Mixed media "Shtetl, (Village)", by Margaret Singer.

If you’re not a member of the Santa Barbara Jewish community, you may never have stepped foot inside the Bronfman Family Jewish Community Center on Chapala Street. Regardless of your connection to Jewish culture, the center welcomes visitors, and those with an interest in art will find it a particularly rich visit this summer. This Sunday, Art at the JCC opens Contemporary Expressions: Jewish Artists, an exhibition of works by more than 20 high-caliber California artists, most of whom are based in the region. Here are a few reasons to check out the show, which runs through September 30.

1) It’s stimulating: Curator Lynn Holley was inspired by a series of questions posed by Brandeis University sociologist Shulamit Reinharz: “Is Jewish art any art produced by a Jewish artist, regardless of content? Is Jewish art any art product that focuses on a specifically Jewish theme? Where does the Jewishness lie-in the artist or in the art?” This diverse exhibition doesn’t promise to answer these questions, but they definitely serve to enrich the viewing experience.

2) It’s timely: The exhibition includes work by a number of Holocaust survivors, all of whom are now late in life. This is a rare chance to appreciate work by living artists who endured such a catastrophic and pivotal period of modern history. “We wanted to admire their work while they’re still vibrant,” Holley explained. There’s no better way to learn your cultural history than from those who experienced it, and there’s no time like the present.

3) It features some serious talent: Among the artists whose work is included in the show are Santa Barbara-based Margaret Singer, whose mixed media works “Shtetl (Village)” and “Musicians” capture the spirit of a people, as well as the horror of oppression. Also onboard, Israeli artist Rita Blitt, whose sculptures, drawings, and paintings are the subjects of a number of films. The artists involved range from elderly to college-aged and from emerging to internationally recognized, but the quality of work is consistently high.

4) It’s a chance to schmooze: The opening reception comes at a turning point for the Jewish Federation as it welcomes a new executive director, so organizers expect a good turnout from the community. Come join the party this Sunday, July 12, from 3-5 p.m. at the Bronfman Family Jewish Community Center (524 Chapala St.). In case you miss the reception, the gallery is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 957-1115 or visit jewishsantabarbara.org.


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