Tucson is a town imbued with the creative juices of street artists from all over the world. Join us for a tour of its mural lined streets.
For a region with just over a million residents, Tucson has more than its fair share of public art. The Percent for Arts program funds some of it – one of the best-known works is the Rattlesnake Bridge – while more art is painted onto walls of homes and businesses, as well as outdoor galleries. Places like the vacant lot at 1240 North Stone draws artists from all over the US to the annual Winta Fresh painting weekend.
Tucson street art goes back to at least the mid-20th century. Much of that has been in the Mexican/Chicano muralismo tradition – social and political themes – exemplified by artists like David Tineo and Luis Gustavo Mena.
Other prolific Tucson muralists include Rock ‘CyFi’ Martinez, who does everything from urban art to super-realistic airbrushed scenes, and Joe Pagac, whose often lighthearted murals are all over downtown.
But let's focus on lesser-known artists (in fact, many street artists don't even sign their work) and the areas in Tucson where you can see lots of murals close together. Southern parts are especially multi-cultural, and the art reflects that. Drive along Fourth, Sixth or Tenth Avenues for an art show.
The city of South Tucson (a square mile surrounded by the rest of Tucson) has invested enthusiastically in street art, and you'll see it everywhere.
Downtown Tucson is also full of public art. Much of it is along Toole Avenue, which is lined with artists' studios and galleries, and the 4th Avenue shopping district. The mural below, seen here in 2009 along the north edge of 191 E. Toole, had Tucson scenes that were embellished over the years. Painted over early in 2015, lets hope another mural is coming soon.
The 4th Avenue underpass, under the railroad tracks, is lined with panels covered by photographs of Tucsonans. The Tucson Portraits Project sadly was never completed, but what's there is still well worth seeing.
The new streetcar runs by here. Many stops have public art installations, all of which have poetry scrolling across the electronic screens. Don't miss the parking lot lined with murals, just south of 6th Street between 4th and 5th Avenues. It's wall-to-wall art, always changing – most of it edgy and urban. Here's one panel we particularly like from December 2013.
Just north of downtown on Stone Avenue, turn west into the Dunbar/Spring neighborhood. Tucson is a city of neighborhoods, and many commissioned works of public art. What's probably Tucson's largest mural runs along 9th Avenue, south of University Boulevard, and is so big it won’t fit in a single photograph!
You'll also pass a number of intersections with traffic circles full of whimsical art, as well as sculptures and murals decorating local houses. Don't miss the gila monster reading a book, next to the Little Free Library, on the northwest corner of 10th Avenue & 2nd Street.
There's art all through Tucson's neighborhoods and parks, as well as on a number of the schools. Just east of the I-10 freeway and north of Saint Marys Road, explore the huge mosaic murals in Oury Park, the grounds of Davis Bilingual School, and the Barrio Anita neighborhood along Anita and Contzen Avenues. You can find more art in the Tucson Murals Project and Tucson Mailbox Art blogs too.
And with that our tour ends pretty much where we started, along Stone Avenue, a logical place to start and finish as it’s covered with mural after mural. Of these our current favorite sits near the corner with Speedway Blvd. A new mural by six Tucson artists, it needs no introduction.