BY QUINISHA JACKSON-WRIGHT | MARCH 22, 2019
Since 2015, the Creative Communities Project in Santa Barbara County has researched trends in the area relating to local residents and their level of engagement with, and access to, arts and culture. The project has been broken up into three phases, with the first two focused on surveys and interviews to gauge county-wide climate. The project is now in its final phase, Phase III, in which the Creative Communities Task Force is conducting Visioning Sessions to develop a master art plan for the county. These Visioning Sessions are open to nonprofits, community leaders, and “anyone who feels they have a stake in the cultural fabric of Santa Barbara County,” says Patrick Bolek, a leading consultant of the initiative.
“We spent some time identifying what we called ‘Cultural Practitioners’ throughout the county,” Bolek explained. “Once we had a list, we updated the website with those practitioners, and now we’re reaching out to everyone on that list to tell them about this exciting opportunity. [From there, they can] contribute their ideas to create a sustainable cultural arts plan for the county that’s inclusive and allows access to the discussion, not only for cultural practitioners, but for community members as well.”
The three-hour sessions are being held starting in February through April, and will consist of three parts, which are referred to as “Aspirational,” “Challenges,” and “Solutions.” From there, a collaborative plan will be pieced together based on community feedback.
The “Aspirational” segment will include dialogue on what residents would like to see in the area surrounding arts and culture. The focus will shift to “Challenges,” and what potential barriers are involved, and conclude with “Solutions,” where attendees will brainstorm ways to overcome potential obstacles.
“The idea is that every voice is heard, and to create a master [art] plan [for the county] with everyone seeing their fingerprint in the plan,” he said. “You can retain someone to write a plan for you, but there won’t be any will behind it because [the public] didn’t get to help design it.”
When asked what the ideal outcome of the Phase III sessions would look like, Bolek says he would love to design a plan the community is excited for, with practical strategies to implement through respective organizations.
“Often, when you do visioning, after the ‘aspirational’ part, you get to the challenges, which reveal the reality of what’s going on,” he said. “With housing and finances as concerns, along with the emotional and physical trauma of fires and floods [in Santa Barbara County], where does arts and culture factor in the importance of [residents’] daily lives?”
He says the Phase III Task Force is sensitive to the work ahead of them, and values arts and culture, but also prioritizes the well-being of those facing the aftermath of these tragedies.
“We have a thoughtful group, on both the Phase III Task Force and the Steering Committee, looking out for the wellness of the community,” Bolek said. “[They are working to create] a plan that’s actionable and realistic to deliver over many years.”
Karl Hutterer, a member of the Task Force and Steering Committee, also shared his insight on the Creative Communities Project and its value. His vision is to develop a broad framework of appreciation for arts and culture that reaches every corner of Santa Barbara County.
“We will develop more specific methods tailored to each region,” he said. “The reasoning behind this is to help individuals engage in the areas they prefer. Each community in the county is very different, and we want arts and culture programs to reflect that.”
He says the purpose of the initiative and upcoming Visioning Sessions is two-fold: to provide access and allow personal engagement from all interested parties, and to maintain the strength of existing organizations while ensuring they are equipped with necessary resources to serve the community. A continued understanding and appreciation of arts and culture, he says, will solidify its important role in the public eye.
“Arts and culture have a hand in all aspects of our society, and they influence everything from early education to the STEM disciplines,” he said. “They are an essential component to a healthy and well-rounded perspective of the world as we know it.”
If you are interested in participating in this project, please visit the Creative Communities Project website or the interactive map on Co-Urbanize to add your organization to the list of Cultural Practitioners.