Being a member of the city of Santa Clarita Arts Commission offers a unique perspective on how arts enhance our community, from grassroots arts groups to professional artists making their mark on our city.
It’s an interesting group to serve and its origins are appropriately colorful.
There have been challenges and opportunities, and on more than a few occasions, the challenges have led to new opportunities, such as the with the whole Newhall roundabout situation.
When I was appointed to the Arts Commission in 2012 to fill in a seat vacated by Paul Strickland. At the time, the city was in the process of building a roundabout near Hart Park and the City Council thought a nice piece of art would look great in the circle.
The commission had received several entries and were voting on which one to send to the City Council for approval. The artwork wasn’t what anyone was expecting, and the money set aside for the piece was much less than customary for professional artists. The roundabout project was a dismal failure, and all pieces were turned down by the City Council and the community.
All that sounds bad, but that project was key in bringing about a master plan that would involve the community and bring about a deeper understanding of what art can do for our community and the people who live and work here.
How it all started
Art organizations throughout Santa Clarita have been asking for assistance from the city for many years. Back in the late 1990s, the city formed the Arts Alliance, comprised of representatives from theater, visual, musical, dance and those who were just interested in making art more available to the public.
Under the guidance of then-Santa Clarita Parks, Recreation and Community Service Director Rick Gould, the Arts Alliance came to a consensus on several issues including the City’s financial support of the Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons, which enabled the college to complete their facility and allowed community groups to perform in a beautiful and professional venue.
The Arts Alliance then reorganized as the Arts Advisory Committee. From that committee, a request was made of the City Council to form an Arts Commission. In December 2009, the council voted to form a five-member Arts Commission whose duty it would be to advise the Council on all things art related.
This was a huge step and affirmation of the importance of art by the City Council. The Arts Commission would be much different than other organizations in the city, as it would be a “working” commission.
Each councilmember nominated an appointee to the Arts Commission, (in the same manner as they do for the Planning and Parks, Recreation and Community Service commissions). One of the first responsibilities of the commission was to set the pace and facilitate the creation of an arts blueprint to serve as a guiding document for the next three to five years.
Making an impact
Michael Millar was the founding chair on the Arts Commission. He also served on the Arts Alliance and Art Advisory Committee. Millar, a director of the Center for Community Engagement at Cal Poly Pomona, is a freelance bass trombonist and former board member of the now-disbanded Santa Clarita Symphony. He considers his involvement in the commission a privilege he still enjoys today.
“This is about where we live, where our families live and where our kids grow up,” Millar said. “Because of this, it is important to have the arts enhance our environment and help make Santa Clarita a great city and a great place to live.”
In looking back at that first Art Blueprint, Millar said it was a huge binder of recommendations.
“We looked at some of the recommendations and it was basically everyone’s wish list,” he said. “We needed that blueprint to move forward and each of the commissioners took on area of focus.”
The need for a plan
From the initial Arts Blueprint and due to the roundabout art project challenges, the City Council determined that a new document, an Arts Master Plan was needed. The Master Plan, Millar said, brought the arts process a big step further.
Santa Clarita Arts and Events Manager Phil Lantis agreed, adding the biggest change since the formation of the Arts Commission is the effort to enhance the artistic and cultural life of the community, which became much more focused.
The Arts Master Plan was a yearlong process in which members of the City Council, the Arts Commission, the arts community, educators and the public were invited to share their thoughts on arts in Santa Clarita.
Consultants were hired and created a roadmap for the next five to 10 years, and the impact of the plan has already resulted in major advancements in the arts, Lantis added.
The amount of Art and Events staff have increased over the years as well as art grants to local community groups. Downtown Newhall has been designated as an Arts and Entertainment District. And in 2017, the City Council unanimously approved a 1-percent allocation from applicable city-funded capital improvement project for the creation of public art.
Expanding the vision
The Concert in the Parks series, now in its 30th season, has never been so popular and a feasibility study has begun to look into creating an amphitheater much like the Santa Barbara Bowl. This will allow for not only for an expanded Concert in the Parks series, but will also entice bigger performers to come to our city as well as provide another venue for our community groups.
As the Arts Commission heads into its 10th year, Lantis said the goal is to complete the 41 recommendations made in the Master Plan, with the vision and goal to make Santa Clarita a “City of the Arts.”
“What that means to me is that there are arts education opportunities for every student in our valley, the local economy is even more supported by creative industries and that residents and visitors know that there are exciting and high-quality arts and entertainment offerings in our community,” Lantis said. “You don’t have to leave town to be culturally enriched.”
The Arts Master Plan and Arts Commission accomplishments and goals can be found at santaclaritaarts.com. This website is also features upcoming events, as well as a creative directory and location of local galleries.