On Friday, April 26, the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission hosted its eighth annual Symposium for the Arts, expounding two major goals for the coming year: to expand Santa Barbara’s cultural footprint, and to engage the community through the arts.

Throughout the conference, which took place in the Canary Hotel’s lavish Riviera Ballroom, collaboration seemed to be the name of the game. Around 100 attendees participated in Friday’s open forum, bouncing ideas off one another and advocating for cooperation, flexibility, imagination, and innovation to more seamlessly integrate arts and culture into Santa Barbara’s community life.

Since losing funding from the City of Santa Barbara Redevelopment Agency in 2011, the County Arts Commission has struggled to fund the use of various public spaces around town, thereby stymieing access to local public art. However, according to Ginny Brush, the Commission’s Executive Director, arts and culture constitute a significant portion of Santa Barbara’s economic fabric, and therefore warrant more serious prioritization.

The symposium’s list of esteemed guest speakers included Mayor Helene Schneider, who delivered a live, in-office address via webcam. Also in attendance were Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Chryss Yost, who dazzled the audience with a reading of her original work, and Steven Sharpe, Executive Director of Opera Santa Barbara, whose impassioned speech urged the community to bring all the arts together as one unit instead of viewing them as disparate entities.

The County Arts Commission also tapped its former leader, Victoria Hamilton, for advice on how to better nurture the local art movement. Hamilton, now the founding director of the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, headed up Santa Barbara’s local arts agency from 1988–2012, and returned to the symposium on Friday to help advocates zero in on some sort of master plan for the year. Sharing a few choice success stories from her tenure in San Diego, Hamilton urged Santa Barbara to adopt initiatives similar in spirit to “Trolley Dances,” a savvy marriage of art and public transportation, and her own successful “Penny for the Arts” plan, which increases funding for arts and culture via the city’s Transient Occupancy Tax.

Before the conference broke into smaller groups for specialized discussions and workshops (including an examination of Santa Barbara’s burgeoning creative district, the Funk Zone, and a discussion led by acclaimed poet David Starkey about the power of the spoken word), Nathan Vonk, president of the Santa Barbara Arts Collaborative, presented this year’s Enterprise Grant recipients. The winners — four young artists and entrepreneurs helming innovative, sustainable, and collaboration-based projects — each received $1,000–$1,500 in grant money to fund their creative visions.

Every year, the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission’s Symposium for the Arts presents local artists and community activists the opportunity to make goals, establish valuable connections, and work together so that these networks flourish into working relationships. Thanks to all those who participated in Friday’s symposium, who believe in the transformative powers of creative expression, Santa Barbara’s already-formidable arts and culture scene is set to become a lot more vibrant in the next year.


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