David Starkey on the set interviewing various guests. Clockwise from top left: author Erica Jong, director Andrew Davis, comedian Jim Hawthorne, and underwater filmmaker Mike deGruy.

Santa Barbara’s culture vultures have saved the date of January 21, the fourth season premiere of The Creative Community, Channel 21’s showcase for area artists of all stripes. Host David Starkey and Santa Barbara Channels executive director Hap Freund stopped to talk to The Independent about the show’s beginnings, its progress, and its goals for the new season.

“The program has led the way as we’ve shaped Channel 21 into a venue for culture, arts, and education,” said Freund. “Before we became a nonprofit five years ago, the channel was operated by UCSB as educational access but carried very little local content. It was hard to know if anybody was watching. We started thinking, what can we do with this? How can we make it relevant to our own community?”

Born of that mission, The Creative Community became a reality through a lucky confluence of interests. “I had a play produced in 2004,” recalled Starkey, also a playwright, poet, and professor of English at SBCC. “We made a DVD of it, which someone told me this local arts channel might broadcast.” When he called in to Channel 21’s studio to help fix what turned out to be a scratch on the disc, Starkey got to talking with Freund.

“It sounded as if the station was looking to produce more material in-house,” said Starkey, “so I volunteered my services.” Having originally envisioned an all-writer guest list, Starkey was persuaded to cast a wider net, a choice which, in time, bore fruit. “Back then, we had to reach out to get guests to come on, but now it’s the opposite. It’s been a total shift from ‘Whom can we get?’ to ‘Whom should we select?'”

The show first aired in January 2005, and now hosts a large, vibrant population of creators. “An astonishing number of people have artistic careers in this city of 90,000,” Starkey observed. To his mind, the show is not just entertainment; it’s a video archive of Santa Barbara’s artistic activity. “If 50 years from now someone does a dissertation on the arts in Southern California, this will be a treasure trove of what people are making, what they’re thinking, and the issues they’re involved with.”

The Creative Community‘s format remains essentially identical to that of day one: 30 minutes, almost always unedited. In the three intervening years, however, the details have come a long way. “The set’s nicer now,” said Starkey, “and I’m a lot better at what I do, with a clearer sense of how I want things to go. And I don’t get nervous; I used to be as nervous as the guests!”

“David’s been a great host,” said Freund. “He’s informal, he’s prepared, and he doesn’t dominate. He has a lot of interests. He’s involved in both poetry and playwriting, but he’s also vitally interested in anything related to culture. He’s a modern Renaissance man. He’s recognized wherever he goes in town.”

“I’ve always loved the literary interview, the interview on the page, like in the Paris Review,” Starkey said, discussing his influences. “And Bill Moyers, who asks obvious questions in intelligent ways; he invites the guest to start by talking about what they know, then considering things they hadn’t before. I think that’s the ideal.”

On the table’s other side, Starkey remembers radio and television personality Jim Hawthorne, comedian Mary Rose Betten, and novelist Erica Jong as outstanding guests. Even lesser-known figures have provided some of the show’s most powerful moments: “The poet Bruce Schmidt recounting his time in Vietnam, the artist Jana Zimmer talking about the half sister she never knew, killed in the Holocaust,” Starkey recalled. “Those times when intellect and emotion come together are unforgettable.” Two award-winning conversations with underwater filmmakers Mike deGruy and Annie Crawley are also points of pride for the show. “I keep looking for people who are under-acknowledged,” Starkey said. “The best guest is the one you didn’t realize had such a long, distinguished career.”

“It’s been really exciting,” Freund said of the program’s visitors. “We’ve had the director Andy Davis. We’ve had Nobel laureate Walter Kohn, who did a documentary on solar power. We’re starting to do more field shoots, where we go out to the guests’ studios. We even shot a poetry reading on Anacapa Island.”

Plans for the future include bringing in more interviewees from film and television, publishing the show’s conversations in book form, and, above all, continuing to broadcast discourse with depth. “The program is a community service, but not one that feels like having to pick up trash on the highway,” said Starkey. “It’s pretty highbrow-for people who think about ideas and like to have their views challenged. I’m grateful for the chance to create something that I think couldn’t exist on commercial television, or even PBS. A guy sitting in a chair eliciting meaningful intellectual conversation: I don’t think you’d see that anywhere else.”


The Creative Community airs daily on Channel 21. See sbchannels.tv for broadcast times.


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