It Takes All Kinds

Artists’ Field Day at S.B.’s Museum of Natural History

by Elizabeth Schwyzer

As far as Lisa Thomas Macrum is concerned, art has the power to connect a community. To prove it, she’s launching Santa Barbara’s first Artists’ Field Day: a celebration of community and diversity through artistic creation. Housed on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Artists’ Field Day is an open invitation for participation in the arts — an afternoon of performance, exhibition, and exchange featuring live music and dance, poetry, and visual art. And everyone is invited.

A joint project of the Channel Islands YMCA and the Museum of Natural History, Artists’ Field Day is actually the culmination of a number of projects Macrum has been developing throughout the course of the past year, while its inspiration is rooted even further in the past. “It relates back to older Santa Barbara community art events like Summer Solstice in the Sunken Gardens,” Macrum said. “My impression is that these days, performing arts events are often expensive and separate from one another. I’m trying to bring them to wider audiences, and bring artists together.”

Macrum, once a professional dancer and former president of the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance, now describes herself as an arts advocate. She also holds a masters’ degree in clinical psychology, and finds inventive ways of blending her passion for the creative and performing arts with her understanding of mental health. As director of community and school-based youth outreach programs for the Youth and Family Services branch of the Channel Islands YMCA, Macrum uses art to teach character development, focusing on caring, respect, responsibility, and awareness of diverse populations.

Evidence of the success of her Building Bridges project will be on display at Artists’ Field Day. Building Bridges began with elementary, junior high, and high school students sending surveys to the residents of sober living homes, retirement homes, and homeless shelters. After receiving the handwritten responses to their questions, each student created an art project. As part of Building Bridges, fifth-grade students at Adams school who are currently involved in the police department’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program were paired with residents of Serena House for sober living. “They were able to ask specific questions related to drug and alcohol abuse, and really connect the lessons with the real world,” Macrum reflected, noting that she acted as an intermediary between students and residents to insure the content of the exchange was appropriate. “The process taught them tolerance and compassion.” More than 100 of these works of art will be shown at Artists’ Field Day before being presented to the recipients.

Also on display will be the results of another of Macrum’s endeavors, The Mural Project, where local high school students worked with Lithuanian artist Virga Siauciunaite to create a mural celebrating Santa Barbara’s diverse population and natural beauty. At a ceremony in May, the mural will be presented to the non-profit of the project’s choice.

Members of the public attending Artists’ Field Day will be encouraged to tap into their own creative juices. Local arts organizations Poetry in the Schools and Arts Alive! invite visitors to contribute a square to a paper quilt of creative writing — a visual and linguistic work of art created onsite by the attendees. Participants in Building Bridges and The Mural Project will get free admission to the event and will be able to see their artwork on display and get some exposure to forms of art and performance that may be new to them: Dancers, filmmakers, composers, choreographers, and musicians will collaborate to create site-specific and improvisational work both inside the museum’s galleries and in outdoor spaces. Performing artists participating in the event include choreographer/filmmaker Robin Bisio, Afro-Brazilian dancer Vanessa Isaac, and musician/composer Randy Tico, who is well known for his involvement with the summer solstice tradition. Macrum hopes the unusual setting will inspire these artists to stretch their creative process and to collaborate with one another in new ways.

“Things are so separate these days, many kids don’t get a chance to know the diversity of their own community,” Macrum said. “This opens the doors.”

Work is also underway on a documentary about the project, which Macrum plans to submit to next year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The hope is that such a film would bring visibility for the concept to other communities and inspire similar initiatives elsewhere. “I feel really strongly about the power of the arts in many arenas, especially mental health,” Macrum said. “They’re healing, and they’re a nonverbal form of communication. They connect people without the need for words.”

4•1•1 Artists’ Field Day takes place on Sunday, April 30 from noon to 3 p.m. on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. For more information, visit or contact Lisa Thomas Macrum at 569-1103 x11.

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