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Arts Renaissance In Santa Monica: celebrating fifth annual California Arts Day

We are poised on the threshold of a renaissance of the arts in Santa Monica, an explosion of local creativity in a community that has already contributed much to art and culture domestically and internationally.

Many resources make Santa Monica a wonderful place to live, and one of them is that more visual and performing artists, arts presenters, designers, architects and film and music producers live in Santa Monica per capita than in any other city in California.  In the last ten years, despite housing challenges for artists and an uncertain economy, the number of non-profit arts agencies in Santa Monica has more than doubled.  In our small town, we enjoy sixty commercial art galleries, numerous live theaters and movie theaters, many bookstores and a myriad of music venues, helping to attract and anchor a large and diverse creative population and enrich Santa Monica’s cultural and economic base.

Uniquely, we have access to art.  Why is that important to Santa Monica?

We live in a corporate culture where ubiquitous advertising motivates us to achieve, to buy, to consume, and to endlessly pursue the transient pleasures of the material world.  But where’s the inspiration in our lives?  The role of the arts is not to motivate, but to inspire, bringing us a higher perspective.  The arts help us understand who we are, to appreciate one another, and regain a sense of wondrous adventure about our world.

In Santa Monica, we have the opportunity to participate in live performances, interact with working artists on the cutting edge of  contemporary culture, and ourselves become not passive consumers of packaged entertainment but participants in the artistic process, discovering that each of us hosts a creative flame seeking expression.

Santa Monica offers ongoing venues like Miles Playhouse in Reed Park for theater, music, and dance, and annual events like the Santa Monica Festival in Clover Park.  Art exhibitions from edgy to traditional are available for the sampling any time at Bergamot Station, the California Heritage Museum, the 18th Street Arts Center, or the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Santa Monica Symphony performances are free at our historic Civic Center Auditorium.

Recently, City Council support helped save the Santa Monica Playhouse, which not only entertains the community but provides teaching, involvement, and performance opportunities.  For the last two summers the Shakespeare Santa Monica Company has performed free in Reed Park, and for over two decades our community has hopped, bopped, rocked and swung to free Twilight Dance Series concerts on the Santa Monica Pier.

Santa Monica walls and bridges sport murals from the tranquil (the forest at Ocean Park and Lincoln) to the cultural (the exciting new mural at Virginia Avenue Park) to the whimsical (the pair of newly restored murals on either side of Ocean Park’s 4th Street overpass, one showing escaped wooden carousel horses from the Santa Monica Pier running free down the beach).

Public art is integrated into our famously pedestrian-oriented streetscape, thanks to a visionary program started twenty years ago called “Per Cent for the Arts,” which sets aside money from every public project.  The concept has been so successful in enlivening Santa Monica that we are considering extending it to commercial development as well.

According to the mission statement of the Santa Monica Arts Commission, “The city of Santa Monica considers support of the arts a basic city service.  We believe that a culturally diverse community of arts and arts organizations is essential to the cultural, educational, social and economic vitality of our city.”

Our Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has long been acknowledged for understanding the crucial role the arts play in learning.  Under a new arts policy recently passed by the SMMUSD Board, our schools are currently highlighted on the front page of the California Alliance for Art Education website (http://www.artsed411.org) as an example of how community and City Council support have empowered strong visionary school leadership to provide excellent arts opportunities for our children.  Fundraisers with generous local music legends like Jackson Browne, and partnerships with the local non-profit P.S. Arts have brought general music programs into every elementary school in Santa Monica.

This Friday is the fifth annual California Arts Day, an occasion for artists, children, and others throughout the state to celebrate music, visual art, dance, poetry and theater.  One has to wonder how Sacramento can declare a holiday, though, given the tragic trend in state funding for arts and culture in California.  Despite a 2004 study showing California’s 10,000 non-profit arts organizations trigger $5.4 billion in economic activity and support over 160,000 jobs, state funding for arts and artists has all but disappeared.

As of 2000, California state government was dedicating almost a dollar per year per resident to the arts, a level of funding that put us squarely in the middle of state rankings, 24th out of 50 in per capita arts support. Since then, that annual funding has slipped to five or six cents per Californian, making us 48th of 50.  This is shameful and extremely shortsighted for California, which has more arts-related businesses and people employed in the creative industries than any other state.

I’m proud to say support for the arts is one of the many areas where our city of Santa Monica bucks disturbing state trends.  Our City Council increased direct arts funding to local organizations this year, adding to the support we can give through four full-time employees, as well as part-time and contract support. Individual artists enjoy city-subsidized work space in a formerly-abandoned hangar at Santa Monica Airport.  Just as with education funding, what Sacramento won’t do for the arts, Santa Monica must.

We in Santa Monica have much to celebrate on this Fifth Annual California Arts Day.  Our own renaissance of the arts in Santa Monica is truly beginning, and you are invited to join the celebration and share the inspiration.

If you’re new to Santa Monica’s arts vibrancy, or have lived here for years but never realized just how much culture and inspiration is right around the next corner in our town, subscribe to City Hall’s weekly email arts newsletter, “Arts Palette.”  Just send a message to smarts@smgov.net, and put the word “subscribe” in the subject line of your email.

Beginning this Saturday, October 8th, we will showcase fourteen Santa Monica artists at Clover Park, 2600 Ocean Park Boulevard, in our fifth annual Fresh Art program (reported in The Mirror last week).  For details and ongoing updates on all of our Santa Monica city arts programs, see http://arts.santa-monica.org.Ed. Note: In fact, before the City redeveloped Third Street, Santa Monica had many more bookstores than it has now. Among the bookstores we’ve lost is the legendary Midnight Special.

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