Downtown Tucson gets new art haven, artists wanted

Too many of Tucson’s cool buildings go the way of the bulldozer – but not the one nestled next to downtown’s Solar Culture gallery.

Downtown's 35 E. Toole is slated for art haven/Ryn Gargulinski

Downtown's 35 E. Toole is slated for art haven/Ryn Gargulinski

The building at 35 E. Toole Ave. is instead becoming an artists’ haven, with studio-storefronts lined with windows ready for a delightful, disarming – or creepy – array of art.

Let’s up the description to an artists’ heaven, as studio-storefront monthly rents start at $150.

We can barely buy a good pair of shoes for that much anymore.

Art from Solar Culture's June 12 opening/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Art from Solar Culture's June 12 opening/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

For Solar Culture owner Steven Eye, this move to expand the downtown art scene is only natural. This Philadelphia transplant landed in Tucson in 1985 and was bent on fulfilling the mission to “make ecstatic energy available to the people.”

He’s got that mission down to a science, as anyone who has been to Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole, can attest.

Now open daily from noon to midnight, Solar Culture’s 3,000 square-foot Art Deco building has been around since the turn of the century – and showcasing community art and music in one form or another since Eye moved to Old Pueblo 25 years ago.

Eye definitely has an eye for what works – and bringing the community together through art, music and all things creative.

But don’t take it from me – take a gander at his past ventures:

Art from Solar Culture June 12 show/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Art from Solar Culture June 12 show/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

1978: Steven Eye and “group of us kids” take over abandoned lot in downtown Philadelphia for skateboarding. Build ramps they “would ride with wild reckless abandon.” Realized they had to skate to music to “create a weightless flying feeling pushing your mind and beyond all previous known limitations.”

Eye’s skateboarding group discovers – and fall in love with – punk rock. Need more, more, more of it.

1982: Eye and pals form BungaBooshEye and start bringing all-age punk shows to Philly at a place they called Love Hall. Bands included Meat Puppets, Husker Du, Scream, Misfits and more.

1981 to 1983: Eye busy documenting Philly punk shows on video tape.

1985: Discontent with “all the urban squalor surrounding me in Philly” Eye moves to Tucson “to try to develop a deeper relationship with this earth.”

1987: Eye rents old produce warehouse at 31 E. Toole from Arizona Department of Transportation

Art at Solar Culture June 12 show/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Art at Solar Culture June 12 show/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

1988: Warehouse has first art opening under name of Hellrad Club. Name soon changed to Dodajk International (aka internal nation of the wild).

1988 to 1991: Dodajk International holds more than 70 art and music openings, including Crashworship, Helios Creed, Tragic Mulatto and more. Events had to be stopped due to “continual threats and harassment from the police about the people who were attending our shows, and no support from the city officials.”

1991: Eye vows never to do shows in Tucson again.

1991: Eye re-inspired by Tucson community, rents another building from state at 530 N. Stone Ave. which becomes Downtown Performance Center (DPC).

1991 to 1995: DPC hosts more than 800 shows, including Green Day, Blind melon, Bad Brains, Rancid, Feast Upon Cactus Thorns and more.

Aug. 1995: DPC closes due to “continual police harassment, and the West University Neighborhood Association’s full-scale assault on us for having some of the troubled youth that came to our shows roaming through the neighborhood that surrounded the DPC building.” Note: DPC building is now the Matt Bevel Institute.

1995: Eye vows never to do shows in Tucson again.

Art at Solar Culture June 12 show/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Art at Solar Culture June 12 show/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

1995 to early 1999: Eye becomes re-inspired, holds art shows at 31 E. Toole building, renamed it Datura Studios and Gallery.

Spring 1999: Building reborn as Solar Culture.

Oct. 1999: Solar Culture’s first art opening and music event.
“Now the music has been flowing freely like never before, as bands regularly come to town from all over the world.”

Summer 2001: Eye joins forces with Club Congress at Congress Hotel and starts 21-and-over bar shows by Oct. 2001. Turns over concert connections to Club Congress Feb. 2003.

June 2010
: New art haven in the works at 35 E. Toole Ave., adjacent to Solar Culture. Studio-storefronts for rent – art haven opening estimated in August.


One of studio-storefronts at 35 E. Toole/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Studio-storefront at 35 E. Toole/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

One of studio-storefronts for rent at 35 E. Toole/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

One of studio-storefronts for rent at 35 E. Toole/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Studio-storefront in new downtown art haven/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Studio-storefront in new downtown art haven/Photo Ryn Gargulinski

Anyone interested in renting a storefront-studio can contact Steven Eye at 884-0874 or e-mail

Full disclosure: I am a regular community artist contributor to Eye’s shows and would rent one of the storefronts myself if I could figure out way to make it work.


What do you think?

How often do you go downtown events?

Have you been attending the 2nd Saturdays Downtown now that they are re-established?

Have you ever been to Solar Culture?

Who is your favorite Tucson artist?



About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at
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22 Responses to Downtown Tucson gets new art haven, artists wanted

  1. John Kennedy says:

    While I certainly appreciate art of various styles, I have to wonder why only artists get these reduced price living deals. Being an artist is a career choice, like an auto mechanic, yet us mechanics pay full price to rent or own. I can’t help but feel it’s discriminatory in many ways.

