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North Bay Bohemian's Indy Awards 

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The Indies

The North Bay Bohemian's fifth annual arts awards

Art is life, isn't that what they say? Someone says it. Such a generalization becomes even wider when applied to "the arts," then. Encompassing vague terms like culture and entertainment, the arts cut a vast swath across our lives. Where would we be without them? Bored and lonely, no doubt.

Luckily for us in the North Bay, we are never without arts. Choosing worthy recipients for this year's Indy Awards was a monumental task. There were a lot of candidates on the table (and a lot of bottles of wine there too). Our dedicated editorial board debated each and every one--and each conversation turned up new candidates, complicating matters further.

In the end, it's reassuring to know that this is a yearly event, and the chance will arise again next year. Speaking of next year, and last year and the year before, since this is a marker of sorts--five being a number of distinction--we look back at some Indy winners past and discover that while not all our past recipients are doing what they started out doing, they are keeping those lively arts alive.

For Art's Sake Khysie Horn, Quicksilver Mine Company

Forestville's Front Street Gallery may be little more than wood framing and rough cement and sticky scraps of insulation padding today, but this time next year it aims to be a local landmark. Standing in the remodel rubble, owner Khysie Horn yells over the shrill drills in evident delight, "That's my heating and cooling system!"

Horn has spent almost half her life preparing to run the exhibition space that the 1,300-square-foot Front Street Gallery promises to be. Currently maintaining a small dedicated gallery in the back of her Sebastopol gift store, the Quicksilver Mine Company, Horn showcases different area artists every six weeks, hanging only that which pleases her, be it abstract, conceptual, or just plain amazing.

Since 1983, when she began hanging art in the hallway of her first store, then in Guerneville, Horn has exhibited the work of over 450 artists.

"I'm always so amazed and flabbergasted by what people do," she explains. "I have no [fine arts] training, I have no background; I've learned from the people I'm around."

Horn certainly does have a background--it's just in alternative education and human services. While driving all over the Bay Area in the early '80s to complete a master's degree, she was coaxed by friends to open a shop instead. "I had always had this idea that I would love to have a store that would be all locally made things."

To this day, the Quicksilver Mine Company is gloriously countycentric, selling only that which is made within Sonoma County lines. Horn plans to eventually close the Sebastopol shop and make the Front Street Gallery her only project. While there might be some "higher-end fused glass and some nice ceramics," her focus will be on the fine arts, gathering artists together, helping them to find buyers, hosting events, and just generally acting as her own ad hoc, community-serving nonprofit.

"If I took all the time and energy I put into the gift shop and put it into and outside of these four walls and linking with artists," she says, gesturing around the dust of the Forestville space, "it seems to me that it's a possibility that I could make it work."

Given Horn's track record, that's a very good possibility. (GG)

Bucket of Charm Roger Rhoten, Sebastiani Theatre

It is impossible to compare the Sebastiani Theatre to all those sad, soulless, compartmentalized megaplexes that have quietly become the moviegoing mainstream. The multiplexes are just boxes, streamlined serving troughs for the mass distribution of slickly slapped-together product.

The Sebastiani, on the other hand, is a neon-encased bubble of art deco happiness. Located on the square in Sonoma, the 69-year-old movie palace is a trip back in time--but also a step forward, with its devotion to showing the best of non-Hollywood, independent, and foreign cinema.

"It's a charmer," says Sonoma's Roger Rhoten, who has owned, operated, and championed the theater for almost 10 years.

It's also a link to our past. It's what the theaters used to be like, back when movie houses were grander in style than they are today. "It's the difference between going to a fine restaurant and going to McDonalds," adds Rhoten. "Sure, you can get a meal at McDonalds, but the place hasn't got all that much ambiance or magic."

Well, the Sebastiani has plenty of ambiance. And its fair share of magic too--literally. As a part-time professional magician, Rhoten's been known to take the stage before a show to pull a rabbit or two out of thin air.

Which is nothing compared to the miracle of keeping the Sebastiani up and running. Rhoten has done that and more.

