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That's Art and Culture? The Creative Communities Project

Summer Solstice 2016

Every time Dennis Smitherman, Vice President of the Santa Maria Arts Council, walks into a Creative Communities Project meeting, he is surprised. At the last meeting, he was surprised to see someone from Ganna Walska Lotusland attend to share challenges the garden is facing. At the meeting before that, he was surprised to see an Orcutt winery owner attend to learn more about the project. Each time, he expects a project titled “Creative Communities” to be a meeting filled only with individuals from arts organizations. He is frequently and pleasantly surprised, however, by the vast number of individuals in addition to arts organizations, such as people representing gardens, museums, schools or simply community leaders and volunteers, who all come together with the goal of sustaining and growing cultural vitality in Santa Barbara County.

“I would describe Creative Communities as a diverse group of people who offer a myriad of perspectives about issues facing multiple styles and disciplines of arts and culture throughout the county and who want to work together to solve them,” said Smitherman.

The Creative Communities Project was formed in 2014 with the goal of developing a roadmap for future growth, vitality and sustainability of Santa Barbara County’s cultural sector. With funding secured from the Santa Barbara Foundation, the first of the project’s three phases was completed in 2015 and included a series of interviews with people already involved in arts and culture in Santa Barbara County. The findings from the first phase provided a snapshot of what an ideal thriving arts and culture sector might look like and offered insight into how to move into the second phase: a community survey to identify barriers to access and opportunity in the arts and culture sector.

“Phase One of the project dove deep and recommended a vision for how the arts and culture sector of Santa Barbara should be,” said Casey Caldwell, Creative Communities Project Coordinator. “Phase Two of the project, the survey, will provide an understanding to the cultural community about where we are and how we are perceived across the county. It will help us identify how community members participate in cultural life now, where there are gaps and, ultimately, provide the data to develop specific strategies to strengthen the future of arts and culture.”

Creating a strategic plan to strengthen arts and culture in Santa Barbara County is the third and final phase of the project. The project’s true value is that it offers a variety of arts and culture institutions the opportunity to collaborate in ways that they never thought possible.

“The real power of Creative Communities is that it provides an opportunity for very diverse organizations that have traditionally operated in silos, such as museums or festivals or performing arts groups, to collaborate across the county and create new ways to increase equity, access and sustainability in the arts,” said Karl Hutterer, Director Emeritus of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and a member and co-chair of the Creative Communities Project. “For example, the Historic Theatre District – a partnership between the Granada Theatre, Ensemble Theatre Company and Lobero Theatre – collaborated to put all of their productions into a common brochure each theater season.”

In addition to encouraging collaboration among theaters, Creative Communities has provided a space for nonprofits, funders and community members alike to connect and share their ideas. In launching the survey, the committee members in Creative Communities hope to gain an even broader understanding of how arts and culture are perceived in the community.

“We want to encourage everyone to participate in the survey because understanding the range and variety of opinions and perspectives is essential to creating a holistic and sustainable plan for arts and culture in the county,” said Sharyn Main, Senior Director of Community Investments at the Santa Barbara Foundation and a member of the Creative Communities Project Steering Committee. “The Santa Barbara Foundation is honored to support a project that fosters collaboration between such a diverse, robust and vibrant group of organizations from across the county and we want to continue to encourage community participation through tools like the survey.”

Whether you are a master gardener, a wine lover, an art aficionado or someone who feels that arts and culture should be accessible to you, let the Creative Communities Project know your thoughts by taking the survey in September. Who knows, you may be just as surprised as Smitherman in learning all that arts and culture encompasses in Santa Barbara County. For more information about the Creative Communities Project, please visit the website or contact Casey Caldwell, Project Coordinator, at
North County Headquarters:  (805) 346-6123  |   2625 S. Miller Street, Suite 101, Santa Maria, CA 93455
South County Headquarters:  (805) 963-1873  |  1111 Chapala Street, Suite 200, Santa Barbara, CA 93101