Organizing for the Arts

Kate Marquez, executive director of the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance (SAACA). Photo by James Patrick.

Behind the pleasant but quiet exterior of Kate Marquez lies an intense dynamo.
“I like to be behind the scenes,” says the executive director of the Oro Valley-based Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance (SAACA). “I feel that my skill set is creative thinking.”
That may be an understatement. She seems to possess an innate ability to facilitate artistic spaces and create events around Southern Arizona through a boundless well of ideas and energy.
SAACA organizes hundreds of large- and small-scale events each year, including a popular tequila, salsa and taco challenge. It also is responsible for expanding arts therapy for seniors and veterans; integrating the arts in businesses; and offering arts education in schools.
“Kate has successfully created a dynamic organization that brings art to people in unexpected places — elementary schools, businesses, veterans’ hospitals, nursing homes, shopping malls, public spaces, and the list goes on,” says J. Tom Binder, vice president of RBC Wealth Management in Tucson. “She keeps pushing the envelope of art. Suffice it to say, she has made Tucson, Oro Valley and Marana a much more beautiful place to live.”
Marquez’s impressive work has been noticed outside of Southern Arizona, and she recently was appointed to the private sector network council of the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts.
Her duties will include quarterly meetings; helping to develop private sector-related tools and resources; contributing to Artsblog; participating in research and program evaluations; and fostering deeper connections among various Southern Arizona entities and Americans for the Arts.
Marquez already is a pro at this, as noted by community leaders who work with her.
“Not only has Kate built a sustainable arts organization, she has led innovative programming that has advocated for business, government and community support for the arts,” says Dr. Satish I. Hiremath, mayor of the Town of Oro Valley. “Kate’s vision and implementation of using arts and culture for economic development and creative problem solving has been revolutionary for communities during the economic downturn.”
Comments Marquez on her mission, “I believe the arts are the only source of true innovation. It helps businesses stay competitive, and can help them thrive.”
She believes her creative thinking was sparked while attending a non-traditional school — the Carden Academy in Tucson — from kindergarten through sixth grade. She remembers classical music playing during test-time, taking care of farm animals, and gardening.
“The arts were fully integrated every day,” she adds.
Though she holds a degree in political science from the University of Arizona, Marquez was drawn to fundraising and the arts.
In July 2006, the Tucson native became the development director for the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council, or GOVAC. She was promoted to executive director in late 2007, as GOVAC was changing into SAACA and expanding into a regional arts organization. SAACA has grown to become one of the largest multidisciplinary presenting arts organizations in the region.
Marquez notes that Arizona is one of few states that doesn’t have permanent funding streams for the arts, making her talent in fundraising and innovation even more crucial. Once she got involved, SAACA grew from an annual budget of $400,000+ in 2006 to an annual operating budget of more than $1 million. The organization has overcome budget deficits of over $300,000, as well as a loss of local government funding, and emerged a sustainable community-supported organization.
Edward Reid is the director of the Fred Fox School of Music at the University of Arizona College of Fine Arts, and has worked with Marquez for years as a board member for SAACA. He calls Marquez “simply amazing.”
“The outreach of SAACA is beyond impressive: business/arts integration, music and memory, culinary arts, and arts therapy for veterans are just a few of the successful projects she’s developed,” Reid says.
In 2009, Marquez founded the Southern Arizona Business Committee for the Arts as a programming outreach arm of SAACA. The committee, which expanded statewide this year, establishes arts and business integration programs through the enhancement of business practices, strengthening the economy, increasing employee engagement and improving creative thinking through arts-based approaches.
Hiremath says, “It has been fun to watch the transformation of a young, wide-eyed 25-year-old novice with passion, to the nationally recognized phenom that she is today.”  — Valerie Vinyard