Ever since Rhoten, several years back, began screening small-budget independent and foreign films exclusively--with a side helping of live music and theater acts featuring local groups and touring acts from abroad--the venerable Sebastiani has become more than just a cool place to catch a film; it's become a vital community institution.

"That's the special thing about this theater," Rhoten says. "It's the kind of place where you can do a variety of different things. . . . We like to provide a space for local community theater groups and young people who are trying to make their statements in music and the performing arts.

"I feel real lucky that I'm able to be a part of so many different aspects of the theater arts world," says Rhoten. (DT)

Rock and Roll David Fischer, Luther Burbank Center

The pop singer Pink brought out the 12-year-old girls, whose liberal use of pink hair spray must have wreaked havoc in bathrooms across the county. Sexy crooner Al Green brought out an older crowd, lacking in hair on which to apply pink hair spray. And comedian Ellen DeGeneres' crowd was so regaled in rainbow-splashed clothing that pink hair spray would have gone unnoticed.

But these three acts don't even begin to exemplify the diversity that the Luther Burbank Center for the Performing Arts has brought to Sonoma County. For that, one would have to include theater productions, modern art, literary stars, and Latin jazz greats. Also Hall and Oates.

Executive director David Fischer points to this hybrid approach--part highbrow university theater, part large arena venue--as one of the distinguishing features of the LBC, and in the venue's 21 years, the strategy has been refined and polished to a high shine.

The past 14 months--since Fischer took the job--have seen the LBC focus and further define its mission.

He credits his team--Allan Edelstein, Peggy Mulhall, Mark Morrisette, Nancy Farber, Gay Dawson, and Rick Bartalini--for helping the LBC cover that distance. But he's quick to point out that much more is needed.

The 125,000-square-foot facility, which sits on 53 acres, is supported partly by programming and partly by contributions. Popular programming ekes out a profit, which then helps to fund cultural events. Thanks to fans of Natalie Merchant and Jewel and David Sedaris, the LBC can also underwrite educational activities.

"We're the largest arts education service provider in Northern California," says Fischer. "We see that as a crucial piece to our mission."

Six resident companies make their home within the burgundy brick walls of the LBC: the Santa Rosa Symphony, Actors Theater, the Santa Rosa Players, the Santa Rosa Concert Association, Ballet California, and the Golden Gate Geographic Film Society. All receive subsidies from the LBC.

Fischer calls another of the center's linchpins, the Sonoma Museum of Visual Art, "a real jewel." Plans are in the works to triple the museum's square footage by taking over part of the mall and creating a new gallery space and entryway.

Over the next three years, Fischer hopes to expand programming, keeping diversity, quality, and consistency in mind. This year's literary series is a first in the community--look forward this winter to seeing not one but two poets laureate on the LBC stage. Within these walls, the arts flourish. (DB)

Book Sense Copperfield's Books

Most successful bookstores manage to carve a niche out for themselves, but Copperfield's has secured an identity by not only sponsoring frequent literary events, but by growing stronger as large national chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders stake their territory in the North Bay.

Beginning in a 750-foot square Sebastopol storefront, Copperfield's had "a vision of having a full-service independent bookstore that [would also become] a place for community events," says co-owner Paul Jaffe, who, with partner Barney Brown, opened Copperfield's in 1981. "We wanted to set up the bookstore as a place that would welcome literary events. We decided to take that vision and open it up into some other local areas."

Paul's brother Dan Jaffe, who passed away in March, was integral to that vision and served as a third co-owner for 16 years.

Now, Copperfield's has additional stores in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Napa, and Calistoga, with both the Petaluma and Sebastopol locations expanding.

Copperfield's in-store events are particularly strong, thanks to the work of Events Coordinator Jane Love, who regularly brings in both local and internationally known authors. When big-caliber writers--Chuck Palahniuk, Barbara Kingsolver--come to town, Copperfield's tries to turn their appearances into larger events that benefit the community and not just the store itself.

"We've been able to fill enormous halls and funnel money to different groups--Face to Face, literacy groups," says Jaffe.

