Museums Unite Around Tucson Rocks Theme

October 11, 2011

By Teya Vitu


We have embarked on a city-wide celebration of the art of rock and roll that is being called Tucson Rocks.

Wherever you turn this fall, you may just see the Tucson Rocks badge.

Some two dozen rather diverse organizations are following the lead of the Tucson Museum of Art and its “Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present,” which opens Oct. 22 and continues to Jan. 18.

These include the Fox Theatre, Beowulf Alley Theatre, Tohono Chul Park, the University of Arizona Poetry Center, Arizona Theatre Co. and the Center for Creative Photography. Tucson Rocks is considered an unprecedented local arts-oriented collaboration around a single theme.

The Tucson Rocks calendar kicked off Sept.8 at Sacred Machine, 245 E. Congress St., Suite 123, with “Calexico: A Retrospective,” which continues through Oct. 23.

Etherton Gallery, 135 S. Sixth Avenue, follows suit Sept. 10 with a reception for its “Rockin’ the Desert: Photographs by Baron Wolman and Lynn Goldsmith” that runs to Nov. 12. Wolman was the first photographer at Rolling Stone magazine, and Goldsmith photographed the early years of Bruce Springsteen and The Police.

“It will bring in a new audience,” owner Terry Etherton said. “It’s sort of like history. People lived through this stuff. It’s exciting to see what kind of crowd comes in.”

Etherton will also have Wolman and Goldsmith photos on display at the gallery space at Tucson International Airport, which is staging its own rock & roll exhibition. Tucson Rocks also includes the Sept. 23 Patti LaBelle concert at UApresents and a Purple Rain sing-a-long at The Loft on Oct. 29.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is joining Tucson Rocks with “Raymond Pettibon: The Punk Years” and other Tucson Rocks participants are the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, the Wilde Meyer Gallery, Paula Taylor Productions,  Art Institute of Tucson, and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra played Elvis at the Fox Theatre for 2nd Saturdays in October.

Zocalo magazine is staging a pop-up exhibition called “Tucson Shot Rock & Roll,” a play on the name of TMA’s show but with photos from Tucson photographers. You can see these photographs on the three weekends through Oct.  29 at 245 E. Congress St. between Xoom Juice and Sparkroot.

The University of Arizona Museum of Art will have “Good Vibrations: The Guitar, Design, Craft and Function” from Oct. 21 to Jan. 15.

Tucson Gay Pride, the Southwest University of the Visual Arts, Invisible Theatre are also signed on for Tucson Rocks and more groups keep joining.

“I’m shocked at how many people are saying yes without any hesitations,” said Jeff Polley, the interim marketing and public relations director following Meredith Hayes, who left Tucson in July after setting the groundwork for Tucson Rocks.

Robert Knight, executive director of the Tucson Museum of Art,  “floated the idea” of a city-wide celebration of rock and roll at a regular meeting of the Nature, Arts, Culture and Heritage Organizations (NACHOS).

“Early on we realized there was some universality to this show,” Knight said. “It seemed to be one of those opportunities that allowed us to go beyond our galleries. Let’s see if we can put together citywide programs. We could create an umbrella program. The idea is to show the world what Tucson arts and culture organizations can produce.”

Etherton said it’s not often that a city’s major art museum reaches out in such a manner, or that so many organizations step forward so willingly to collaborate.

“It’s part of what makes Tucson unique,” Etherton said. “In a lot of communities, you couldn’t do this. In a lot of places, a line is drawn in the sand. And you don’t cross that line. It’s a leap of faith on Robert’s part.”

Tucson Rocks is an outgrowth of TMA’s recent Andy Warhol and Ansel Adams exhibitions, which were hugely popular and brought many first-time visitors to the museum. Also, Tucson Rocks builds on the Tucson Glass Festival from April, a collaboration of glass art exhibits in 19 locales around the greater Downtown, UA, the Foothills, Catalina, PCC and at Tucson International Airport.

“The significance of Tucson Rocks is that it is the next exciting step in a series of collaborative enterprises,” said Daphne Srinivasan, Etherton’s marketing director. “The result, we think, will be to bring together a new public, one not previously exposed to art or the vibrant Downtown Tucson that we know and attract people of all ages, from Baby Boomers who grew up listening to CCR and Bruce Springsteen to college students who have discovered Chuck Berry and Tina Turner in a new way.”

The Tucson Rocks flagship exhibition is TMA’s “Who Shot Rock & Roll,” spanning from 1955 to the present day, including a very provocative and controversial Amy Winehouse photo. There are iconic images and those never seen publicly before the Brooklyn Museum of Art originally staged this show.

Photos include Little Richard, Ike and Tina Turner, Tina Turner after Ike, Jimmy Hendrix, The Pretenders, Mick Jagger and many more.

“People will experience a trip down memory lane for Rock ‘n’ Roll,” said Julie Sasse, TMA’s chief curator. “You can’t help but remember every era through the mirror of music and images because they are the markers of our lives.”

Knight found the show via a Google alert. “What really caught me was the title. I had no idea what it was.” The Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition was on tour and TMA had to submit a special application to extend the tour.

The show will incorporate a digital display in the lobby and exhibition stations will have QR codes that are scannable with Smart phones.

“We’re doing everything we can to make it a full experience, not just looking at photographs,” Polley said.