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All the Town's a Stage

Arts Master Plan in hand, Santa Cruz prepares for its role as arts community.

By Curtis Cartier

After two years of work, the Santa Cruz Arts Commission has finished its Arts Master Plan and received the City Council's stamp of approval. The result is a vision of the local arts community as an untapped economic cornucopia bursting with tourism cash and blessed with a new downtown performance space.

The 34-page document lays out four major goals and dozens of policy guidelines aimed at turning Santa Cruz and the arts into California's cutest couple. At the center of the plan is an attempt to create a "Santa Cruz art identity" that can be easily branded and sold to everyone from snooty collectors to curious tourists. Omnipresent, gracing everything from welcome signs to skatepark drawings, this identity--not yet specifically defined--will define the city as a thriving arts community.

The Tannery Arts Center with its 100 work/live studios and performing arts center is the flagship of the plan and is envisioned as a "regional center for the creation, study and presentation of art." Other arts-centric structures take form as well, including a 1,200-2,000-seat performance facility downtown. Making it easier for artists to display their work in city buildings, diversifying and expanding funding sources for the arts and splitting the city up into "art districts" for marketing purposes also make up components of the scheme.

Crystal Birns, who worked on the plan's development, will maintain her newly created position as arts coordinator for the city and will be managing the implementation of the plan.

"We tried to determine, how do we support the arts community and make it sustainable, and how do we successfully fund the appropriate artists and outlets. Then, how do we market specifically the Santa Cruz art identity," explains Birns. "When cities do invest in the arts, there is a proven economic payback from it."

For some artists, however, the city's business-first approach is simply an attempt to turn art into industry. Jamie Carney, a.k.a. Zamondo, thinks the Arts Master Plan and its attempt to find a Santa Cruz arts identity is an insult to art itself. The abstract and multimedia creator said that, while he welcomes the city's attention, it will likely have no effect on him or his Westside studio.

"Santa Cruz art doesn't have an identity and it shouldn't. Trying to define art is not a good thing; anytime you try to cage up arts, you have the opposite effect," he says. "The whole plan seems to apply more to businesses than anything. Instead of asking for more public sculptures they should use the money to give kids art supplies."

Linda Bixby, resource development manager for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), spearheaded the committee's research. She defends the Arts Master Plan, citing the 585 community members who submitted suggestions and provided guidance to the committee as well as the dozens of local artists who directly influenced its outcome. She also says the city doesn't want to "create" an art-inspired identity but merely make art itself something for which the city is known.

"This is not trying to distill the vibrant and ever-changing dynamic in our community," she says. "It's attempting to bring some form to it so people not familiar with the arts have a way to access and support the arts community."

Besides, she adds, "Since when is economic development a dirty word?"

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