By Richard White, April 10, 2014
One of the things we love to do when exploring a new city is to check out its university or college, especially if it is adjacent to downtown. Experience has shown us that in most cases, you will find lots of urban vitality (pedestrians, cafes, galleries, shops, pubs, live music, etc) in and around urban post-secondary schools.
The University of Arizona in Tucson did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded our expectations. What we thought might be a 3-hour morning flaneur turned out to be an all-day walkabout.
As we entered the campus, we saw the Visitor Center (yes, they have their own visitor center) and decided to drop in and see if they had a map and some suggestions for lesser known places to explore. Yes, I know flaneurs are supposed to just wander with no particular place to go.
The front desk person was very helpful - at first, she pointed out all the obvious things to see and do - they even have a brochure "Things to Do at the U!" However, when we asked for some hidden gems, she suggested the School of Pharmacy which has a museum of sorts spread out over two buildings and on various floors.
Brenda, having read the College of Optical Sciences is the world's premier institute of its kind, asked if there were any displays of artifacts there. We were told there might be, but a good place to check out was the Flandrau Science Centre and Planetarium with its great mineral collection. We had also read that the Creative Photography Center had the largest collection of photographs in the world, so thought this might be a place to check out.
We ended up leaving the Visitor Center with a map with 12 places to check out. The Museum of Art turned out to be a bit of a dud as there was an installation in progress and the gallery attendant wasn't clear what exhibitions were open to visitors.
Across the street was the Photography Centre which was very interesting and free. It was too bad that we were the only people there. Next, we headed to the Architecture and Landscape Architecture building next door. It was a bit more animated with students coming and going, as well as an exhibition of drawings and sculptures in the lobby. Exiting the building, we happened upon a wonderful garden oasis that is a serene setting to study or chat with a friend.
Schaefer Poetry Center
Aiming for what I thought was the Pottery Centre, turned out to the the Poetry Center (a case of middle-age eyes). Glad for the misread. It is one of only three such centers in North America, the others being in New York City and Chicago.
The building has a wonderful soft light that makes for a great place to read, write and reflect. In fact, they have a residence as part of the center for visiting writers or special guests. Though it is a non-circulating library, the public is invited to read the books on site in the lovely indoor and outdoor reading areas. In addition to the 70,000 poetry-related items in their collection, the Center also has an engaging exhibition of handmade artist's books by Alice Vinson. They even have a charming children's section with a huge blackboard inviting the kids to create their own poetry.
This the kind of stuff we love to sniff out - art, architecture and ambience. The Poetry Centre is definitely a hidden gem.