In the latest of the ongoing departures from the staff of the Santa Barbara News-Press, Tom Jacobs, the paper’s highest-profile full-time arts writer, announced his resignation last week. Jacobs, who has written about theater, classical music, jazz, popular music, opera, and books, will be assuming the role of communications director for the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura. Jacobs’s departure brings the News-Press carnage to a new battlefront: Scene magazine, the weekly arts and entertainment insert published by the News-Press every Friday. For months, Scene has managed to remain relatively unaffected by the turmoil afflicting the News-Press newsroom, largely due to the efforts of Jacobs and freelance colleagues Joe Woodard and Ted Mills, but the magazine will now face major challenges as it seeks to replace Jacobs’s steady stream of informative and original previews and interviews.
The news spread rapidly through the close-knit Santa Barbara arts community. At the May 30 meeting of the Santa Barbara Performing Arts League, “there were gasps and groans heard throughout the room” when the departure was announced, according to an open letter to Jacobs drafted by PAL co-chairs Julie McLeod and Bob Potter. Roman Baratiak, film and lectures director of UCSB’s Arts and Lectures program, said Santa Barbara has been “blessed to have Tom writing about the arts. He has such a broad range of interests-they go way beyond the standard definition of art to include psychology and politics.” Baratiak noted that Jacobs was responsible for some of the most effective and insightful interviews published by the News-Press, and that his voice would be missed by all those interested in culture in Santa Barbara.
Publicist Julia McHugh, who has worked with Jacobs on a weekly basis for more than 11 years, was effusive in her praise. “From Finnish theater to Marilyn Horne, Tom always got it,” she said. “His breadth of knowledge is matched only by his genuine enthusiasm for art and his desire to learn. Honestly, he is one of the smartest guys I know, and one of the greatest pleasures of my job comes whenever I get Tom to laugh. He has such a great laugh and smile-his happiness is infectious. We really were partners in crime, co-conspirators in the promotion of all kinds of art and performance in this town.” Rod Lathim, arts activist extraordinaire and captain of the Marjorie Luke Theatre renovation project, said he could “talk for hours about Tom Jacobs and what he has meant to Santa Barbara. He epitomizes the journalist who is interested in supporting and nurturing the arts. He’s always interesting and articulate, and he is a man of the highest integrity. I am thrilled for the Rubicon, but there is no doubt he will be missed, and there is no doubt that, in losing him, the News-Press is losing a big chunk of its institutional memory in relation to the arts.” Fellow theater critic and Los Angeles Times contributor Philip Brandes agreed with Lathim’s assessment, adding that he has the utmost respect for Jacobs as a critic and a journalist. In response to the news of Jacobs’s resignation, Brandes wrote, “For 13 years, the Santa Barbara arts community has been fortunate in having a quality of reporting usually reserved for much larger cities. Tom’s insightful writing has helped shape awareness and appreciation of our cultural resources, and raised our standards and expectations. It will be a real challenge to maintain the level of discourse he brought to our arts coverage.”
Attendees at The Independent Theater Awards on May 21st were fortunate to experience Jacobs’s great wit and public good spirits when he took the stage-anonymously, just to be on the safe side-and asked the audience in a friendly tone, “So, how was your year?” For Jacobs, the past year hasn’t been easy. We are deeply grateful for the work he has done, and we wish him well.