Creating for a cause
Abel Arts Collective harnesses the power of art to change the world
By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer 06/12/2014
Erik Abel has always tried to serve the greater good through his art. The Ventura-based artist and designer has donated original artwork to numerous nonprofit organizations, including Save the Waves, SurfRider Foundation and Heal the Waves. He’s also collaborated with famous brands like outerwear giant Patagonia and skateboard manufacturer Sector 9 (a subsidiary of Billabong) helping them design apparel and other items that support their charitable initiatives. Abel enjoyed the work and was pleased with his contributions, but more and more he felt as though something was missing. “After you’ve sent off your art, you don’t see how things change. And it’s no fun writing a check,” he says. “The hands-on aspect is what was missing in our nonprofit partnerships.” Craving deeper involvement led him to form the Abel Arts Collective with his fiancée and partner, Nellie Stadtherr.
The Collective aims to bring together artists, development organizations and communities to produce public art projects. “We want to focus on giving back through art,” says Stadtherr, “and we really feel that public art helps raise awareness. It makes a statement, and helps people have a greater connection to something.” Stadtherr holds an MBA in sustainability management from Presidio Graduate School, spent four months in Indonesia doing an internship for Mercy Corps and has worked extensively at bringing for-profit and nonprofit organizations together to carry out environmental and humanitarian objectives. Her marketing savvy and coordination skills are a good foil for Abel’s artistic sensibility. (The sale of his commercial and fine art will also add to the coffers.) Artists who partner with the Collective will have a powerful combination of talents guiding them. “We hope to provide artists with fundraising and coordination assistance, and collaborate with the nonprofit [on their behalf],” Stadtherr explains. “Philanthropy has always been important to me, and art is super-important to Erik. So the Collective is a way for us to create something together that allows us both to shine.”
The Collective’s very first project was in March in the town of Gigante, Nicaragua. The tiny village nestled on the Pacific Ocean is a favorite among surfers but badly in need of infrastructure. Community development organizations Surf for Life and Project WOO (Wave of Optimism) had recently built a health center, and wanted it to be warm and bright — a space that the youth of the community felt connected to and comfortable in. That’s where the Abel Arts Collective came in. Abel created a design in his bold, geometric, somewhat tribal style, and then he and Nellie presented it to the Project WOO kids. “They redirected and redesigned it, and gave pointers on what they felt needed to be included,” Abel recalls. Changes were made based on their input, and the kids helped paint the mural as well. The children’s sense of pride was palpable; they were excited to share the mural with friends, family, teachers — everyone in Gigante. “The objective was to create something meaningful to the community with the community,” Abel says. “Having their input from the beginning allowed them to be personally involved and take ownership.”
Less than a year old, from the Collective’s conception to completion of the mural was only about seven months. It’s still awaiting its 501(c)3 nonprofit status. The Abel Arts Collective is continuing to define its mission, but hopes its scope and reach can be broad. An avid surfer, Abel is passionate about environmental health (one look at his past collaborations will attest to that) but both he and Stadtherr recognize that help is needed in many places. “One of the reasons I wanted to create the Collective is because there are so many areas where I’d love to make an impact, and physically I just can’t,” Stadtherr explains. “But this community we’re creating can help other organizations doing all of these different types of work.” Abel agrees, adding, “Our idea is that we’ll have several projects ongoing in various arenas and areas.”
So what’s next for this art-and-philanthropy organization? The founders aren’t quite sure. But after they get married in June and spend a month in Bordeaux for the Festival Vagabonde art and surf event (Abel is a featured artist) they intend to focus on something local, utilizing the talents of one of the many artists that reside in Ventura County. After that, the opportunities seem endless. Stadtherr and Abel admit that their ambitions are big, but they’re prepared to face upcoming challenges with an adventurous spirit. “This is a hybrid of all these different ideas we have,” Stadtherr says.”Working in different areas, for different causes, connecting with other artists — that’s going to be really exciting.”
To learn more, go to http://www.abelartscollective.org, check out AbelArtsCollective on Facebook, or follow abelarts on Instagram.