Pacific Grove Art Center struggles to keep afloat.
Thursday, March 4, 2004
When the long-established Pacific Grove Art Center brings out its stable of artists and exhibits them, it’s an occasion to look not only at the exhibition, but the center itself. After all, the center has been presenting art to the community since 1969, which makes it a veritable institution. And the community needs such an institution.
In the current exhibition, Studio Artists of the Pacific Grove Art Center, visitors can witness the diversity and vitality that exists within the center’s walls. That the artists represented in the show work in a range of styles is apparent, but what is really suggested by the show is the image of life at the center. It’s an art life. It’s a creative life, with the kind of energy that exists where there is dedication, expertise, self-expression and eccentricity.
These 16 artists rent spaces in the center’s second-floor building in downtown Pacific Grove. Typically each studio is a room with a large window or skylight, and has that peculiar blend of solidity and creakiness that makes older buildings charming. The artists come and go, meeting each other in the halls or at center meetings and functions. They frequently offer workshops and classes for the public. They know each other’s work, and mutual respect permeates the hallways and galleries.
There is a sense of tradition everywhere: the bulletin boards posting notices of workshops and classes have been perused by three generations; the glossy-painted surfaces feel like the top coat of countless layers of paint; the wide-eyed innocents watching the painting demonstrations on the weekends have the same look of wonder and fascination as the kids of 1970; the galleries themselves have the character of sage witnesses of memorable events.
The Studio Artists exhibition offers something for everyone.
Dante Rondo’s landscapes of Hawaii, Big Sur and Zion have atmospheric effects, bright color, and selected graphic details that amount to a personal stamp the artist puts on such far-ranging subject matter.
Looking at Andres Morillo’s paintings is like taking a time capsule to pre-Great War Paris; his interpretations of models’ heads, still lifes and landscapes emanate a Fauvist or School of Paris attitude. His bold shapes, heightened color and passionate brush stroke reveal a contagious exuberance for the medium.
Mark Farina, who works en plein air, here exhibits a painting of a coast cypress that imposes a fleeting sense of place on the familiar scene. Farina’s buttoned-down modernism can be seen in several indoor studies, two still lifes and a female nude.
Julie Smith’s photo-referenced paintings of urban street life are stark and cool. Done in black and white paint, her storefronts, pedestrians and subway stations have a snap-shot immediacy. The sharp contrast, omitting so much detail, reduces each scene to a spare, impersonal image, like the imprint of an unsettling dream one has witnessed in someone else’s mind.
John Middleton’s small, gentle landscapes of the Big Sur coast and Salinas River estuary are poems in paint. Each painting seems to exist as a mood first, with the rendering of boulder, meadow and sea serving that mood as modulated passages of paint. Middleton marries shadow and light to produce serene forms and an exquisite atmosphere.
And that’s just a few of them.
Unhappily, in the absence of a sudden windfall, the future does not look bright for the Pacific Grove Art Center. According to Board of Directors President Randy McKendry, the shake-up at the Monterey County Cultural Council has all ten Art Center board members concerned. “If we lose our grant from the cultural council, typically from $3,200 to $4,000, it will impact us pretty substantially,” he says. “Our annual operating expenses is $100,000, so every donation and grant is meaningful to us.”
McKendry tells a story of gritty economic survival where operating expenses are monitored carefully, even as the cost of rent and utilities keeps rising. Various measures have been taken to balance the books. Children’s art classes were cancelled last year, although they have since resumed, and interior improvements have been done with salvaged materials and volunteer labor.
“Somehow people think that since we’re the Pacific Grove Art Center we’re connected to the city of Pacific Grove, but we’re not,” McKendry says. “We’ve never received any funding from the city of Pacific Grove. They don’t have much money to help organizations like us. We compete in our grant requests with organizations for the handicapped, Meals on Wheels, and the like.”
McKendry and the board are loath to hit up the resident artists for more rent, since artists struggle financially themselves. So the center is getting creative in looking for alternative funding sources.
“I’m looking into the hospitality business to have them come here for wine and cheese type functions,” McKendry says.
But it’s a month-to-month proposition. “We do whatever we need to do to make it work.”
Studio Artists of the Pacific Grove Art Center continues through April 8. 568 Lighthouse, Pacific Grove. 375-2208.