Copperfield's has also taken the initiative to showcase works by Northern Californian writers in The Dickens, their annual literary review. Pulitzer Prize- winning poets laureate Billy Collins and Robert Hass are judging the poetry submissions for this year's edition. "It's really getting substantially better every year," Jaffe says. "I think it provides a forum for our local writers. . . . It's become an important part of the literary community here at Copperfield's, and we're very proud of it." (SB)

Staging Area Jim dePriest, Sonoma County Repertory Theatre

The logistical confines of an 81-seat, 25-foot-wide theater have not squeezed Sebastopol's Sonoma County Repertory Theatre into narrowing the breadth of their season's offerings or shedding longtime programs such as New Drama Works or Young Actors Conservatory. Begun 13 years ago as the Nova Theatre Company, Sonoma County Repertory has kept a steady stream of lively drama flowing into the North Bay cultural waters in times both thick and thin, and continues to run strong in the region's present dismal climate for live theater.

"We run off the repertory idea in the sense of regional theater," says Jim dePriest, SCR's artistic director for 11 years. "We're not married to any particular type of theater. We do the classics, we do Shakespeare in Ives Park. That's pretty much in our mission statement--to do a wide range of plays, to encourage the new playwrights, to find a forum for their voices."

That forum is New Drama Works, which this year received 300 entries from all over the country. (Red Herring, this year's winner, runs through Sept. 28.) "It's a very active program, and something we're really dedicated to," says dePriest.

Five years ago, SCR closed its second theater on Humboldt Street in Santa Rosa and had been looking to consolidate all of its operations under one (larger) roof. "It's not really easy to find a building that has 12,000 square feet. We have all the equipment from the other theater, plus the theater we have now, and three or four storage units, which are packed to the gunnels.

"It's my hope that this next year, we'll find us a home," he continues. "If we can broaden our base and reputation, we can broaden the type of work we do. It can extend to dance, music."

DePriest credits Sonoma County Repertory's longevity to the strength of the company itself. "You get to know people real well. It becomes a family. We've got actors who have been with us for seven or eight years. Now they've been there so long, people look forward to coming to see them. All these people have families and work, but they are terribly, terribly devoted actors and technicians.

"If we find a building and it's really glorious, that's great. But it's a building. The people who work there, that's our strength. It goes beyond just the creative process." (SB)

Fogged In Gallery Route One

Gallery Route One's Betty Woolfolk credits the fog with helping their success. In chilly Point Reyes, "people can spend only so much time at the beach before they turn around and come back to town." The town she's referring to is little Point Reyes Station--one S-curve of many on Route One along the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Out in West Marin, there is a lot of fog, and artists breed like mold. Gallery Route One provides a focal point--a warm, moist place--for a lot of them. With almost 20 years of focusing on environmental art, Gallery Route One knows its environment.

Mary Mountcastle Eubank, director of the gallery's project space, and Woolfolk, who is the gallery's director of membership, speak in the patois of two women who have known each other a long time. The two of them, along with Toni Littlejohn and Zea Morvitz, are the organization's sturdy legs, providing a table for a "wonderful group of artists," according to Eubank.

Sitting in the bright, airy space, one doesn't have the sense that Gallery Route One has aged much in its 20 years; it's still a youthful, playful place, with a serious side.

The current show, "Turning the Tables," (open through Oct. 20), for example, features everything from a flying cow and a food-chain board game to a condemnation of the chemicals used in dry cleaning.

The gallery, which is run as a nonprofit membership arts organization, isn't limited by its four walls. The Artists in the Schools component gets local kids out of their world and into another, perhaps wilder world, where they complete projects such as creek restoration.

Woolfolk, who manages the gallery's store and its yearly fundraiser, the Box Show, notes that those two components, plus patrons and membership dues, have given them "a pretty solid financial base." Eubank adds grant support and a "fabulous board of directors" to the financial puzzle. That gives them the freedom to be creative and to show work that might not otherwise find gallery space.

