For a long time (and possibly forever), Tucson is going to be synonymous with tragedy.
That's a shame.
You see, our neighbor to the south is much more than a place where six people lost their lives and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was severely injured. Arizona's second-largest city, which is the perfect marriage of big-city conventions with small-town attitude, boasts a heavy-hitting cultural scene that larger cities tend to swallow and quaint towns can't ever sustain.
Located approximately 120 miles from Phoenix, Ansel Adams, the most popular American photographer of our time, thought Tucson was cool enough to create a place for his archives. Today, the Center for Creative Photography, established in 1975, is the best photo archive in the States and one of the tops in the world. This is the place that you go to see both famous and obscure works by Adams, Edward Weston, and Garry Winogrand.
The CCP is on the campus of the University of Arizona, the state's first higher-learning institution that anchors a city that was capital of the Arizona Territory from 1867 to 1877. Around the university, which was the site for the filming of 1984's Revenge of the Nerds, are a number of big-deal bands such as Calexico, writers that include Oh Pure and Radiant Heart author Lydia Millet, and artists such as Kate Breakey and Lisa Robinson.
"[Tucson's] art scene is very close-knit, supportive, and unified," says Carol Panaro-Smith, a Phoenix-based creative type who's represented by Etherton Gallery, one of Tucson's most legit contemporary art venues. "There are a number of really talented people there that I plan on showing in Phoenix."
Getting the feeling that Tucson is pretty cool?
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The town can also brag about housing larger cultural institutions. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has been lauded as one of the nation's best zoos while the Pima Air and Space Museum, site of the famed "airplane graveyard" scene in Can't Buy Me Love (the 1987 flick was filmed in Tucson), displays more than 250 historic air vessels.
Then there's the outdoors in close range of the city that includes Saguaro National Park and Sabino Canyon. Because southern Arizona has some of the clearest skies in the nation, a number of stargazing sites can be found in the "Astronomy Capital of the World."
Combine that with a stroll through neighborhoods like the Spanish-built El Presidio Historic District, a bike ride through the cycle-friendly city, or a night out alongside strolling minstrels in one of the country's top mariachi hotbeds, you've basically got all that and a bag of chips in the Old Pueblo.
This is what Tucson should be known for.