With city elections just around the corner, council and mayoral candidates are competing for our votes. This coming Monday, September 21, artists and art appreciators will have a chance to ask the candidates how they plan to support the arts as the city negotiates tight economic times. This forum is a rare opportunity, and it’s happening thanks to a group of committed arts advocates: the Santa Barbara Arts Collaborative (SBAC).
The group first formed as a task force in 2007 when delegates at the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission’s annual arts symposium recognized the necessity of seeking alternative funding sources in light of dwindling public funds. After months of planning, SBAC held its first public meeting last June at the Contemporary Arts Forum, inviting artists, administrators, and enthusiasts from across the community to take part in an open-ended conversation about keeping the arts vibrant in Santa Barbara. About 90 people attended, and a lively conversation ensued. Since then, SBAC has met on a monthly basis, taking advantage of spaces donated by different arts organizations. Every meeting is open to all interested parties. “If you love the arts and want to collaborate with others on ways to sustain all the arts in Santa Barbara,” its latest newsletter reads, “you are already a member of the SBAC.”
To Rod Hare, SBAC chair and member of the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation’s Education Outreach team, bringing artists together and building connections is crucial to maintaining a viable arts community. “SBAC has its origins in the notion of arts sustainability and treating the arts community as an ecosystem,” he explained on the phone last week. “We have to find a way for it to sustain itself.”
To that end, SBAC has identified five primary goals for its work in the near future. In addition to building a core group of members who represent a broad cross-section of artistic interests and who will meet regularly, SBAC hopes to raise $50,000 by December 2009 to be distributed as mini-grants to Santa Barbara artists. The organization has launched a Facebook page and is working on a Web site where members can interact and share their work. It also aims to serve as a resource-matching service for the arts community, and has designated a marketing committee that will work to promote SBAC’s work.
Ginny Brush, executive director of the County Arts Commission, has been active in getting SBAC up and running, and believes this kind of collaboration is crucial to the survival of the arts in communities like ours. “The spirit of collaboration, volunteerism, creative problem solving, and entrepreneurial energy being generated by the Arts Collaborative is phenomenal and very refreshing,” she said recently. “In these very challenging times for arts organizations and artists, I believe Santa Barbara is creating a model that other communities will look to in the future.”
While Santa Barbara’s politicians are gearing up for a competitive race, Hare said the aim of SBAC is to help the arts community establish cooperative ways of working rather than competing for limited resources. “It can become competitive in the arts,” Hare explained. “We are trying to approach it differently. If anyone in the community is doing something wonderful, we want everyone else to know about it. We want to truly collaborate. How do we create an organization that builds that ethic into its DNA?”
That’s the question SBAC members will be asking themselves in future meetings as the organization continues to develop a formal structure and to make progress toward its initial goals. It’s also a question City Council and mayoral candidates should be pondering as they prepare for Monday night’s event. “Our main objective is to get candidates on record about what they say they will do to support and sustain the arts,” Hare said of the forum, adding, “Most of the major candidates are confirmed. We want to hear from everyone.”
The Santa Barbara Arts Collaborative will host a candidates’ forum at the Marjorie Luke Theatre (721 E. Cota St.) on Monday, September 21, from 7-9 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. To learn more about SBAC, visit the organization’s Facebook page, go to sbartscollaborative.org, or call the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission at 568-3990.