Camarillo’s Studio Channel Islands recently wrapped up a fantastic exhibit featuring diverse work — Joe Cibere’s watercolors, bold abstracts by Avery Falkner and fanciful human figures made by Blossom Friel — from three of its award-winning members. But the January show is just the tip of the iceberg for what the art institution has in store for 2018, when it celebrates its 20th anniversary — and makes the community an integral part of the festivities.
“For this year, we’re going to invite everyone to be an artist for a year,” says Executive Director Peter Tyas.
In March, SCI will be offering a series of events aimed at getting people out of the gallery (as mere spectators) and into the studio. Workshops include ceramics with Mary McGill, monoprinting with Daggi Wallace, drip-and-pour techniques with Mary-Gail King, encaustic art hosted by
LAX WAX (the Los Angeles chapter of International Encaustic Artists, which will also be part of an encaustic art exhibit opening on March 29), and even performance art with Aria Edry. No skill or experience is required for any of these offerings, merely an open mind and a desire to create.
Tyas explains that the approach has been, “Let’s just play with color and form and composition. Everyone can do encaustic art, for example — it’s just melting wax.” The intention is to foster creative expression in a supportive, not critical, space. “It’s going to feel like a generous environment.”
Tyas recognizes that, to some degree, it takes a village to help an art institution thrive. That’s as true today as it was in 1998, when SCI was founded by a diverse group that extended way beyond the art community.
Pat Richards Dodds, a co-founder and SCI member, recalls the early days, when SCI was still called SCIART and resided on the campus of the California State University, Channel Islands. “We had a vision for . . . the professional artists cultural hub, but we had no formal organization, no start-up funds.”
Nevertheless, those involved — which included J. Handel Evans, Gerd Koch, Maggie Kildee, Roxie Ray, Peter Cannon, Mary Ann Bednar, Patti Robinson, Felice Ginsberg, Tom and Gerri McMillin and Kathy Neprud — persisted. “Looking back it was almost miraculous,” Richards Dodds says. “People stepped forward just when we had a special need.” SCIART took shape with the help of attorneys offering expertise pro bono, furnishings
and supplies donated by local businesses, and the many local artists who helped paint, clean, organize, fundraise and get artwork on the walls. “This didn’t happen overnight, but even President [J. Handel] Evans was astounded at what Studio Channel Islands had become.”
CSUCI’s first president (and currently a member of SCI’s board) had hoped that providing a space for local artists would naturally attract other artists, and art students, to help anchor and grow the art department. “Before you know it, we had 20 or so artists interested,” Evans remembers. “From there, it became a sort of artists collaborative. . . . When it moved to downtown Camarillo, it provided an opportunity for the local community to take part.”
“It is alive and flourishing in the old building that a group of ambitious dreamers had transformed,” Richards Dodds adds.
Future exhibits will try to honor this aspect of SCI’s past, as well as its vision for the future. Tyas has been working with Richards Dodds, Evans and Koch to get a sense of the institution’s scope and history.
“We’ve been reaching back through the decades and looking at art that’s been donated through the years,” explains Tyas. “Get people to start thinking again. We’ll start to tell some of those stories . . . ‘Here are the artists we’ve worked with.’ ”
Punch, coming in the fall, will feature artists who have “landed a punch,” so to speak. This will consist of both SCI alumni and other artists who Tyas hopes may become part of the organization. The exhibit should be “big, bold, exciting, dynamic,” he adds.
Also in the fall will be the “official” 20th anniversary celebration — a full weekend of activities for every member of SCI’s community. “We want people to have a fun, creative time,” Tyas says. (The exact date has yet to be determined, but will probably take place in September.)
SCI will light up the night on a Friday, with a “visual spectacle” involving raku kiln firing. “It’s a very dynamic thing,” Tyas says. “Lots of flame — very impressive.” He hopes that this more casual, outdoor event with the element of adventure to it will attract “young, hip urbanites” to the institution. Saturday is the more traditional black-tie affair, where longtime patrons and friends of SCI will be feted. Sunday will be very casual and relaxed: an outdoor picnic with music and performances for families.
Tyas explains that 2018 is “as much about where we want to be as where we’ve been.” To that end, SCI aims to bring high-caliber artists to the Blackboard Gallery, and reach into schools to develop a relationship with the next generation of art makers, lovers and collectors.
An exhibition opening in May and featuring the work of Linda Stein exemplifies both parts of this mission. The artist, educator and social activist has created a traveling exhibition, The Fluidity of Gender, which involves sculptural clothing to challenge the notions of gender and identity. The program includes an educational component that can be brought into schools to explore issues around bullying and personal identity.
“It’s about being an upstander, not a bystander,” Tyas explains. “Not just expressing who we are . . . but defending others. It’s up to you to be a superhero. And it’s a very powerful message in this political climate.”
Stein will hold workshops at Rancho Campana, Santa Rosa, Dos Caminos and Los Primeros High Schools.
SCI has always offered art classes to students, but Tyas says that “Now we’re working with schools in a more meaningful way.” There’s been a concerted effort to get SCI artists into schools (helped in part by grants from the Ventura County Arts Council) and bring students into the gallery to see its exhibitions. It seems to be working: SCI has added
additional evening classes to accommodate the growing number of students who want to attend. “We get over 50 kids every week now,” Tyas says. “Everything we do, we’re meeting new families. And they say, ‘We didn’t even know you’re here.’ ”
If SCI’s 20th anniversary celebrations, as well as its upcoming exhibits and programs, are as successful as Tyas and his fellow organizers hope, that won’t be the case for long.
“My hopes,” Evans says, “are that everyone will know that this is the place for art in the community, that it’s a center for all the arts.”
Studio Channel Islands’ next exhibit will be Collectors Choice 2018, opening on March 3 at the Blackboard Gallery, 2222 E. Ventura Blvd., Camarillo. For upcoming workshops, exhibits and other events, call 383-1368 or visit studiochannelislands.org.