Governor Katie Hobbs signed a new state budget last week that drastically reduces funding for arts programs in Arizona.

Although intense lobbying efforts preserved $2 million for cultural enrichment, this is a significant reduction from the $5 million allocated last year. The Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance, or SAACA, is among the organizations that may be affected by these cuts.

SAACA, known for its food festivals, arts programming, and concerts, relies heavily on state grants and the new budget allocation could impact its ability to operate effectively.

Meela Hill, a former SAACA artist-in-residence, expressed her concern with the budget.

“I think its absolutely insane that theyre talking about taking away arts funding because Tucson literally is art,” she said.

Kate Marquez, SAACAs Executive Director, shared insights into the organizations history and financial challenges. She said SAACA has been through financial challenges before.

“I started in about 2005 as the marketing and development director when we were the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council,” Marquez said. “In 2007, we realized we were on the cusp of a deep recession. For an organization like ours, which received about 75 percent of our funding from the local government, that was an identity crisis.”

At that time, SAACA rebranded and expanded in hopes of better serving the broader Southern Arizona region.

The reduced state funding means fewer grants will be available to support organizations like SAACA. These grants are essential for covering operational costs, according to Marquez.

“Very rarely will there ever be a grant that says well help you keep the lights on, well help you pay staff,” Marquez explained. “But in this case, we will see a cut to that.”

Despite the budget cuts, SAACA is determined to continue its programming. The organization is planning to lobby local governments to secure additional funding to support Southern Arizona’s arts, food, and culture.

“Throughout most of the state, most communities do have permanent funding mechanisms, and they happen in a myriad of ways,” Marquez said. “But not in Pima County and not in the city is there really a designated fund every year that artists and cultural organizations can depend on.”

SAACA recently showcased its Catalyst Creative Collective, a vibrant space for community collaboration, supported by a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. “In 2019, we received a wonderful grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts,” Marquez said. “We wanted the space to embody the old and the new, inspire ideas, and reflect the idea of coming together.”

The Catalyst Creative Collective includes various facilities like a teaching kitchen, art studios, and a mural featuring iconic artists.

“This artist, Gina Roboto, that painted these, she’s based out of Phoenix but captures people in really creative ways and tells stories,” Marquez elaborated. The mural features Frida Kahlo and Jean-Michel Basquiat, representing the diverse and dynamic culture of Southern Arizona.

Meela Hill and Marz, a recording artist who hosts events at SAACA’s venue in Tucson Mall, shared their experiences in dealing with SAACA to plan events.

“When I came in to do my tour of the place, I thought I was coming to paint. And then they showed me this music space back here,” Hill said.

She reached out to Marz to help plan Light the Mic Open Mic nights, a showcase for up-and-coming Southern Arizona hip-hop artists.

“I was already amazed by the space because its super creative and they just added more stuff to it,” Marz said. “We started a youth program that we did beyond the chords for four Saturdays in October.”

For now, Marquez wants to assure the public that there will be no immediate cuts to its programming or scheduled events.

And both Hill and Marz are hopeful, emphasizing the importance of arts funding.

“They’ve done some beautiful things out even without the funding. So just imagine what, how greater it can be with the funding,” Marz said.

For more information on SAACA’s upcoming events, and a list of programs, concerts and foodie events through the end of 2024, visit the organizations schedule website here.