Artists in Santa Cruz have faced many challenges this year, including the CZU Lightning Complex Fires in September. Many in our community lost their homes, studios or both in the fire. Here at the Arts Council, this year’s challenge has been finding new and creative ways to support our art-makers. 

One area we’ve focused on is our Grants program, extending the deadline for our latest grant cycle just for artists affected by the fires. 13 artists who experienced fire loss were able to apply for a Cultivate Grant to help them replace lost materials and supplies. 

Another project we’re excited to support is a new temporary venture happening in our studio here at the Tannery, Studio 119. Artists Michelle Brightstar and Jean Beebe teamed up to spearhead a vision of a shared “community studio” for artists affected by the fires.

We chatted with Michelle about what will be happening at the studio and how it will be a launching pad for their community project.

 
 

How did the idea of a joint studio come about?

The artist community here is big but tight, especially in the mountains where so many lost their homes. Just on my son’s street alone, 19 homes burned and his house had heavy smoke and ash damage. During my morning meditation around the second week of the fire,  a succinct and clear mission came through: to create a community studio for the artists coming out of this difficult time who are without a home or studio. From personal experience, I believe very much in the healing power of the creative process, and this seemed like the perfect way to enable artists to come together and get back to their work of creating. 

Feeling inspired, I got in touch with my good friend and fellow artist Jean Beebe to share the vision. Jean is an Open Studios artist, and suggested I get in touch with the Arts Council. [Executive Director] Jim Brown suggested Studio 119 at the Tannery as a temporary fit for this project.  He also suggested working with) [Grants Program Manager] Nallely, who was already reaching out to affected artists about the Cultivate Grant opportunity. I was able to talk with artists to let them know about the grant and its extended deadline, and to find out if they were interested in a Community Studio.

What is the vision?

Most artists truly lost everything – supplies, client files, past works,(vast libraries of reference books, teaching materials, notes, art journals. In this difficult time it would be so easy to put their creative work way down on the priority list, just let it disappear and not go back to creating. When talking with Jim and Nallely, I discovered this was also a big concern for the Arts Council. To me, the most important piece of this idea is providing a space to allow artists to step back into their work as quickly as possible. It’s a fluid idea, and will evolve and grow over time. The shared studio will let artists reconnect with their creative process. They’ll also be able to come together in person to support each other in recovery, which in and of itself is very healing. Combined with the option of Cultivate Grants to help replace supplies, the community studio will be a great jumping off point.

What has been the reaction from artists?

It’s been such a gift to have support in the form of the grants and this temporary studio. These artists have been through so much already in 2020, with the pandemic really hitting artists hard financially, and then the CZU fire disaster ripped through our mountains. When I was speaking with artists about applying for the grant and joining the Community Studio, there was a lot of gratitude for this support from us and I was touched by how much it meant to them that someone reached out and brought care and value to them as artists in our community. It’s been so fulfilling; my heart bursts with joy for this project and I’m very energized by it.

How is it going so far? Who’s participating?

We had our first orientation at Studio 119 a couple weeks ago, introducing folks to the space and the Tannery. We had a total of four artists join us in the studio then and now there are 7, among them Amy West, Anouk Johanna, Mary Tartaro and Jane Wrankle. About 6 more artists have expressed interest in joining or a need for support, so we’re continuing the conversation as they deal with all of the different aspects of disaster relief. There are a lot of different mediums represented among those artists, like ceramics and photography, so we’re looking to partner them with similar working studios at the Tannery or elsewhere in our community. At the Tannery we have to limit it to four artists in the space at a time and make sure we’re following best practices for COVID safety. There’s a lot of cooperation going on to work that out. Jean and I are very appreciative of Mercedes Lewis, Tannery Program Manager, for all her care and assistance in getting Studio 119 set up and ready for our artists in need.

What is the view for the future?

The bigger vision is a larger space where we can have up to 10 artists sharing the space at the same time to support each other and be safe with the proper distance and air circulation – as well as holding very small socially distanced learning workshops.  We’d love to have a front-end commercial space to function as a gallery representing the ongoing work of the artists. Jean and I are continuing to look for a more permanent Community Studio space for the artists to use through the end of 2022 while their homes and studios are being rebuilt. Included in this project, I have a longer range vision to have a group show on the one-year anniversary of the CZU fire. My intention is to provide an opportunity for the artists to show any completed pieces from this important healing journey, and for the public to come see and experience this work.  There are also many musicians who have been affected, so I would like to include them to play live music to open and close that exhibit. Recovery will take a long time, so we’re taking it in steps, practicing patience, and giving this idea room to grow.

Are you an artist in Santa Cruz County affected by the CZU fires interested in learning more about this community studio? Contact Michelle at michellec.star@gmail.com.

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