For Art's Sake
The 4th annual Indy Awards
ART HAS AN ENEMY. Its name? Call this waking nightmare the conventional wisdom, or "playing it safe," or "oh, that'll never work." Whatever title it sports, this ponderous bogeyman scares the life out of more creative endeavors than any of us will ever know.
We can only thank our lucky stars that a few bold souls shrug off its grim embrace to make their artistic dreams a reality. Otherwise, life here in the North Bay (and everywhere else) would be a lot less interesting.
Every year, the Bohemian seeks to recognize those independent spirits with the Indy Awards, an annual award ceremony that shines a spotlight on individuals and institutions who make a unique contribution to the North Bay arts scene.
The recipients, selected by the newspaper's editorial board, are always an eclectic group working in a variety of creative fields, from music to the visual arts to administration.
This year is no different: whether they're bringing a world-famous playwright to Santa Rosa or opening the doors on Sonoma County's only movie theater dedicated to independent films, these folks give conventional wisdom a solid sock in the smacker.
In the process, they make our world a funkier, fresher, more creative place to live.
Dream team: Ky Boyd and Ian Price--lords of the North Bay art-house scene
Rialto Cinemas Lakeside
"If it's playing everywhere else, it's definitely not playing here--that's our unspoken motto," says Ky Boyd, who with partner Ian Price last year transformed the aging Lakeside movie theater in Santa Rosa into a haven for nonmainstream movie buffs.
The old black decor, neon, and video games are gone--replaced by upgraded sound and projection, Tuscany-inspired colors in the lobby (with a mural, bedecked with golden hills and vineyards, painted by Boyd's cousin), and a small cafe.
Sticking to their niche of independent, foreign, and classic movies, the two men have proved to skeptics that there is indeed a local audience for a five-screen art house.
"We were amazed at how quickly the whole county embraced our theater and our programming," says Boyd, adding that attendance is up 40 percent over last year. "People used to drive to San Francisco and Berkeley to see films that tell stories and are a little offbeat."
Boyd, 36, says he and Price are currently mulling over opening a second theater, in Petaluma. "It's a kind of down-the-road project," he explains. "We're researching whether the county could support it."
The Rialto also excels in working with community groups. The theater sets up screenings on a regular basis for nonprofit organizations, such as the Jewish Film Series, a KRCB public radio film series, and a Gay Men's film series with Face to Face. "We're very much into being part of the community," says Boyd.
The two men are grateful to the Rialto's loyal following. "It's been really rewarding to start a business the community really embraces," explains Boyd, adding that in the wake of so many theater closures, anxious patrons routinely ask if the Rialto will be next.
"It's touching," says Boyd. "But we're here for the long haul."--Paula Harris
Touched by an angel: Jean Schulz, the Santa Rosa philanthropist and wife of the late 'Peanuts' creator Charles Schulz (with Summer Repertory Theatre artistic director Frank Zwolinski), has blessed a broad range of Sonoma County arts organizations with financial support.
"I don't like to talk about my work in the community," says Jean Schulz, eager to dismiss her extensive philanthropic endeavors. "I just do what I do."
While her late husband, the internationally famous cartoonist and "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz was no stranger to the limelight, the gracious Jeannie, 62, seems to shy away from it. "I simply give to the arts as I give to other organizations in the community," she explains. "I enjoy the arts, and I think they are important in the life of the community."
But the fact remains that Schulz has long lent a helping hand to a myriad of arts organizations and future arts projects. The list runs the gamut. Among other projects, she's created matching grant programs for both the Summer Repertory Theatre and for the Don and Maureen Green Music Center, worked extensively with the Sonoma County Community Foundation, and extended crucial financial assistance to the Sonoma Museum of Visual Art's recent Burning Man celebration and exhibit.
"[Schulz's] interest has allowed me to do my work more deeply and has also helped so many others do theirs," says SMOVA director Gay Shelton. "She has enhanced the cultural life of the community."
Schulz, who has lived in Sonoma County since 1962, says she derives great pleasure from helping develop the local arts scene.
"I think Sonoma County is a haven for artists--and for people to understand the life joy that comes to people from doing, performing, and sharing their art," she says. "We have that here. If we can understand how it enhances their lives, we can also understand how it can enhance our own lives."--P.H.
At the helm: Argo Thompson, Actors Theatre artistic director--the world's a stage.
