Community and city talk desire for an arts center

Naomi Young looks at the art on display at the Santa Clarita Artists Association art show called Art for the Heart at the SCAA Gallery in Newhall on Saturday. The exhibit will be on display through March 5. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

Santa Clarita’s arts community celebrated city recognition of Arts Day on Tuesday, spurring conversation for dreams of a new arts center.

Executive Director for Forge Ahead Arts Stephanie O’Connor spoke to the city council on April 11, asking for further consideration for the Arts Master Plan to be oriented to a new center.

O’Connor told The Signal Thursday that there is a lack of accessible and affordable space for artists to create and audiences to experience art.

“A center for the arts is not only servicing the arts organizations and artists,” she said. “It helps them serve the community.”

The executive director said she is happy with the enthusiasm the city council expressed concerning the arts and is looking forward to being a part of the conversation concerning an arts center moving forward.

According to O’Connor, one in six Los Angeles County residents work in creative fields, and she figures the statistics are similar in the Santa Clarita Valley, especially considering Cal Arts students and people in the film industry.

She said having one centralized location for artists to collaborate and inspire one another will contribute to civic pride, community engagement, unity and empathy.

“It’s that sort of brainstorming that happens when creative people working in their disciplines are near each other,” O’Connor said. “Art is a way to share stories. We will build bonds across cultures and ethnicities.”

The art advocate commended the city for adding The Main on Main Street in Newhall, a small municipal arts building. She said this is a good start, but looks forward to finding a more flexible and large location.

Arts and Events Manager for Santa Clarita Phil Lantis said the potential for an arts center has been a conversation at the city level, as one of the top five of 41 recommendations in the Master Plan was to build a center.

“We need to identify what the needs are first,” Lantis said. “We heard strongly from the community that the city should be a part of a conversation.”

The city hosted a community arts meeting at the end of February to decipher citizens’ needs and wants and plans to send out a survey in May to gather more input.

According to citizens at the February 25 meeting, many artists expressed need for amenities like a rehearsal space, a performance space, classrooms, office space, a gallery exhibit, storage, construction space, a ceramics studio, a gift store, dressing room, adequate parking and a kitchen.

Lantis also added that the Newhall Elementary School auditorium restoration will be completed soon, providing another arts performance space.

Olga Kaczmar, publicist for the Santa Clarita Artists’ Association, said she has heard an ongoing conversation about a desire for an arts center, but said it will take a lot of citizen collaboration to make it happen.

“It could be a big cohesive effort if everyone could do it together,” she said. “It’s a dream.”

A current benefit of not having a center is that events and activities can be held in any area of Santa Clarita, according to Kaczmar. She said she does not want to be greedy by asking the city for an arts center, but thinks a center could establish more unity and cohesion.

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