There was a time when the obvious path for an aspiring artist was to become the apprentice of a master. In today’s market-driven economy, it’s much more common for a young artist to invest thousands of dollars in art school, or to cross her fingers and go it alone. Julie McLeod, for one, thinks that’s a shame.
McLeod is the founder of Art Without Limits, a new nonprofit organization with the mission of empowering promising artists in Santa Barbara County by providing intensive one-on-one mentorships with established arts professionals. As she sees it, there are two kinds of support budding artists need most: personal encouragement and practical training in the business of being an artist.
Those involved in the Santa Barbara arts community will know McLeod as the founder of the now-defunct Dance Warehouse, and a tireless force behind the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance for some 30 years. The ex-Broadway dancer has given her life to championing the arts in this community, and at an age when others might consider themselves retired, her energy and enthusiasm for her cause remains boundless. Over breakfast last week, McLeod rattled off a list of skills necessary for a successful career in the arts today, from securing business licenses and insurance to grant writing and budgets. “Academies don’t teach those things,” she said. The other thing art school students don’t always get is an advocate—someone they know believes in them and in their work. McLeod thinks that’s one of the most important resources an artist can have. “If someone puts their faith in you and says, ‘Hey, you can do it,’ then you can do it,” she remarked.
“To have a mentor as wise and experienced as Julie inspires me to dream big, to expand and clarify my vision for this community,” Gilbertson explained.
Many associate the concept of mentorship with youth, but Art Without Limits welcomes applications from artists age 13 and up. That means no one is too old to benefit from the guidance of a more experienced artist. Among those already taking part in the program is 35-year-old Cybil Gilbertson, who has worked in Santa Barbara as a professional modern dancer for more than 15 years. Last year, Gilbertson launched NECTAR, a quarterly performing arts showcase. She started out with limited experience in directing and marketing and approached Art Without Limits looking for a mentor to guide her in the business of producing art events. Under McLeod’s guidance, Gilbertson is learning to write press releases and grant applications, format digital images for reproduction, and sell advertising. “To have a mentor as wise and experienced as Julie inspires me to dream big, to expand and clarify my vision for this community,” Gilbertson explained. “She is guiding me from a career as a performer to a career as a director and community leader.”
While Gilbertson has benefited specifically from McLeod’s business acumen, Art Without Limits also offers more traditional apprenticeships. Aspiring social documentary photographer Elite Henenson says being paired with renowned artist Macduff Everton has pushed her to refine her own style. “He shows me his latest portraits and work by other great photographers,” the 28-year-old S.B. City College student explained. “We critique my work together, and I notice things I haven’t seen before. Our one-on-one interaction allows me to pick the brain of one of the best photographers in the field.”
Art Without Limits is still in its infancy, and McLeod is encouraging both experienced and emerging artists to apply. Plans are in the works for a quarterly sharing between those involved, as well as for an Arts Career Day where young artists (and their parents) can learn about a variety of creative professions. In the meantime, the organization is already acting as a fiscal receiver for affiliate artists and groups that lack nonprofit status.
Ultimately, McLeod’s mission is to nurture and sustain the arts in Santa Barbara. “What would we do without artists?” she asked. “What would we do without people who believe in our talents and abilities? I think without creativity, there is a death—it affects our entire lives: our society, our government, and our businesses. Creativity is something we have to nurture in everyone.”
To learn more about Art Without Limits, call 565-1332, visit awolsb.org, or email Julie McLeod at email@example.com.