Dinnerware Artspace Reemerges on 6th Street

June 14, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Think of it as Dinnerware 9.0.

Dinnerware Artspace is coming back, in its ninth incarnation, the fifth in the past five years.

David Aguirre inside the new Dinnerware space on 6th Street.

This time Executive Director David Aguirre has pitched the Dinnerware tent in its most off-the-beaten art path location yet in the 33 years that Dinnerware’s been shuffling from one Downtown venue to the next.

Dinnerware now is in the former Art’s BBQ building, 425 West 6th Street. (per Aguirre’s description of the address, or 450 North Main Avenue if you look at the mailbox).

“If you say 450 North Main, nobody knows where that is. If you Google map this building, it says 425 West 6th,” Aguirre reasoned.

Come September, Aguirre will be ready to reopen Dinnerware with regular hours for the alternative gallery and workshop that has repeatedly reinvented itself since 1979. Until September, Aguirre expects to have various small events at what now looks like a storage space as he transforms these 2,200  square feet into the gallery and workshop.

“Here we’re going to get more into culinary arts, I think,” Aguirre said.

Food trucks have already congregated in the parking area, a sextet on June 2 for starters, Aguirre has already assigned the term Downtown Food Court to his parking lot.

“We’ll have food trucks every few weeks. I want to try to get a Monday to Friday presence,” Aguirre said.

Dinnerware Artspace's new home on 6th Street.

Aguirre and Julie Ray launched Food Truck Roundups in November and they instantly became wildly popular. Each independently now shepherds the mushrooming food truck phenomenon. Aguirre is staging the largest Roundups at the Benjamin Plumbing parking lot, but more and more he’s taking the concept on the road to Tower Theatres at Arizona Pavilions in Marana the first Mondays of the month, one-truck Neighborhood Chef events in Downtown neighborhoods, and he has brought caravans of food trucks to Shelter Cocktail Lounge on Grant Road.

Dinnerware, as a physical location, shut down in December after Aguirre ended its brief tenancy at 119 East Toole Avenue, which had just started in March 2011. Ironically, though, the homeless Dinnerware has achieved its most public outlet yet though the Food Truck Roundups.

“Food trucks are giving Dinnerware a broader reach and appeal,” Aguirre said.

You can’t help but scratch your head at what Aguirre was thinking in relaunching Dinnerware on Sixth Street, just a couple blocks from the freeway. He does have University Services Annex right across the street for an instant food truck lunch crowd. He mentions Wildcat Storage and Main Street Studios as assets.

“There’s enough raw material here,” Aguirre said. We’ll be able to do something. It’s  a dynamic corner.”

Dinnerware’s landlord is the Tucson Industrial Development Authority, which bought the Art’s BBQ property in 2009 from the Arizona Department of Transportation. Art’s had been there since 1995. It was the first time the IDA – a first-time home ownership and affordable housing financing entity – bought a property on its own.

“We get to reactivate space and in exchange we get better pricing,” Aguirre said.

Ultimately, the IDA wants to redevelop the property with affordable housing and some mixed-use elements such as retail and offices.

“This is a temporary use until such a time what the property can be redeveloped,” IDA President Marilyn Robinson said. “With the economy the way it is, this is not the time to develop it. On the other hand, we did not want it to continue being an eyesore. David expressed an interest. I was around when Dinnerware was founded. It’s an important piece of Tucson. I’m very happy we can provide a home for them. He has a three-year lease.”

Dinnerware 9.0 is a temporary stop in Aguirre’s mind, too.  He wants to take the gallery back to the Steinfeld Warehouse, where Dinnerware was when he became its executive director in 2006.

Aguirre the ceramic artist was based at Steinfeld for 17 years, 12 of them as the warehouse’s property manager for ADOT, which ultimately evicted all the arts tenants in July 2007. Steinfeld passed into city ownership and last year the Warehouse Arts Management Organization acquired the Steinfeld.

Dinnerware moved from Steinfeld to 264 East Congress Street (today’s HUB) plus four other satellite galleries on that block. That stint lasted until early 2010, when the intention was to bring restaurateur Kwang C. An’s An Congress to that block.

Aguirre planted Dinnerware for one year at the Citizens Warehouse, 44 West 6th Street, before becoming the first tenant for Peach Properties at their newly acquired warehouse at 119 East Toole. That gave Dinnerware by far the biggest space it has ever had, 16,000 square feet, and Aguirre thought up all sorts of workshops, but the stay was brief.

“We both got our use out of it,” Aguirre said. “It was just time for us to move on. It was just too big a space.”

Dinnerware started in 1979 at 250 East Congress, where Buffalo Exchange is now. Subsequent homes were at 272 East Congress (today’s Playground Lounge), 135 East Congress and 210 South Fourth Avenue just before the move to Steinfeld.

Dinnerware is not Etherton Gallery or Davis-Dominguez Gallery. Speaking of which, Mike Dominguez showed up one morning at Dinnerware in his trademark suit to cudgel Aguirre for a gallery association brochure entry.

David Aguirre with Davis-Dominguez Gallery co-owner Mike Dominguez

“You are a true gypsy gallery, my friend,” Dominguez said.

Dinnerware is not about a formal gallery environment.

“It’s a little more down and dirty,” Aguirre said. “We’re more here for street level art and artists. I’m particularly interested in the ones that are still in the phase where they don’t think their work is quite ready. They are right at the tipping point. They just need the door opened for them.”

Dinnerware has managed to survive, from its first incarnation to Dinnerware 9.0. Why?

“The need of it. Students come out of art school and now they say ‘I’m not doing it now,’” Aguirre said.

In his years at the helm, Aguirre has given workshops as much if not more attention than gallery space. Each new version of Dinnerware varies quite radically.

“The setting defines its possibilities,” Aguirre proclaimed.

The 6th Street setting will have the galleries in the east half, and the workshops in the west half. There won’t be quite the variety of workshops that Dinnerware had on Toole, but Aguirre figures ceramics and likely printmaking will have space – and fashion. Fashion struck Aguirre as a viable Dinnerware art form in the post-Steinfeld days on Congress.

“I got into fashion and started to do fashion shows,” Aguirre said, adding that fashion shows will continue to be a part of Dinnerware.

Aguirre reflects on Dinnerware’s newest home in a 1960s block building that originally was a Middle Eastern bakery and then a liquor store. The cooler cases are still in place. Art’s BBQ was there from 1995 to 2009.

“I’ve never been in a former restaurant and liquor store,” he said.