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Winslow’s Evolving Art Scene

Route 66 travelers have long admired the kitschy murals scattered around Winslow, but few know about the developing fine arts scene simmering underneath.

The owners of La Posada hotel, known for its painstaking restoration and co-owner Tina Mion’s huge, avant garde canvases inside, are working on renovations that will eventually turn the old train depot into an art museum.

Hotel co-owners Allen Affeldt and Tina Mion and Snowdrift art gallery owners Dan and Ann-Mary Lutzick and El Gran Garage owner Paul Ruscha have formed the Winslow Arts Trust, a revocable trust to help secure grant funding and ensure that their efforts to bring art to Winslow continue after their deaths.

The trust includes the hotel, Mion’s art gallery and the evolving sculpture garden there, El Gran Garage across the street, and the Snowdrift art gallery in the old Babbitt Brother department store downtown. All of the spaces have hosted various traveling or temporary exhibits like the annual quilt show, Railroad Days and, at Snowdrift, the traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit Art on Main Street, where the Lutzicks met.

The trust has gotten a $750,000 grant to develop the depot into the Route 66 Art Museum, an art space that Lutzick says will have rotating installations by various artists. The trust is getting environmental and other construction clearances for an addition to the historic depot building, and the grant money is expected to be available around May 2012.

At full buildout, the art museum is planned to have a room that will serve as a visitor center for artist James Turrell’s landspace art at Rhoden Crater and a “Skyspace Gateway,” a meditative space with its roof open to the sky.

“The reason we can do all this is because the hotel has kept growing,” Lutzick said. Renovations on the main building are almost complete with 49 rooms available, to total 54 when the original hotel building is completed. Then the owners have to decide whether and where to add more rooms.

The trust also recently called on the Tucson-based International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA) to tour of the long-vacant Old Main high school, with an eye toward turning it into an arts complex. The group has already renovated the historic but formerly abandoned Curley high school in Ajo, creating inexpensive living and working quarters for artists.

The group sent a contingent to tour the school Sept. 7 and 8, but has yet to make a decision about whether to try to buy Old Main. The three-story building was built in 1929 and is linked to the Winslow Unified School District administrative offices.

Tracy Taft, executive director of ISDA, says the group has been occupied with construction projects in Ajo but hopes to make a decision by the end of the year. In choosing a site, ISDA has three main considerations. First, the project has to make economic sense. That may involve public and private financing, tax credits, grants and other sources of financing. Second, the community has to get behind the efforts.

“The community has to be interested in a facility for artists,” Taft said. “It’s really important that the community be open to folks like us coming in from outside.”

Local business owners are also trying to create interest in the arts and downtown business.

Marjorie LoPresti and her son opened Park Place Gallery on Third Street, just one door away from Snowdrift, two years ago. The gallery sells a mix of art by local artists and vintage items on consignment. The clientele is both locals and tourists, LoPresti said.

Downtown property owners Tess and Lawrence Kenna and Karen Harvey have been sponsoring Winslow Summer Nights for the last two summers, bringing bands, magicians, jugglers, car club events and other variety entertainment to the Route 66 Plaza park on weekend summer nights. The events have been a success but a lot of work, and it’s time for someone else to take over, Tess Kenna said.

“We wanted to provide something for the citizens of Winslow for every Friday and Saturday night through the summer months,” she said. “We wanted to prove that we could do it without any funding from the city.

The city provided free insurance for the use of the park and any assistance we needed, and The Scoop gave us free advertising every single week.”

Community groups including the Winslow Arts Council, a city committee; the Winslow Public Library, the Chamber of Commerce, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Just Cruisin’ Car Club, Rotary and other service clubs all provided events during the summers.

“People even picked up their own garbage,” Kenna noted. But, she’s stepping aside.

“I’m sure someone will pick it up. But I just wanted to prove it could be done. Already there are so many organizations that want to perform there. People have developed an interest for it,” she said. “Now I’m going to let someone else step up to the plate. It proves that you can open up the downtown, you can have a good venue and it doesn’t cost a lot of money.”

The Winslow Arts Council has also been working to bring a variety of arts and performance events to the area. The group arranged a seminar in November with Sedona artist Joella Jean Mahoney, which brought students from as far away as Tsaile to learn from the renowned abstract painter.

Some of those works may be on display when the council hosts its Arts Sweet Arts show and sale in February at the Chamber of Commerce headquarters in the Hubbell Trading Post on Second Street. FBN

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