September is filled with art events, so we asked key players in Benicia’s art world for their perspectives on what’s happening in the arts now, and where we go from here.
Larnie Fox, Director, Arts Benicia
When my wife and I moved to Benicia last November, I had been working at Arts Benicia for two and a half years. I had previously worked at the Palo Alto Art Center for fifteen years. We never felt any desire to move to Palo Alto, even though it's a great and important town. We are both artists, and we both dug Benicia. Benicia is attracting artists from all over the Bay Area because it has a combination of advantages that other communities do not have: affordability, available space, a welcoming community and venues that are known and respected across the Bay Area. More than that, it has potential, which forward-thinking folks can see.
Benicia has the Arsenal with Arts Benicia as a hub. There are hundreds of artists, many of them very accomplished, living and working within a stone's throw of Arts Benicia. Arts Benicia has world-class exhibitions, receptions, adult classes, family art days, open mics, artist talks, panel discussions, and plenty of informal and intense discussions to feed the creative souls of folks from the very local scene to across town and the Bay Area as a whole. Our strategy is to pull in nationally and internationally known artists, curators and jurors to elevate the discussion and our reputation, and then to prominently feature our local artists in the same limelight as the heavyweights.
Benicia also has First Street and the waterfront. First Street has the cafés, restaurants, and galleries that the creative class craves; it also has history, ambience and a small town friendliness that other artistic hubs do not have. The City is currently working on a project which will make that part of town a destination, and anchor First Street by becoming an attractor that is unique in the Bay Area. Arts Benicia and the Arts and Culture Commission are working to get innovative public art included in the planning process from the beginning. Reserving space for a couple of sculptures will not do this, but working with artists to integrate history, aesthetics and the environment in a cohesive way will.
We have great schools that are attracting young families. Arts Benicia is working with the school district to run after-school classes on art and the environment. We host a spectacular Next Generation show every spring that features art from every school in town. The value of doing this becomes obvious upon seeing the excited faces of our young artists. Our "Family Art Days" give kids opportunities to encounter art and artists through hands-on projects that the schools can't provide. The district has been very supportive of our efforts.
The town as a whole, and thankfully our City government, "gets it" more often than not when it comes to the importance of the arts. The arts make culture, which makes community—with economic development as a desirable byproduct. I see only progress in Benicia's "state of the arts."
Elaine Eisner, Chair, Benicia Arts and Culture Commission
Arts and culture are Benicia’s signature, identity and strength. They add value to our quality of life and attract visitors. They are important to our past and relevant to our future. Our public art is one of the ways that the arts come alive.
The City’s Arts and Culture Commission, responsible for managing the City’s public art, is hosting a Public Art Community Roundtable—an “idea factory”—on September 25, to solicit ideas for future public art creations and installations. Can you imagine colorful murals on the walls of First Street buildings, or suggestions for artistic landscaping with sculptures? We need input from the community to plan for the future.
Patty Gavin, Chair of the Commission’s Public Art Committee, and committee members, are working with renowned Benicia artists to develop an exciting public art piece for our Community Center. Entitled Wind, Water, Land, it is a re-purposed/recycled glass and metal art collaboration designed by artists Brian Giambastiani, Mike Kendall, David Lindsay, Micheal, Nicholas and David Nourot, and electrical engineer Larry Lauber.
Members of the community are invited to the Commission’s Public Art Community Roundtable on Wednesday, September 25, 6:30pm, at the Benicia Public Library, to participate in discussion groups to generate public art ideas and locations, themes and subjects. The Public Art Committee will draw on the ideas presented and keep interested community members informed.
Pam Dixon, Owner, 621 Gallery
Benicia has everything! For a historic small town, sitting on the Straits, jammed with boutiques housed in charming Victorians, we look like a Hollywood set with panoramic views, bridges, boats, trains, a State Recreation Area and a former State Capital, all graced with a Mediterranean climate.
But what really sets Benicia apart is a thriving arts community. Benicia benefited from a close commute to UC Davis, and the art world benefited as Davis was able to 'grow' a fabulous Arts and Sculpture Department. It was a most exciting time in the arts. Abstract expressionism was wanning, and figuration was embraced by such notables as Dibenkorn, Bischoff and David Park. Artists attract artists, and Benicia had plenty to offer; there were vacant industrial buildings right on the water, just waiting to be turned into studio live-work space. Arts Benicia became the hub of it all, with an art gallery, a vision and hundreds of members!
Pat Ryll, local artist and Plein Air Gallery member
The current outlook in Benicia for the Arts is alive and well—from the economic development side, for the entire community, for our tourism efforts, and for our diverse, professional group of producing artists. Being an artist in Benicia in my retirement years—how fortunate I am! I know the joy of painting every day, showing my work and volunteering with an enthusiastic watercolor class at the Benicia Senior Center.
Within the last 5 years, our town has seen the creation of the Benicia Arts & Culture Commission, Plein Air Gallery, Gallery 621, and the Art Walk. This holiday season will find the Plein Air Gallery celebrating the co-op's fourth year in business—we have a divine spot to promote the Arts. The formation of Gallery 621 followed shortly afterwards; then a group of artists, gallery members, First Street merchants and art supporters began what is now the Benicia Art Walk. Art Walk occurs every second Saturday, April-October, 3-7pm, displaying the work of glass artists, painters, musicians, poets and public art. In October, the Art Walk will feature the colorful tiles of Guillermo Wagner Granizo, embedded in First Street sidewalks. The Benicia Historic Museum will loan a selection of rarely seen Granizo tiles to showcase in the Library. Showcasing our artistic vitality and uniqueness helps make Benicia special!