How the arts can help us get back to normal

Singer Ruth Allen, 89, performs at a one-off show at the Canyon Theatre Guild in Newhall. Cory Rubin/The Signal

The arts give people a way to connect with each other, according to Phil Lantis, the city of Santa Clarita’s arts director, but they aren’t always seen that way.

“Any human turns to the arts as it becomes this way to process either your own emotions or having someone share with you their point of view or various points of view,” Lantis said. “And it allows you to process things and it allows you to kind of do some of that work, both mentally and emotionally, that needs to happen.”

Lantis has seen that work unfold in Santa Clarita during the pandemic. He’s excited for the possibilities that await as society emerges from the pandemic.

“(The arts) are very well-positioned coming out of the pandemic, hopefully as we transition out, to really be appreciated on another level than they were before,” he said.

One way Santa Clarita will use the arts to process more than one year of pandemic is through arts education, according to Lantis.

“There’s a lot of conversation about utilizing the arts for in education as a tool to help students be able to process their emotions process their emotions and stuff,” he said, noting the city and local organizations are in the early stages of elevating arts in education.

In 2016, the city approved an arts master plan that called for arts education among other initiatives to support the Santa Clarita community engage with the arts.

Lantis said the city is advancing that work through conversations with the County of Los Angeles Department of Arts and Culture, CalArts and College of the Canyons.

“The pandemic has actually completely changed how we’re going to approach this because the role of arts in education is really changing,” said Lantis, noting that their working group will soon invite local school districts to participate in the conversation.

The arts can help students process not only the pandemic, Lantis said, but also the Saugus school shooting in November 2019. 

“The arts can be a crucial part, not the only part,” he said. “We’re hopeful that the discussion will be a little different than we originally imagined and the outcomes will be much more impactful for the students.” 

College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center Director Jennifer Smolos recognized the vital role the arts will play as society recovers from the pandemic.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, I anticipate that we will experience a collective desire to deepen our understanding of and engagement with the world around us,” Smolos wrote in a prepared statement. “The interdisciplinarity of our fields requires ever-evolving styles, specific skills and tools within those styles and a collaborative spirit. The arts can and do heal — I look forward to once again reconnecting in art galleries, concert halls and theaters.”

Healing is taking place at Impulse Music Co., too, where the music store’s co-owner C.J. Hockenbury has seen the public’s interest in music peak like never before.

“Everybody is just kind of gravitating towards music because it’s a part of our daily lives more than people realize,” Hockenbury said. “It’s a skill that just goes with you forever even if you don’t become a professional.”

The Santa Carlita store, which opened on Soledad Canyon Road in the middle of the pandemic, offers open mic nights and lessons for people of all ages.

“Kids that we used to have issues with in the past, they’re all for it now,” he said. “They just want to play music because they’re like, ‘Yeah, I haven’t done anything; yeah, I want to play.’”

Hockenbury has also seen the pandemic inspire a deeper level of engagement in music.

“They’re really starting to get into writing. I think that’s more of a transitional step that I’ve seen more during COVID than anything else, is that people are writing like crazy,” he said. “They’re starting to figure out how to put their thoughts down on paper, even if they’re not putting in words, you know, expressing themselves.”

A yearning for the arts can be found center stage in the theater, too. John Lucewich works with kids ages 10 through 17 as a workshop instructor at the Canyon Theatre Guild in Newhall. 

“What I’ve seen in them is missing the arts. They miss the theater immensely,” he said of his students, who continued to improve their acting skills through virtual experiences during the pandemic. “So one benefit of doing the workshops is it’s kept that social interaction, and it’s kept creativity and that spark has been alive.”

Lucewich said the virtual platform has allowed some students who have moved away from Santa Clarita due to the pandemic to continue acting and connecting with their friends at the theater. 

“Another cool benefit we’ve seen is a lot of our kids have the opportunity to basically design their own set and (do) their own makeup design, which is an extra layer of work for them, but it’s also an extra layer of creativity,” he said.

Parents, students and instructors alike are eager to return to in-person workshops and shows at the Canyon Theatre Guild, Lucewich said.

I’m very optimistic about summer if things continue to go as well as (they’re) going. I can see us returning for in-person workshops in the summertime with some safety protocols in place,” he said. “ With the darkness that has been 2020, and the pandemic and the lockdowns, these workshops for many have been a shining light.”

Impulse Music Co. Is located at 21515 Soledad Canyon Road, No. 120, Santa Clarita. It can be reached at (661) 259-5397.

For upcoming information on shows at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center, visit

Canyon Theatre Guild is located at 24242 Main St., Newhall. It can be reached at (661) 799-2702. 

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