(Courtesy Kate Marquez)

This is the latest installment of the interview series Meet the Art Community of the US Southwest. Check out our past interviews here.

Kate Marquez has worked in the nonprofit and government sectors for the entirety of her professional career, working alongside local and national nonprofit organizations to help advance their independent fundraising capabilities and to secure financial and developmental sustainability. A Tucson native, Kate attended the University of Arizona with a focus on Political Science and Religious Studies.

In July of 2006, Kate accepted a position as the first full-time Development Director for the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council and would later transform the organization into the arts and cultural organization, the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance (SAACA). SAACA has since grown to become one of the largest multi-disciplinary arts organizations in the region, dedicated to the creation, preservation, and advancement of the arts. Each year SAACA provides thousands of opportunities for artists in the community to present and exhibit their work through culinary, arts, and music events and festivals as well as groundbreaking arts and healthcare integrated programming and education outreach.

Kate founded the Statewide Arizona Business Committee for the Arts which establishes groundbreaking arts and business integration programs through the enhancement of business practices, strengthening our economy, increasing employee engagement, and improving creative thinking skills through creative approaches. Kate is the 2017 winner of the Inside Tucson Business Nonprofit CEO of the year, and two-time nominee for the Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards, and currently serves on the Americans for the Arts Private Sector Advisory Council. In 2019, Kate founded a new 14,000 square foot center  for arts and culture in Southern Arizona, CATALYST Collaborative Arts & Maker Space, which includes a teaching kitchen, robotics and engineering lab, arts and crafts studio, and music and digital arts production studio.


Where were you born?

I was born in Dallas, Texas, but moved to Tucson at only 3 months old, and have lived here ever since.

What’s your first strong art memory?

I come from a particularly musical family. My mother was a professional vocalist, signed with Capitol Records at only 17 years old. She met my father who ran stage crew for her touring band. My first art memories were of my mother and father singing together — she sang most every day. A formative memory in my childhood was when my grandmother took me at six years old to see CATS when it was touring through Arizona. She bought me a brand new dress, and rented a limo to take my cousins and siblings all together. I remember being enthralled with the entire production of it all. I was lucky enough to attend a Montessori-type arts focused school from kindergarten through sixth grade, where we took every test to classical music, and arts classes were a daily occurrence — field trips were to the opera and museums, and our extracurricular activities were the school musical production, literary arts, and participating in cooking and creative projects. It was a unique way to learn, and it instilled in each of us the power of creativity at a very young age.

What was your favorite exhibition you saw this year?

My grandmother, who I was very close to, passed away this summer. Although this year I was given the opportunity to visit Barcelona, Madrid, Nashville, and Minneapolis, and in each place had extraordinarily moving arts experiences, by far my favorite was getting to take my grandmother to see CATS when it toured here in Arizona once again this past March. It is a timeless play that now holds a very special place in my heart, and of all of the moving experiences I have had in the arts, this one will never leave me.

What are you currently working on?

Our organization just recently opened a new 14,000 square-foot first-of-its kind arts and make space. It has been a dreamed fulfilled, to bring such a unique space here to our community. We envisioned a place where we could put all the creativity which thrives in our community under one roof. A place to celebrate together. A space where intentional ideas and collaborations thrive. A project that would continue to reshape our community through building a stronger sense of place through the arts, while advocating for artists and organizations to grow. We named the project CATALYST, which demonstrates our ambitious goals. We hope to build something that will become a regenerative space for arts and culture, experience and creativity. We opened the space on December 3, 2019, in the center of a large shopping center, and are collaborating with over 100 artists and nonprofit organizations on the project. 2020 will be an exciting year for our organization as we strive to make deep impact through creative collaborations in CATALYST. The space is very unique and it is intentional that we have invested in a teaching kitchen alongside a robotics and engineering lab, and an arts and crafts studio alongside a music and digital arts space. Each of these spaces provides opportunity for learning and teaching, sharing and collaboration, and opportunities to gather unite around what connects us. For our youth, this will be a place where workforce development programs connect creativity and innovation. For artists, CATALYST will be a space to showcase, share, and expand their work.

What guides your process?

The process which I personally attach to is the concept that we learn by doing. Taking risks, making mistakes, and doing it hand in hand with others is how we learn our shared value for our community.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

I must admit that I am really a hard sell on keeping attention towards a full book — I am more of a film buff than anything else. I tend to read a lot online, and still value news from a printed newspaper. Over the past 10 years, if I have invested in a book, it has typically been a read focused on leadership. It is always something I am trying to improve upon in myself, and am fascinated by some of the world’s best change leaders. I am particularly smitten with Simon Sinek, and have collected each and every one of his books. He is a passionate speaker and leader, and has an amazing way of attaching lessons to real life experiences that really seem to hit home for me personally.

Do you prefer to see art alone or with friends?

I am a strong believer that art is all around us. Gone are the days of people expecting to only see and experience art in a museum or a theatre — it exists in the murals and graffiti that surround us, to the public art and preservation of buildings, street buskers and street art from corner to corner. Accessibility to art is so different today than in the past. From the moment we wake up, our life is engrossed with creativity, color, and music. From the house we wake up in designed by an architect, to the art on our walls, or the car we drive, the television and movies we watch, to the music we play on our commute to work or throughout the day, to each and every thing we make with our hands, the creative process surrounds. My favorite thing to share is food — there is no greater cultural unifier than the culinary arts. From the recipes we pass on from generation to generation, to the daily ritual of creating and sharing a meal together, food is how we connect.

Do you like to photograph the art you see?

I always snap a photo of something that moves me. I am particularly drawn to outdoor art and color.

What do you see as the centers for creative community in Arizona?

Southern Arizona is rich in the arts. It is a more challenging community to make it as a professional artist, because of the economic conditions of our region, but that is no way a sign of the creativity that exists within. We are a community made of up thousands of photographers, musicians, jewelers, muralists, writers, singers, chefs, tinkerers, designers, fabricators, and makers. About 90% of them work full time. Arizona ranks at the bottom of local and state funding for the arts, and our long term goal is to create more opportunities for all of these creatives to connect, in an effort to bring a more modern approach to how we define arts and culture in our community, and to create more opportunities to bring awareness and advocacy to the power of the arts in communities, and how they fund and support it long term.

Ellie Duke was the Southwest US editor at Hyperallergic. She also co-edits the literary journal Contra Viento. She lives in Santa Fe, NM. Find her on Twitter.