"It's exhilarating to be surrounded by such a vibrant and passionate community of theater artists," says Argo Thompson, artistic director of Sonoma County's Actors Theatre, describing the vibe that currently surrounds the North Bay theater scene.
"It makes me think of Paris in the 1920s, a time when art and science were coming together, when the writers and painters and theater artists were conspiring to explore the differentness of the emerging world. There's something very much like that happening here in the North Bay."
If so, a lot of it is happening at Actors Theatre.
What began 18 years ago as a band of rogue theater artists eager to sink their teeth into meatier and more challenging material has become a sanctuary for theater lovers on both sides of the fourth wall.
Among the company's biggest accomplishments of the past year: staging critically acclaimed productions of both halves of Tony Kushner's epic drama Angels in America. AT also managed to persuade Kushner himself to appear in person at the Luther Burbank Center for a fascinating onstage dialog with talk-show host Michael Krasny.
More than any other company north of the Golden Gate, Actors Theatre has earned a reputation for staging local theatrical premieres (Torch Song Trilogy, One Flea Spare), frequently giving new plays--by writers from around the world--their first staging anywhere.
"Our dream," says Thompson (pictured above), "is for more and more playwrights to recognize Actors Theatre as a desirable stomping ground, a testing place for the next great plays of the 21st century."--David Templeton
Stu Blank was a sweet guy with a rough edge. "He was one of those characters who could bite you now and then," musician Jim Corbett says of the late, great Blank, who died of cancer earlier this summer. "He was the kind of guy who didn't always tell you what you wanted to hear, but would always tell you what you needed to know. At the same time, he was also a real spiritual guy. Stu was always looking for the light in people."
When Stu Blank died--after a long fight that inspired dozens of Bay Area musicians to join forces in a series of medical-bill fundraising concerts--the music world lost one of its most colorful players, a guy known for wild stunts on and off the stage. The night he set a piano on fire, for instance, has become the stuff of rock-and-roll legend.
Less well known were Stu Blank's efforts to help other musicians, an impulse that, in 1998, led to the forming of the Sonoma County Music Foundation. Co-founded by Corbett, local musician Buzzy Martin, and others, the nonprofit organization--conceived by Blank, named by Corbett--was formed to bring local musicians together and to find ways to help musicians in the local industry. Such help included finding new venues for people to play, giving advice on how to deal with promoters and record companies, and arranging low-cost legal council.
"Stu was looking to do something above and beyond the playing aspect," says Corbett, "doing something that helped other people." Apparently the effort was successful. Blank's memorial service was jammed with musicians sharing stories about the time Stu Blank helped them out.
"It's amazing," says Corbett, "how many people he touched."--D.T.
Paint the Town
Youth in Arts Italian Street Painting Festival
Every June, the streets of downtown San Rafael lose themselves in an Italian affair. Suddenly, pavement that normally groans beneath the load of a hundred sports utility vehicles an hour is freed up to serve a higher purpose.
Artists from across California converge on this upscale mission town to commit hundreds of fantastic visions to the asphalt during the Italian Street Painting Festival. They get company--lots of it. An estimated 50,000 spectators come to watch the work develop over the course of the weekend-long event, which was founded in 1994 by Youth in Arts, a non-profit arts education organization.
"It's a rare occasion for the average person to see art being created," explains festival director and founder Sue Carlomagno, 54. "It's not too often they can watch an artist make creative decisions. People are enthralled by the process."
Hundreds of artists participate, from school children to weekend-warrior amateur adults to internationally recognized professionals. Carlomagno estimates that about 60 percent hail from Marin and Sonoma counties, though at least one participant this past June came from Italy. It works the other way, too: Several North Bay-based artists who honed their chops in the San Rafael event are now well-respected participants in Grazie di Curtatone, the festival in Italy that inspired Carlomagno to create the San Rafael event.
But young or old, Californian or Italian, the artists work together in teams to create images ranging from reproductions of European masterpieces to cyberpunk goddesses.
And then, just as suddenly, the art is gone.
"We seal coat the street to prepare the surface for the artists and then we reseal coat the street to restore the rough surface," Carlomagno explains. "By Monday at 4:30 you would never know that anything took place there." --Patrick Sullivan
The 4th annual Indy Awards take place Wednesday, Sept. 5. Meet the winners, celebrate the North Bay arts scene and enjoy free food and drink. The fun runs from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Sonoma County Museum, 425 Seventh St., Santa Rosa. Admission is free. 707/527-1200, ext. 225.
From the August 23-29, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.