On November 7, the Arts Fund will honor Tony Askew with a lifetime achievement in the arts award as part of Feast Your Eyes!, its annual fundraising gala. The announcement comes on the heels of other big news from the Arts Fund: Brad Nack will become executive director this fall, with current director Kai Tepper heading up Milpas Street to join the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation. The Arts Fund has been around for more than 30 years, during which its Individual Artist Awards and Teen Mentorship programs have acted as mainstays in our arts scene. But it’s in the last five years, as the rest of the world has caught up with the Arts Fund’s early adoption of a Funk Zone location, that the organization has experienced an unprecedented sense of renewed potential. With consistently packed Second Saturdays and such popular recent shows as Ruckus and Heads Up, the Arts Fund Gallery, with its expansive corner parking lot on Santa Barbara and Yanonali, has become the hub of the Funk Zone’s vibrant street scene. With its newfound centrality, its only fitting that the organization both appoint and celebrate two individuals who act as human hubs of energy and excitement in Santa Barbara’s arts community.
A Way of Life: Tony Askew as Artist and Teacher
In 1972, Tony Askew began teaching art at Santa Barbara High School. He remained there for nine years, eventually rising to chair of what was then a five-person department. Askew remembers it as a golden age, saying, “Santa Barbara High in the ’70s was an unbelievably good and positive school. There were no bells and no fences, and what went on there was at the center of the community. It felt like the whole city came out for the football games and the theater productions. It was the high school at that time, full stop.” In the early 1980s, however, the school’s budget was cut, and 60 teachers were let go, with the majority of them coming from the arts. “The program never recovered,” said Askew.
One of Askew’s students at Santa Barbara High was a young Brad Nack, whose father, Ken Nack, taught painting over at Santa Barbara City College. Brad remembers how the dynamic young high school teacher bridged the generation gap between people like his dad, who had served in the air force in World War II, and kids like himself, who were coming of age in the 1970s. “I don’t know if we were using this exact word yet at that point,” Nack recalled, “but we looked on Mr. Askew as a bro” — high praise, indeed, not to mention an interesting insight into what would happen next for Askew.
With Santa Barbara High’s art program in tatters, Askew had to improvise. He approached his friend,John Carlander, who was teaching at Westmont College, to see if there might be room to expand the school’s tiny art department. Askew began his distinguished 26-year career at Westmont as an instructor in 1982, and, through a series of efforts that included the establishment of a summer art camp, an arts council, and an on-campus gallery, he rose to become a full professor and leader of the school’s remarkable ascent as an acknowledged leader in Christian liberal-arts education. Westmont’s beautiful new Ridley-Tree Museum of Art, as well as its outstanding reputation as a training center for all kinds of artists, reflects Askew’s original vision and stand as a testament to his persistence and generosity. The R. Anthony Askew Gallery in Westmont’s Adams Center for the Visual Arts was named for him and serves as the school’s main space for displaying student work.
As an artist, Askew remains rooted in printmaking, but he’s extremely adept in many other media. His assemblage works are among the best that have been made on the West Coast; in part through his example, Santa Barbara has become a recognized center for this delicate craft of discovery, salvage, and juxtaposition. His abstract paintings and many lithographs and etchings reflect the harmony and balance of nature through a sophisticated pictorial sensibility. Each summer, Askew travels to Santa Fe, where he produces most of his work. In fall, he returns home with an abundance of fresh images, as well as a renewed sense of purpose to approaching the classroom.
Grown in the Zone: Brad Nack as Curator
For Brad Nack, the executive directorship of the Arts Fund comes as both the logical next step in his prolific activities as a curator and as something of a surprise. For the Arts Fund, Nack’s appointment signals a re-centering of the organization’s energies on the core of its original mission, which is to empower artists who live and work in Santa Barbara. Best known for his annual reindeer paintings and events, Nack has had a colorful career, or a series of them, including stints as manager of the popular Santa Barbara rock group Toad the Wet Sprocket and a longstanding gig waiting tables at Roy alongside fellow native Santa Barbaran Spencer Barnitz.
For Nack, the road to becoming the full-time executive director of the Arts Fund was paved by a highly successful collaboration with Michael McColm, the owner of MichaelKate Interiors & Art Gallery, which sits just across the street from the Arts Fund. It was at MichaelKate that Nack began curating large shows featuring artists from all over Southern California, with a particular emphasis on showcasing the talents of those who had come up either through or alongside the educational system in which Askew and Brad’s father had taught.
When asked if he felt the success of the exhibits at MichaelKate had led to his new role with the Arts Fund, Nack said, “Yes, I think this new job did 100 percent come out of the curating I had done at MichaelKate, and here’s what I discovered about that: When you’re an artist and working primarily for yourself, the furthest things can go is the sale. Don’t get me wrong — selling work is great, but when you are by yourself, that’s sort of the end of it. When you begin doing things for other people, like curating shows and putting different artists together in them, you start getting involved in other things. So being in the Funk Zone and curating all these shows caused me to develop connections that, as an individual just out for myself, I might never have made, and that’s how I got to know Catherine Gee [a recent former executive director at the Arts Fund] and Kai Tepper and Crista Dix, and all the other great people who are working together to make the Funk Zone a place for artists.”
The Arts Fund’s Feast Your Eyes! takes place Friday, November 7. For more information, visit artsfundsb.org. Brad Nack is also curating his final show for MichaelKate this month, and the opening party is on Friday, September 12, from 5-8 p.m. at 132 Santa Barbara Street in the Funk Zone. For info, visit michaelkate.com.