June 8, 2005 - "Ventana Medical Systems" doesn't seem like a name for an art gallery. Even if tissue samples are beautiful when magnified, as scientists there claim, they hardly qualify as public art.
But walk up to the entrance of the company's national headquarters, in Oro Valley, and you might feel like you've reached a gallery by mistake. The architecture is eccentric, featuring geometrical forms in purple and beige, and an attention-catching rust-colored sculpture towers over the parking lot.
And inside, about 100 works of framed art grace the walls.
The unlikely public art display is possible because of a relationship the medical laboratory equipment supplier has with the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council. One provides the walls; the other provides something to hang on them.
"We're able to help them by displaying art, and they're able to provide us with some beautiful artwork that gives us a better environment to work in," said Gregg Forszt, the facilities coordinator at Ventana Medical Systems, who coordinates the display of the artwork.
On any given week, about 25 people visit the company headquarters just to see the gallery art, Forszt said. Two rotating exhibits, one organized by the arts council and one from the Tucson-based Etherton Collection, display art ranging in price from $75 to $4,000.
The Sun City Artists Association's work will fill the arts council's wall space through June 30. Many have local themes, including a painting of San Xavier Mission at sunset and one of sunlight streaming down the Catalina Mountains, titled "Oro Valley Gold."
That arts council's exhibit, which changes four times a year, will feature work from the Drawing Studio on Fourth Avenue next.
"We work with GOVAC, and they select the arts groups that are going to be exhibited here," Forszt said. "We rely on their expertise to make it look more like a gallery than a manufacturing facility."
The wall space reserved for the Etherton Collection boasts pricey art pieces, including photography by the Pulitzer Prize winner Jack Dykinga and the National Geographic photographer Adriel Heisey. Its art rotates about twice a year.
The galleries are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Big receptions for openings of exhibits at the company headquarters attract several hundred people, Forszt said.
Ventana Medical Systems first began displaying art for the public about three years ago, less than a year after its facility opened in Oro Valley. The towering sculpture in its parking lot is a product of the town's requirement that one percent of all its construction costs be spent on public art.
The company's secondary function as an art gallery has been a boon all around, Forszt said.
"We're thrilled with it," he said. "This provides artwork that is affordable for employees and visitors, and we have visitors that come from all over the world. It makes for a nice environment."