When the Arizona Department of Transportation decided it no longer wanted to be landlords at the historic Steinfeld warehouse in downtown Tucson, mixed-media artist Elizabeth Criger and all of the other artists who had space there were forced to move. In 2007, the group of artists found and fixed up a building in the Iron Horse Neighborhood that they now call the 9th Street Studios, at 650 E. Ninth St. Mark your calendar for an open house on Saturday, Feb. 5, from noon to 5 p.m. Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl will perform, and drinks and snacks will be served while attendees take in some art. If you want more info, visit www.9thstreetstudios.com; the group also has a Facebook page called Ninth Street.
Why did you start the 9th Street Studios?
ADOT decided they didn't want to be landlords anymore, so they booted us out. As a group, Betina Fink, Charles Alexander, Mary Theresa Dietz, Joe Labate, Laura LaFave and I decided to look for studio space together. We were a good group. We got along, so we wanted to move in together. We looked for various spaces around town. The space we chose was a little bigger than what we were looking for; then we added Curt Kiwak, Jane Mohler and Joyce Jaden. We all moved in, knocked down walls and reconfigured it. ... Basically, it became a cooperative. Everyone takes a role that feels comfortable to them.
Was working a cooperative a big change?
Yeah, actually, it was. It was a good change. Prior to this, (Dinnerware's) David Aguirre was handling all of the landlord stuff, so making this move put us in a position where we had to handle all that ourselves. We have a different list of artists now than we did at that time, but it's worked out.
How have artists discovered the studios?
Pretty much everyone we've gotten in here is by word of mouth. It's remained a positive creative atmosphere. We sneak around and look at each other's work. It's one of those first things I like to do when I come in to work—look around to see what everyone is working on.
How many spaces?
There are 11 spaces and 12 artists.
The benefit is not worrying about being kicked out?
Right. I think that often. ... But I miss the Steinfeld. I miss the ... tongue-and-grove wood under my feet, since I like to work barefoot. But what I don't miss is that when it rained outside, it rained inside, too. Being in that old warehouse space for me, and across from the Citizens (warehouse), and down from Solar Culture ... for me personally, I really like the connection with the other artists. I feel a bit disconnected in this space, but the community is the community, and we all know each other.
Was it a challenge to find the right building?
Oh, yeah. We looked at lots of spaces. Many of them were more than we could handle in terms of space, costs and modification. (Originally), the fine artists (were) looking with the fine woodworkers from the Steinfeld ... but it became more about their electrical needs. I just need one plug for my computer. That's actually how we split up from the woodworkers. Our needs were too diverse to find an accommodating space.
How did you decide on the purple color for the studios' exterior?
We had (the most over-done color on our) building before: It was sand color. People would say, "I think I saw your studio." And I'd say, "If ... you didn't see anything, that was us." The purple with lime and green trim seemed like a great way for us to be identified and try to create an identity for our studio space. ... We want to create an identity and create bridges to one another.
What do you like most about the space?
I feel very fortunate to work with this group. Part of the first group of artists is still here—Betina Fink, Curt Kiwak, Laura LaFave, Joe Labate and Mary Theresa Dietz—and now we also have Aaron Wallach, Dave Moyer, Jessie Shinn, Beth McIlrath and Nina Yagual. If any of us have potential customers or clients, we always tour the whole studio space with them. I think it is our common philosophy; after all, they might buy from someone else or tell someone else about me. There are no ego wars that other studio spaces may have to deal with. I come into my studio, and it is like a refuge.