Trees, shrubs and art have sprouted on Toole Avenue

October 24, 2011

By Teya Vitu


One day in October 2011. 150-some volunteers from Downtown’s dedicated enthusiasts  and the arts corps. Thirty young mesquite trees, far too immature to cast any shade. 130 sundry other plants. Artistic creations spun on the spot along the two-block stretch of Toole Avenue from Sixth Avenue to Stone Avenue.

New trees and murals now decorate the Toole Shed Studios and Toole Avenue streetscape

This day, Oct. 22, 2011, will be remembered as the one where a desperately bleak Toole Avenue got a one-day flash mob transformation that sets the stage for the Warehouse Art District for decades.

“This is as collaborative as it’s ever going to be,” Downtown Tucson Partnership CEO Michael Keith said with a particularly broad smile.

This streetscape extreme makeover for Toole essentially lays the foundation for the art walk spelled out in the 2004 Tucson Historic Warehouse Arts District Master Plan.

The trees, shrubs and bountiful artistic touches publicly announce that all the Toole warehouses from Sixth to Stone passed into private hands in the past two years after more than 20 years in perpetual limbo under the ownership of the Arizona Department of Transportation.

“This raises awareness for the community that artists are present on this street,” said Simon Donovan, vice president of the Warehouse Arts Management Organization. “Artists can make such a difference in the physical environment.”

Three of the concrete culverts got adorned with decorative tile crafted by Susan Gamble of Santa Theresa Tile Works.

Michael Keith was all smiles for the photo shoot for the 150 some volunteers who installed the Toole Avenue streetscape improvements.

What was a massive, monotone blue Toole Shed Studios warehouse at Sixth and Toole is now a canvas filled with murals. And art panels now decorate a fence that was just installed along the sidewalk at the parking lot between Skrappy’s and Dinnerware Artspace.

“The fact you can do this in one day does exemplify the power of artists and the community,” said Donovan, who designed the Rattlesnake Bridge across Broadway. “We should be doing this all the time. We have so much power if we just organize our resources.”

Randi Dorman, president of the Museum of Contemporary Art, expressed a similar thought while attaching Gamble’s decorative tiles to one concrete tree planter.

“We’re making it happen,” Dorman repeated a few times. “This is putting our head down and making it happen.”

WAMO put out a call to artists for the warehouse murals, the fence art, and art that was displayed along the Toole sidewalk the day of the tree planting.

“I think the arts have the ability to show people the beauty of things right in front of their eyes,” Dorman said. “This street has been here all the time. The art shows what a wonderful location it is. The artists bring a spirit and can-do attitude to show what’s possible. That’s the key with Downtown: to show what’s possible.”

The newly planted mesquite trees may be underwhelming right now, but you can already see the future at Dinnerware, where a mature mesquite shades much of the parking area.

“Look at that one down there (at Dinnerware),” said Dani LeCompte, executive director at Big Brothers Big Sisters, located right at the gateway of these Toole streetscape improvements. “That’s what this street will look like. Mesquites grow a big canopy.”

Private climate consultant David Schaller had already calculated the future for these trees as he walked Toole Avenue while trees got planted.

“Over the course of 20 years, the 30 trees will take 60 tons of carbon monoxide out of the atmosphere,” said Schaller, a board member of the Southern Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce, 44 E. Broadway.

He said within five years, these trees should mature enough to cast shade along those two blocks of Toole.

City Manager Richard Miranda in just a couple weeks at the post has given clear signals that he has a different style in interacting with the community than his predecessors. Miranda spoke to all gathered mid-morning for a group photo in front of Dinnerware Artspace.

City Manager Richard Miranda (right) and artist Simon Donovan helped plant one of mesquite trees in front of Dinnerware Artspace

“When Michael Keith comes up with a vision, what I’m saying back is ‘How can we help?’” Miranda said.

In this case, the City of Tucson helped to the tune of $34,415 of the $115,000 cost of the Toole Avenue Streetscape. The City cut slabs of asphalt out of the parking lane for the trees, built ADA sidewalk ramps at Toole and 7th Avenue, built new sidewalk and replaced damaged sidewalk at Dinnerware; and three trash receptacle were installed at the 6th Avenue gathering area.

Big Brothers Big Sisters brought two big brothers, two little brothers, a “big couple” and executive director Dani LeCompte, who especially dove in to help plant the trees at the 6th Avenue end, just catty-corner from Big Brothers Big Sisters, itself decorated earlier this year with a mural to announce its own major renovations.

“We are certainly very involved in and believe strongly in the revitalization of Downtown,” LeCompte said. “For us, (the Toole streetscape) draws attention to the entire Downtown and helps us get word out about our program.”

The Toole Avenue Streetscape improvements are a collaboration among the Downtown Tucson Partnership, Warehouse Arts Management Organization, City of Tucson, ParkWise, Pima County, Norris Design, Peach Properties, Fenton Investments, Providence Service Corp., Arizona Artworks, Skrappy’s, Cox Communications, Santa Teresa Tile Works, Poster Frost Mirto, Ben’s Bells, BICAS, Borealis Arts, Borderlands Brewery, Citizens Arts Collective, Dinnerware Artspace, Solar Culture, Mat Bevel Institute, Siobhan Clothing, Toole Shed Art Studios, Trees for Tucson, Tucson Arts Brigade.

“I haven’t see a community outpouring like this in a long time,” Keith said. “The City deserves a big round of applause.”