her husband died, so a former Skrappy's regular decided to take the scraps left behind and create his own concept: 191 Toole.
The former Skrappy's regular in question is Tom Collins, finance and community ministries director at GAP Ministries and executive director of City on a Hill (COAH) Tucson, the faith-based, 501(c)(3) nonprofit which runs 191 Toole. The venue in its current iteration shares similarities with Skrappy's—mainly musical acts, which range from hip-hop to rap to EDM—but Collins says the comparison is somewhat unwarranted.
"People still call it Skrappy's, but I don't want to take what Skrappy's was because it's not the same," Collins says. "We run it very differently."
With the help of a COAH adviser, Collins took over and flipped the venue, which is actually located at 191 E. Toole Ave., back in 2013 with intentions of creating an open space that connects people of all ages through music, as well as helps disadvantaged members of Tucson's downtown community. Although 191 serves an important purpose in being one of very few places people of any age can always see a show in town, Collins says at this point he really wouldn't mind switching 191's focus from music and other arts-centric endeavors to increasing resources COAH offers to homeless people and at-risk youths.
191 already helps downtown's homeless community through weekly sack lunch and barbecue offerings (with meals prepared legally in a commercial kitchen), but Collins thinks there is more work to be done until the venue fits his ideal youth outreach center vision.
"The biggest thing is having more community engagement," Collins says.
Collins wants to do more than solely engage Tucson's youth with music, though. He also wants to show kids that are more at risk of dropping out of school that learning is fun by providing them with opportunities they might not otherwise have access to.
"I would really like to start music and art lessons for free for the local area, and just have a place for kids to hang out—have a weekly STEM class where kids can come and learn about planets or rockets, have different classes [about] engineering and robotics," he says. "We want to work on getting grants for those types of classes in urban areas where lots of kids won't even get to high school. That's one thing we've been really focusing on—we actually had a board meeting on it last night."
Three years after 191's opening, Collins says he and the COAH crew have slowly completed aspects of their 2013 goals, but that the organization still has a significant way to go until they fulfill his final envisioned 191 product. This is due mostly to a sheer lack of volunteers. He's optimistic, though, that COAH can recruit more volunteers—especially UA students—in the future. Collins says classes may start as early as this summer.
"It all takes people and time and volunteers, and that's something we're really lacking in," he says. "If we did have [volunteers] now, we would have already started [classes]. The thing about Tucson is it's all about who you know and connections, so I'd love to start something with the UA and start something through their arts programs."
Community goals aside, 191 has undergone many apparent (and welcomed) physical and structural changes. Collins says you wouldn't recognize the 450-person venue post-Skrappy's, pre-191-Toole due to all the cleaning, demolishing, reconstructing and redecorating it has endured over the past few years.
"The biggest challenge was probably a complete change to the interior," he says.
The venue's upgrades and updates—which include a beer-and-wine license acquired early in March of this year, art-covered brick walls, an elevated stage, new bathrooms, paint-spattered wooden floors and a restored Am-Trak hand-crank lift—took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to bring to fruition, and renovations still aren't fully completed.
For instance, the building has a basement that was once used as a practice space for the now-defunct local band Signals. Collins says he would like to renovate the basement completely so it could be used as classroom and band practice space in the future.
"[The basement] is our final stage of the remodel," Collins says. "But it is hundreds of thousands of dollars away from ever happening and, being a nonprofit, it's hard to find that money."
Even though 191's transformation is still a work in progress, Warehouse Arts Management Organization President Jim Glock says he's impressed with the venue's evolution over the past few years, and that the tenants of WAMO's Toole Shed Studios—located right next to 191—have a solid neighborly relationship with Collins and COAH.
"Our [tenants] said 'The activities [at 191] are really positive,'" Glock says. "As a neighbor, it sounds like the [Toole Shed Studios] artists are pleased with the activities going on there. It's been a positive relationship. They communicate with us well."
Collins says 191's general philosophy is simple and lasting: "The community provides and we provide for the community." He plans to apply this theme to every endeavor 191 takes on, and says its future at large excites him.
"Just seeing the transition and the movement of where we were when we started to seeing the reaction of where we are, like, wow," Collins says. "Things like that make me feel like I'm doing my part for the community down there [and] I'm giving people of all ages a nice venue that isn't Congress or Rialto."