North County

Supporting the Arts in Santa Maria is a Labor of Love


“Growing up in a home with art was part of my formative DNA, I guess you could say,” said Marti Fast, Santa Maria Arts Council President and recently retired art gallery director and fine arts instructor at Allan Hancock College. “My father, Nat Fast, was an amazing artist, teacher, and one of the founders of the Santa Maria Arts Council back in 1965. This group has always been made up of inventive, creative visionaries who have understood the value of the arts in our community. It’s a wonderful organization to be part of.”

Santa Maria has always been a vibrant place for the arts, thanks in part to the Santa Maria Arts Council and dedicated members like Marti Fast and her late father. Since 1965 the Council has worked to support local artists and cultivate a thriving arts community. The Council is perhaps best known for their annual Individual Grants in the Arts Competition, which has awarded $319,800 to over 400 locally trained artists in the areas of Dance, Drama, Music, and Visual Art since 1972.

“In 1971, many of the folks on the council were teachers and instructors at Allan Hancock who wanted to support our students. A wonderful [student] died tragically and much too young and the council decided to create a scholarship and have a small arts competition. So, we had a fundraiser to earn the money for the first scholarship, which I believe was something like $200. By 1977, through a tremendous amount of work by a committed core group on the Council, the grants fund was established to fund the grants in perpetuity.”

Thanks to the generosity of art lovers within the Santa Maria community, the Arts Council has been able to grow its program to award larger grants to local artists.

Thanks to the generosity of the Santa Maria arts community, Nat’s legacy lives on through the Nat Fast Memorial Performance Award. Photo: Marti and Nat Fast.

“The funds have grown significantly since that first couple hundred dollars. At our last competition we awarded $12,000, plus another $3,000 from three other arts organizations,” shared Fast. “When my father died in 2013, people wanted to acknowledge his lifelong contributions to the arts. Our community donated almost $25,000 in his honor, so now we have a special ‘Nat Fast Memorial Performance Award’ that we were able to add to the grants. It focuses on dance, drama and music, since our visual arts awards also included the Ian M. Hassett Memorial Art Award, given annually since 2012 in memory of one of our most talented students.”

The competition’s awards ceremony has also transformed over the years, growing from a small luncheon held in the college cafeteria to a full-fledged event at The Marian Theatre at Allan Hancock College.

Unfortunately, both the 2020 and 2021 Arts Competitions have been cancelled as our county continues to navigate the effects of COVID-19. Nevertheless, the Council is bolstering the arts through the Lester B. Hayes Project & Performance Grants. Lester Hayes, also known as Mr. Band, started the first symphony orchestra in Santa Maria and was deeply involved with the band program at Santa Maria High School.

“Our Individual Grants typically support solo artists, while the Hayes Grants support duets, trios or groups who are doing a group project in the immediate Santa Maria area to benefit the youth of the area in particular,” explained Fast.

This year however, in light of the pandemic and shifting community needs, the Arts Council decided to restructure their grantmaking strategy in order to provide more support for school arts programs and teachers.

“We have looked at the goals of our grants, and right now we are funneling the Individual Grant aspect into these group grants, thinking that this year we might be able to support teachers, who may be in need and applying for art or music supplies for their students,” Fast continued.

“We hope to support more mentors, teachers, and experiences that reach more groups. If our money can go out and help programs like Kitty Balay’s PCPA Reads, or support a school mural that the 5th grade class does – we are funneling things in that direction to meet community needs. Who knows what the landscape will be in another year or two, so we are trying to shift with the times, and be effective.”

The Santa Maria Arts Council has awarded $319,800 to over 400 locally trained artists in the areas of Dance, Drama, Music, and Visual Art since 1972.

Despite so many unknowns, the Council remains steadfast in their commitment to support local artists through their grant programs and other opportunities. To ensure that they can do this work in perpetuity, the Santa Maria Arts Council recently established an Agency Endowment Fund with the Santa Barbara Foundation.

“The grants committee decided to go forward and establish the endowment with the Santa Barbara Foundation. Our grants program required a lot of time and energy from a lot of volunteers, so we thought, maybe we can pool our money and use the Foundation as a reservoir,” explained Fast. “The oversight is well done, we can set goals that will work for us, and the Foundation has a stellar reputation. Many of the Council members have worked in some capacity with the Foundation before, so it was a natural fit.”

“The Santa Barbara Foundation is entrusted with hundreds of donor and agency funds. As such, we understand that vigilant stewardship of financial assets is critical to the long-term health and success of any nonprofit organization,” said Jessica Sanchez, Director of Donor Relations at the Foundation. “We are thrilled the Santa Maria Arts Council has partnered with us to establish an endowment.”

“The growth of the Santa Maria Arts Council has been a big arc – it has truly been a labor of love through the years,” added Fast.

Learn more about the Santa Maria Arts Council by visiting:

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