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Small Arizona Towns Turn To The Arts To Boost Their Economies

Published: Thursday, April 9, 2015 - 4:03pm
Updated: Thursday, April 9, 2015 - 9:18pm
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(Photo courtesy of International Sonoran Desert Alliance)
Flier for Ajo Art collection.

The town of Ajo in southwestern Arizona has been working to transform itself into an arts community. Tracy Taft, executive director of the International Sonoran Desert Alliance said the town center screams arts and culture, with a plaza on two acres dating to the early 1900s.

"This is the kind of thing you’d expect to find in the center of a big urban place, not in the middle of the Sonoran Desert," she said.

Taft said when the mine in town closed, houses were selling cheap. And that gave some groups an idea.

"What you see happening in a city when artists find those inner-city neighborhoods and bring them back, that just kind of seems to happen organically," Taft said. "And it was our question: could we kind of intentionally spark the same sort of thing here in Ajo?"

Ajo isn’t the only small Arizona town that’s turned to the arts after a mine shut down. Bisbee is home to galleries and artists.

Ilona Smerekanich is Manager of the Bisbee Visitors Center.

"The arts are an integral part of our marketing here for tourists, and yes, if there was an absence of an art movement, it would definitely hurt the town," she said.

Smerekanich, though, said it’s not all about the arts in Bisbee. She said the town’s top asset is its history, from copper mining to everything that came after that.

This idea of towns transforming themselves into arts communities isn’t unique to Arizona. Cynthia Nikitin, senior vice president with the New York-based nonprofit Project for Public Spaces talked about this trend in rural American towns.

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