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Culture Keeper

Arts coordinator Vicky Kumpfer takes it to the streets

By Gretchen Giles

When Vicky Kumpfer was hired as a recreation specialist by the city of Santa Rosa to oversee two community centers and cultural activities at City Hall, there was a small "footnote" in the job description, she laughs, "about decorating the walls."

Eleven years later, Kumpfer still works for the city, but she's forged a job of her own, one that never existed before. Recently recognized with the new title of arts coordinator for the city of Santa Rosa, she still spends three nights a week at the Steele Lane or Finley Park rec centers, overseeing the distribution of chairs for classes and meetings, but decorating, as it were, has become her full-time job.

Such decoration extends far beyond mere walls, though Kumpfer oversees some 20 gallery-style art installations a year at the three civic centers. "I really try to make the exhibits reflect the breadth of the creativity in our community," she says, seated in a quiet corner of the Finley Center while a senior citizen's swing dance, replete with live band, blares on in the midday light of a recent afternoon.

"The only thing I haven't done is an installation," she says, laughing at the reporter's assertion that it's because no one likes them.

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2004 Boho Awards
Bill Bowker
COPIA
Vicki Kumpfer
Marin Shakespeare Co.
Zebulon's Lounge

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Trained as a sculptor, Kumpfer was a professional studio artist in Utah before moving with her husband, the sculptor Shojy Uemura, to the North Bay some 11 years ago so that he could be closer to the San Francisco gallery scene.

"I never intended to work for a city," she says of her work with the Parks and Recreation Department. "But instead of moving on, I felt that I was strategically placed to grow something. I have hoped to create an awareness with the community of what it is to support artists. They keep the culture of our community."

During her tenure, Kumpfer established the Art in the Park program, moving it eventually to its current summertime placement in Santa Rosa's infamous Juilliard Park in order, she says, to introduce families to a swathe of green better known to the nefarious. Primarily pairing live music with visual arts and food, Art in the Park also offers theater and even dance. "Every time we do a ballet, attendance goes down," Kumpfer says, "but if I can give even one child some inspiration, I've done my job."

Citing her favorite catch-phrase, "You don't have to get art, art will get you," Kumpfer is dedicated to placing art in public places. "I'm able to touch a broader audience," she explains, "whereas with a museum or gallery, people who walk in the door already know what they've come for. It's an opportunity to help people understand what art is in our lives."

To that end, she has coordinated the placement of 15 sculptures all over downtown Santa Rosa as a civic art walk. Working as the executive director at the teen-based Art Start program in 2001, she oversaw the painting and installation of 40 decorative benches throughout the city. "They've now cut back to 20 a year," she chuckles. "That was a big project."

Kumpfer helped to curate the work placed at the Vineyard Creek Hotel along the Prince Memorial Parkway, introduced the Italian street painting festival at the annual Rose Parade, volunteered at what is now the Museum of Contemporary Art at the LBC for nine years and introduced a codicil to the city's general plan stipulating that Santa Rosa establish an arts general commission. She's also the brainstorm behind the installation that MacArthur grant recipient, Sebastopol sculptor Ned Kahn, will place next year on the outside of the dreary SBC building at Third Street and Mendocino Avenue.

But the program that makes Kumpfer proudest is the introduction this year of Santa Rosa into the National Arts Program, an annual exhibit in select cities that helps to fund artists' education--by offering matching tuition funds, for example--as well as materials for their work and exhibition opportunities. "I'm very excited about being able to help grow the arts," she says. "My goal is to grow art and culture in this area. I believe in artists as community builders. We're so franchised with big-box [culture]; I'd like to see more support for bringing identity to a location. But it's up to the artists and the community to ask for it."

Later, she reflects, "I would never have imagined that I would be doing this for a living. I still consider myself an artist. I'm just being creative in a very different way."

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From the September 22-28, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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