They're looking to expand, if they find the right place, but they will stay in West Marin. After all, they need the fog. (DB)

Carving a Niche The Jarvis Conservatory

The Jarvis Conservatory isn't just unique among North Bay performance institutions; it's unique on a national level. In opting to devote most of its energy to the production and study of uncommon theater arts in its yearly workshops (particularly the all-but-forgotten Spanish Zarzuela), the conservatory not only provides an artistic and educational opportunity for performers, but it also stages world-class cultural events that cannot be found elsewhere in the Bay Area--or in the United States.

William Jarvis, proprietor of Napa's Jarvis Winery, and his wife, Leticia, founded the nonprofit Jarvis Conservatory in 1973 to support the study of fine arts. In 1994 Jarvis purchased a building in downtown Napa.

The conservatory's Zarzuela Festival brings to life tragicomic Spanish operettes that incorporate elements of opera, dance, slapstick, and romance. Singers from New York to San Francisco audition for the workshop, and the 24 selectees, plus four dancers from Spain, live in Napa for a month. "From 8am to 8pm or 9pm, they are here doing rehearsals. It's very intense," says Kim Anenson, the conservatory's manager.

The conservatory's other programs include the Puppet Festival and Workshop, which brings in nationally renowned puppeteers, and a chorale concert with three local high schools, where all of the proceeds go to the schools for their music programs.

On the first Saturday of each month, some of the area's finest vocal talent takes an open invitation to sing in an informal setting at the Saturday Opera Night. "They are all trained singers, and most of them want to sing one of the pieces of a show that they're doing. There is some fabulous talent. It's amazing. You'd never know that there are that many talented people where we live." (SB)

A Tale of Indies Past

With five years and 28 past recipients now under our belt, the Bohemian looks back at some faces of the past. As expected, some are flourishing while others have fallen prey to economic woes or other calls to duty.

1998: Nan Washburn, Orchestra Sonoma

Innovative young conductor Nan Washburn, then 42, was awarded an Indy in 1998 for her dedication to new music and to female and minority composers, and for shaking up more in the North Bay than just the string section. Washburn was then the conductor and music director of the Orchestra Sonoma (formerly known as the Rohnert Park Chamber Orchestra), and no one could have foretold that her Sonoma County experiment had only a year left to go.

But go it unfortunately did, a typical casualty of arts underfunding. Also typically, Washburn landed firmly on her feet. One of those feet now straddles the map to Michigan, where she is the music director and conductor of the 57-year-old Plymouth Symphony Orchestra. The other taps away on warmer ground as the artistic director and conductor of the three-year-old West Hollywood Orchestra in Southern California.

"It's a little schizophrenic," she admits with a laugh by phone from her West Hollywood home. Having jumped a plane that morning from Michigan, where chilly breezes and coloring leaves warn of autumn, she alit in L.A. just hours later to surgically enhanced bikinis and top-down convertibles.

Begged to comment on how hugely she must surely miss Sonoma County, Washburn graciously replies, "I still think that [the Orchestra Sonoma] should have worked, but we did some really exciting things. I still hear from musicians and audience members who miss it."

Still dedicated to less traditional programming, she has developed a program around Eastern European music to please her new patrons, continues to play the hugely popular Island of the Blue Dolphins piece commissioned by the then-named Rohnert Park Chamber Orchestra, has just secured Academy Awards gag writer Bruce Villanch to narrate her November program of Peter and the Wolf, and has produced a symphony orchestra piece based on the Japanese art of taiko drumming.

Yet the weirder she makes it, the more that they love it in Michigan. "The innovative things have always been the biggest draw," she says, with only slight wonderment. "I affectionately call Plymouth--which is a very sweet town--'Pleasantville.' It's a very, very sincere, very conservative Midwestern town--and you know what? They love me."

So did we, Nan. So did we. (GG)

1999: IMA

Even back in the fall of 1999, when Ann Hackler and June Millington--cofounders of Bodega's groundbreaking Institute for the Musical Arts--stood at the podium to accept the Indy Award, everyone knew that the IMA's fairy-tale facility on the Sonoma coast was in serious jeopardy.

