You’ve seen many of their creative pieces around town — the black-and-white, oversized photographs of children on a building on Railroad Avenue; the mosaic that adorns the trail system running along Santa Clarita Creek; or the history-inspired artwork at Newhall Elementary.
These are some of the masterpieces from ARTree, a local nonprofit dedicated to providing opportunities to nurture creative thinking and expression in the community through the power of art.
ARTree President Bob Hernandez said about 10 years ago, the city of Santa Clarita asked residents what they thought was lacking in the arts. Wanting to get involved with the community, Hernandez decided to go and listen to what was being said.
“I went to one of the meetings and it seemed obvious to me that if Santa Clarita was ever going to do something (with art) we should start with the young children and build from that,” he said. “So I naively stood up at the meeting and said I was going to start an art organization and I could do it alone or someone could help me.”
He soon received a call from Jeff Barber, arts supervisor for the city of Santa Clarita. Barber walked Hernandez through the different areas of nonprofit versus profit and how he might start the organization. Barber also recommended that Hernandez meet with Dianne Foderaro. The two immediately clicked.
“As a CalArts alumni, I’m a big believer in kids discovering their creativity, what it takes to create and the joy of creating something,” Hernandez said. “Kids do art naturally and I felt it was our responsibility to guide them and, more importantly, make the parents aware of what their children are capable of doing.”
Foderaro helped by hosting dinner meetings once a month in her home and the first 10 people who would respond would be seated at the table, she said.
“It was a gathering of all kinds of people interested in the arts and the conversations were wonderful,” Foderaro said. “After dinner, we’d all sit around and talk about arts in Santa Clarita.”
“We charged for the three course dinners so that’s how we paid our insurance,” she added with a smile.
In the early days, classes were held wherever ARTree could find a room or space or even a street corner.
“We were street hippies.” Hernandez said with a smile. That is exactly where Michael Powell found them three years ago.
“I was at an art festival and ARTree had a booth where children and adults were making hats out of bags,” Powell said. “It freaked me out. Here were all these people walking around the festival with bag hats and not only did they have a big smile but I could see how the instructors were having fun as well.”
“I knew then I wanted to be a part of this,” he said
“Everyone involved in this seemed to be excited about what they were doing,” Powell said. “For me, I get an opportunity to teach. All the materials and the students were in place. All I had to do was provide my knowledge and love of teaching.”
Two years ago, ARTree found a home. Hernandez was always fascinated with the old buildings on Sixth Street that once housed The Signal newspaper offices. He contacted the owners and now ARTree has two buildings in which to hold classes. As a bonus, a beautiful tree sits right in the middle of the courtyard. This is an inspiration for Hernandez.
“When we named the ARTree, we imagined a tree that has roots in the ground and stays stable. It also has branches that grow out into the community,” he said. “We like to say we give to the community, we don’t take.”
Classes are listed on their website and in the city of Santa Clarita Seasons catalog.
“All we need is a spark that sets off a flame,” Hernandez said. “Sometimes it can take an entire lifetime to find it. If we can help people do that, then we are doing what God put us on Earth to do.”
For more information about ARTree, check our their website at www.theartree.org.