    • Rynski says:

      hiya john kennedy –
      these particular spaces are not living spaces – they are art studio-storefronts – sorry i was not more clear in the post! no amenities for living – although the building does have a community kitchen area.
      if these were LIVING prices, i’d be first in line – hahhahaha.
      as an artist myself, i have yet to be offered any phenomenal living rental deals – heck, most landlords jack up the price, thinking i’ll do something strange like paint leopard print on the ceiling – hahahha.
      i know art grants and such are available from different agencies and sometimes even the gov’t, usually for projects, not daily life.
      i’ll also bet mechanics are in much greater demand than artists – a mechanic is a career that will never go out of style, for sure.
      by the way, where should i go for an oil change (JUST KIDDING!)
      thanks for input!

  2. leftfield says:

    Great place and a real Tucson treasure, as is Mr. Eye.  I highly recommend a visit to Solar Culture.  While you’re in the area, take some time to explore downtown Tucson and Fourth Avenue.  Beats the heck out of the Mall.

    • Rynski says:

      wholly agree with you, leftfield.
      the mall could perhaps be seen as the antithesis of downtown/fourth ave/and other cool tucson hotspots.
      (although i still use the mall for after holiday sales and that piercing pagoda for nose ring purchases…)
      steven eye is one of the coolest tucsonans i’ve met yet.

  3. Andrew Ulanowski says:

    Hi Ryn! One of my favorite spots for art in Tucson is the “Center for Creative Potography” at the UofA. The exhibits have been great every time I have gone.
    I think Tucson as a city is a display of art. As I drive all over the place here, I see art displays in the forms of murals, sculpture. At a large shopping block in Oro Valley, there are quite a few metal sculptures of people doing things that represent the shop they are placed in front of . . . fer instance, a young woman with a coffee pot in front of Krispy Kreme, a shopping mom complete with basket and child in the available seat in front of ‘Sprouts’ grocery.
    Well, I could go one but that’s my story and I”m sticking to it.
    ha! ‘begin safeway’

    • Rynski says:

      dear begin safeway (good one!),
      i agree – the tucson and area landscapes are definitely artistic. much of it either has installations, such as you described, or, of course, mother nature’s own flair.
      i esp. enjoy the seemingly random murals – and those giant flowers along stone loop.
      never noted the metal sculptures mimicking indoor activities of shops in oro valley. that sounds spectacular!
      also heard lots of good things about ua photog  center. will DEF have to check it out one day.
      thanks for comment, artistic mural-maker!
      p.s. my poem is going to be late this week – can we extend deadline to fri?

      • Andrew Ulanowski says:

        Deadline to Friday it is but I’m publishing at Scribd today so just don’t read my work there for a couple days.
        “Center for Creative Potography” at the UofA – I wonder how the school will feel about that typo . . .

      • Rynski says:

        thanks! on friday deadline – OK, i shan’t read your poem in advance…and will post/send mine when ready.
        ‘potography’ sounds kind of interesting, actually….hahahah

    • Jennatoolz says:

      Hey Andrew! I know exactly the place you are talking about in Oro Valley. I used to live in an apartment right next to that shopping center. I had a friend over and we had a few drinks. It was pretty late at night and we decided it would be a great idea to tape a pillow to the top of his head, but I had NO TAPE! Dilemma!! We then decided walk (because we couldn’t drive) over to the Walmart to buy tape…we got the black electrical tape. Anyway, on the way there and back is when we discovered the statues and good times were had when we were posing with them and snapping pics, lol.

      (Yes…we did tape the pillow to the top of his head…our mission was not forgotten!)

      • Andrew Ulanowski says:

        that’s funny Jenna – the sculptures are fun, aren’t they?
        ‘parrot-like yodeled’

      • Rynski says:

        you were havin’ some wild times in oro valley, jenna – hahahhaha! you should have taped another pillow to the statue’s head – maybe next time….

    • koreyk says:

      There is another center further north in Oro Valley, at the southwest corner of First Avenue and Tangerine Road, with similar life size bronze sculptures. 

      • Rynski says:

        wow – i’m missing some oro valley art, for sure. thanks for add’l input. …although no matter how big or beautiful the bronze may be, it’s tough for anyone to beat tucson’s giant paul bunyan.

  4. fraser007 says:

    Wow, just what we need, more starving artists

  5. Xavier Quest says:

    That’s a very good Idea…I am a Mexican American Artist, living here in Tucson,AZ.

  6. radmax says:

    Pretty nice digs for the price; the owner is very committed to the arts.
    I attended the show on Saturday, very cool outlet for local artists.
    I also saw a bit of your work Rynski! I was chatting with an older lady who was enthralled with your ‘Hug a Javalina’ piece, then some odd bird took me aside to show me ‘the saguaros’…my daughter and I glanced at one another and made a polite exit. 😉

    • Rynski says:

      hey radmax –
      how cool! you were at saturday’s show – awesome. how triple cool you ran into someone enthralled with ‘hug a javelina’ – hahahahhaah.
      as long as my art can make someone laugh or smile, i am happy.
      what was the saguaro thing about? that sounds weirdish. but did it make you laugh or smile?

  7. John Kennedy says:

    Speaking of art districts, we can consider a lot of I-10 an art district now can’t we? I think it looks great, they did a heck of a job there!

  8. fraser007 says:

    We need more taxpayers and a few less starving artists.

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