Still, nobody ever thought IMA was in real danger of disappearing, did they? In spite of losing the lease to the ultracool former creamery where IMA had held lively concerts and effectively birthed dozens of remarkably talented female writer-player-singers, Hackler and Millington were committed to finding a new facility to continue their work.

The good news is they found the perfect place. The bad news: It's thousands of miles from Sonoma County.

"It's just too hard to rent a place here," says Hackler, "and even harder to buy one." That is not the case on the East Coast--Northampton, Mass., to be precise--where IMA has just purchased a 25-acre farm.

While continuing to operate a stripped-down version of IMA from Sonoma County the dynamic duo has made several strong moves toward establishing IMA's presence on the other coast.

Soon they will move operations to the new site, and IMA's West Coast studio space in Bloomfield will be taken over by local musician Jane Clark. Still, says Hackler, since their roots are in Sonoma County, they hope to stay locally involved, staging occasional events such as Sept. 23's DivaFest in Guerneville.

But one can't help feeling the loss.

"It feels like a lot of doors just slammed shut," Hackler says. "Fortunately for IMA, new doors opened up somewhere else." (DT)

2000: Rene di Rosa

When the 84-year-old founder of the Di Rosa Preserve in Napa stepped down as the institution's director earlier this year, there were those who thought he would use his newfound free time for much-deserved rest and relaxation. Those people don't know Rene di Rosa.

Since then, the 2000 Indy recipient has started working with independent filmmaker Les Blank to create a documentary about Northern Californian artists and the preserve. Also during that time, the preserve opened a new gallery called Off the Preserve in downtown Napa.

Plus, di Rosa has been involved in coordinating special events like the upcoming silent auction fundraiser on Oct. 12. And through it all, di Rosa has continued doing what he loves best: searching for outstanding regional art and bringing it to the public at his 53-acre preserve.

The collection, the largest of its kind, has grown to about 2,000 works in all media and represents over 750 artists from the San Francisco Bay Area. Di Rosa says he has bought art from "aliens" a couple of times. "But almost everything here has been created by artists from the area or those who once lived, taught, or worked here," he adds.

Not only has di Rosa worked to bring art to the people in a physical sense, he's been adamant in creating nonpretentious galleries that are accessible on a psychological level too. "I never did like all those stuffy galleries," he says. Those types of places put out the message that people "can't understand art without . . . help. And that's bull.

"[Art isn't] some high ideal or educational experience. It's just a part of life. It's that simple and that complex." (MW)

2001: Ky Boyd and Ian Price, Rialto Cinemas Lakeside

A year ago, when Rialto Cinemas Lakeside in Santa Rosa was awarded an Indy for its commitment to small independent and foreign films, the owners of the theater were cautiously optimistic about their future--and the future of nonmainstream film. One year later, it turns out that their optimism was right on the money.

"Business is up 40 percent from last year," proclaims Ian Price, the six-screen theater's jubilant co-owner. "Things are definitely moving in the right direction."

That's good news for movie fans who prefer fare like Enigma, Y Tu Mamá También, and In the Bedroom to blaring blockbusters.

When Boyd and Price took ownership of the once declining theater a few years back, they caused a bit of a sensation with their plans to run the place as an art house. Until then, that kind of programming was hard to find in Sonoma County. So while the idea was enticing and appealing, plenty of critics expected the endeavor to fail.

Today, the Rialto is a bona fide North Bay institution. The theater has undergone total renovation, with one vital final piece expected to go in place in October: all new, state-of-the-art theater seats.

"It's taken a while, but this is the kind of situation we were counting on from the beginning," Price says. The Rialto's success reflects a rising demand for edgy independent and foreign films. That success is mirrored by positive growth reported by the similarly inclined San Rafael Film Center and by this year's Indy Award-winning Sebastiani Theatre in downtown Sonoma.

"I think as our population ages, the desire for these kinds of films will only increase," says Price. "We'll continue to book great product, and I know people will continue to show up to see it." (DT)

Authors: Davina Baum, Sara Bir, Gretchen Giles, David Templeton, M.V. Wood

From the September 26-October 2, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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