The upcoming Tubac Festival of the Arts palette will include lots of green.
During the event, hotels, Airbnbs and VRBOs from Rio Rico to Green Valley are full, restaurants have long waiting lines, and tents lining the streets of Tubac are a maze of exhibitors and vendors selling their goods from Feb. 5-9.
Of the 127 rentals listed on the VRBO website, only six are still available for booking during that period. Restaurants in Tubac won’t take reservations for lunch during the festival because the volume of customers is so great.
Organizers say the festival typically draws about 20,000 visitors.
Bob Ochoa, a spokesman for the festival, said the five-day event clearly brings economic benefits on several different fronts. How many dollars exactly? Ochoa said he didn’t have an estimate of the total spent in Tubac that's generated from art sales, lodging revenue and visitors eating and drinking at several restaurants and a dozen food trucks.
Ochoa, president of the Tubac Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the festival, said one of his goals is to eventually commission a study to get a better handle on the financial benefits to the town.
“Most of the shop owners will tell you that no other time in the year will they have that many new potential buyers in proximity to their front door,” Ochoa said. Many ramp up the staffing and the mix of inventory in order to make bank from one of the busiest stretches of the year, he noted.
Booth fees paid by the 200 participating artists — many of whom travel from show to show to make a living — range from $610 to $1,135. Parking also generates a good chunk of change, Ochoa said.
“The biggest variable is the weather,” he said of the upcoming event. Warm weather and sunny skies always make for a well-attended and successful festival. “If the economy is doing well, our artists, vendors and established business owners do well.”
Upscale & original
The festival features a range of artwork from fine paintings and sculptures to fun and functional ceramics, crafted wood, pottery, leatherworks and shimmering glass. Visitors will also see photography, handcrafted clothing, artful clothing and mixed-media works.
The focus, of course, is on original art, not something imported. “This isn’t the place for that,” Ochoa said of the upscale festival, a juried event that turned down 80 applicants this year.
The festival is free to attend, but parking costs $8 at one of seven lots that accommodate visitors. These include area residents, day trippers from Phoenix, and tour bus operators from all over Arizona.
The Tubac Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event, said it earmarks the parking revenue as a fundraiser for area nonprofits, who staff the parking lots. That totaled about $10,000 last year, according to Ochoa.
The Tubac Golf Resort & Spa, which is already pretty fully booked with ardent golfers and its group business, encourages its guests to check out the festival.
“You can only play so much golf,” said Mea Brown, director of marketing and sales, who served on the Tubac Chamber last year. Between the Resort’s amenities and the food and artwork in town, first-time visitors are usually impressed.
“We all work hand-in-hand to help make a visit memorable,” Brown said, adding the resort sees a nice boost to its own food and beverage business from the festival crowd.
Tubac’s premier civic event also gets a major boost from the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase. That high-profile affair provides lots of exposure to the region, and the hope in Tubac is that people drawn to the arts may also include the tiny art colony in their itinerary.
The combination of art and business resonates in the Arizona economy in many important ways. The arts-related retail trade, one of the 35 industries tracked by the National Endowment for the Arts, is a particularly powerful contributor to Arizona’s economy.
In 2015, arts-related retail trade, such as that represented by the art galleries of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson, as well as those in smaller, arts-centered communities like Sedona, Bisbee and Tubac, generated nearly $1.6 billion to Arizona’s economy, a report commissioned by the NEA found. Adjusted for the state’s economic footprint, this figure is 88 percent greater than the national index.
It’s the shortest month on the calendar, but February in Tucson packs one a large economic punch, with more than $100 million filling cash registers and government tax accounts.
A 2014 economic impact study revealed the Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase, which runs concurrently with the Tubac festival, represents $120 million of direct benefit to the region and attracts an average of 55,000 people from around the world.
Ochoa said the Gem Show’s collective impact on Tucson and Southern Arizona clearly is a win for Tubac. And it isn’t just February when the 100 eclectic shops, fine art galleries and eateries hope to see a gain from visitor spending.
“Art and tourism are important to our economy,” Ochoa said. “Our merchants are open year-round. They don’t close down in April.”
To coordinate the event and manage the logistics is nearly an art form in itself, Ochoa said.
“It takes a village to make this happen,” he explained, referring to the volunteers and other festival partners — law enforcement agencies, fire departments and others — to keep all the visitors happy, safe and moving. The most challenging time is between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. “That’s peak traffic time, but you can’t let vehicles back up to I-19,” he pointed out.
“Imagine throwing a party for 20,000 people,” Ochoa said about the state’s longest-running arts festival, which draws tens of thousands of visitors each year. “The community spirit runs deep.”
So does the collaboration between exhibiting artists. “(If) somebody’s looking for something and an exhibitor knows another artist makes it or another jeweler makes it, they’ll say, ‘Oh, go up here, two aisles over, and talk to them, because they make it,’ ” he said.