Adriana Gallego was raised in Nogales, Arizona, and studied art at the UA in the 1990s. Her career led her through Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Antonio before she returned to Tucson to take the reins of the nonprofit Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona in April 2020, just as the pandemic was tearing through the arts community. Gallego remembers that the Arts Foundation—then known as TPAC—played a role in her formative years as an artist. “I learned so much from them,” she remembers. “As a grantee, I was able to teach classes around rural communities and did exhibitions and their space. So it’s always been a service provider that’s near and dear to my heart.” ITB caught up with Gallego last week as she was moving into a new westside office at the YWCA, 525 N. Bonita Ave. While the Arts Foundation had previously officed at a coworking space, the small staff has been working remotely so this is the first time they will be working together in person.


It’s moving day! Tell me about your new digs.

We’re so excited that we will be rooming with the leaders at the YWCA. We’re moving into this gorgeous campus that has multiple classroom areas and meeting rooms and offices that we will have access to and our team is going to be in within the same complex. 


How hard has pandemic been on artists in Southern Arizona?

A few months into COVID, the Brookings Institute released a report zooming into the 53 metropolitan cities across the country to find out what the impact the economic loss of COVID and how it was affecting the creative industry. And Tucson rated third nationally by percentile with respect to jobs lost in the creative sector. It was very devastating. Not only were people losing jobs in arts, businesses that were specifically for the creative industry, but also folks were using losing creative jobs within other industries. We were we were fortunate to partner with the City of Tucson. They invited us to be the steward of their funds from the CARES Act relief package that they got from the federal government. We were able to redistribute over $1.7 million to hundreds of artists and arts organizations in the Tucson area to ease some of burden that they had experienced in terms of financial loss. And in the process of serving those 300 artists and arts organizations, we discovered that there was a cumulative loss—this would have been about six months into the pandemic—a reported loss of more than $26 million. Luckily, we were able to get some relief funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. And we coupled it with some additional funds from the city and the county to provide another grant program in the spring called Project Creosote. And again, it was for individual artists and for arts organizations. There were different grants for individuals versus organizations and different funding sources. Throughout all of Southern Arizona, at the end of the year, we were able to distribute more than $2.2 million to 500 grantees across Southern Arizona.


How has it affected the Art Foundation specifically?

At the end of Fiscal Year ’21, we were a brand-new team. We were already a really small team, but opportunities came up for folks who had been here for many, many years. So they had an opportunity for new beginnings. And I completely understand that because I felt really privileged to come to the Art Foundation, with the mindset of coming in fresh. We were really fortunate to count on the support of our board of directors and new teammates who came rushing in to help to ensure that our programs were more inclusive and diverse and accessible. It was a very challenging year in that way. And also everybody meeting each other—not really having an opportunity to have in-person meetings throughout that first part of the year. So we really built trusting relationships digitally. Coming back to the move, we’re super excited that we get to have three offices. We had to be independent, but also have an opportunity to convene and think together in person. And also to be able to open it up for opportunities to bring the community in safe ways, so that we can continue to learn and grow with each other. 


You mentioned all the grant dollars you were able to provide over the last year. Are there still grants available? What kind of support can you offer artists and arts organizations moving forward?

We’re going to be launching another project round this fall. We will have grants available this year. And it won’t be as flush as last year, because last year, we really got the bulk of the relief funds, although we’re doing our part to seek out more funding support. We’re also going to have a hybrid Open Studios Tour. Last year, we launched a virtual version of it—it was completely virtual, completely new to us. So this year, we’re gonna do a combo and see how we’re able to amplify the program. We’re gonna launch a new website where we’re going to offer all Southern Arizona artists and arts organizations an opportunity to publish their information in an arts directory. 


Talk a little bit about the economic impact of the arts. 

The arts are a unique economic generator, because when people come together to experience an artistic experience, an artistic moment, there are so many indirect events that they participate in. In Arizona, according to one study, the arts represented a contribution of $9.7 billion to Arizona’s economy. And nationally, the arts and culture sector represents 4.5% of the nation’s GDP, and offers about 5.1 million jobs. It’s a larger share of the economy than construction or education services. These are numbers for 2017, so it’s pre-pandemic. I think Tucson and Southern Arizona is such a creative, vibrant

community that has an invested interest in caring for each other as human beings, as creatives. I really feel we’re gonna build back stronger, we have that creative cognitive labor here that will be instrumental in helping other industries become more creative. And think of the ways in which we can rebuild differently. So I sincerely believe that we will see more dynamic, topical, impressive, beautiful artistic expressions, through dance, choreography, writing, murals, sculpture, photography, music. Even when we are challenged with not being able to come together closely in a shared space, people find a way.