In celebration of Community Foundation Week, the Santa Barbara Foundation held its annual Associates Reception last Thursday evening at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum to honor members whose charitable funds and associate gifts have made a positive impact in the community.

“The associates of the Santa Barbara Foundation are people who have donated at a level to show their support of the work that is being done by the foundation,” said Judy Frost, chairwoman of the Santa Barbara Foundation. “And without these supporters in the associates program, we wouldn’t be able to do some of the work that we do, so it’s a vital and integral part of what the foundation is about.

“Tonight is about thanking our associates for once again putting their trust in the work that we do by making a donation to the associates program.”

The foundation’s slogan, “Making Philanthropy Work for Everyone,” confirms that anyone in the community, regardless of his or her financial status, can aspire to be an agent of change and enrich the lives of others.

“We are a grant-making community institution, and most people associate that with people of wealth,” said Ronald Gallo, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation. “And what’s great about a community foundation is that it makes everyone a philanthropist — you don’t have to be wealthy, you just have to be willing.

“There are associates here who have given $50 this year for many years and there are people who have given millions, and they are all on an equal plain tonight.”

Each year, thousands of associate members donate a financial gift of $50 or more to the Santa Barbara Foundation, and these valuable contributions help sustain and strengthen the organization’s nonprofit sector and provide financial aid to aspiring students.

In 2010, the foundation awarded more than 600 student scholarships and more than 300 student loans totaling more than $1.9 million and invested nearly $20 million toward community and nonprofit organizations, with 70 percent of the proceeds from donor directed funds.

For more than 75 years, the Santa Barbara Foundation has served as one of the country’s leading resources in philanthropy and is the largest grant-maker in the country.

“This event is also a focus in a sense on the foundation and its work that supports hundreds of nonprofit organizations every year,” Gallo said. “So it’s not about a particular one, it’s about the volunteerism that goes on in the community everyday and how we support it.”

More than 100 associates arrived at the venue ready to reap the benefits resulting from this kindness of collective giving, and the museum floor quickly filled up with a jovial crowd of spectators who mingled and surveyed an array of modern artwork in the space.

Wait staff weaved through the throng of guests and offered tasty blends of beef sliders with caramelized onions and gorgonzola cheese, pear brie and walnut quesadillas, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds and a trio of hummus with pita strips inside a martini glass provided by Catering Connection.

Bouts of laughter and good cheer frequently rose above the murmur of the crowd as the flux of contemporary jazz music flowed throughout the gallery from the museum courtyard performed by the band Osuna, an ensemble of seasoned jazz musicians and students from the SBCC Music Program.

Miki Garcia, executive director of the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, welcomed guests to the reception and provided a brief summary of the museum’s history, purpose and insight on the current exhibition, “Wireless.”

“The Contemporary Arts Forum originated in 1976 as an alternative art space that shows only new artwork,” Garcia said. “We are the only institution in that our sole mission is to support, exhibit and document the art of our times, so I’d like to say that we are supporting the Picassos and Van Goghs of tomorrow.

“In this area, we really are the advocates for living artists in our midst, and we are pleased to work directly with the artists of our time.”

“Wireless,” curated by Elizabeth Lovero, is a collaboration exhibition between the Contemporary Arts Forum, the New Noise Music Foundation and KCSB 91.9, the UCSB-student run, independent radio station celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“The theme of ‘Wireless’ is really looking at artists who address topics of wireless transmission and the democratic transmission of information and ideas,” Garcia said.

Guest speaker Tim Owens, general manager of KDB 93.7, shared that the community classical music station is reinventing the station by working closely with the Santa Barbara Foundation, nonprofit sector and the local art community. As a result, the station is now conducting insightful interviews and feature stories to inform the public about the important work that artists and nonprofit organizations are doing that impact the community.

In his closing remarks, Gallo explained that the three core components of the Santa Barbara Foundation are to build philanthropy by working with donors and stewarding funds, supporting and enlivening the nonprofit community, and working with others to try and solve critical issues collectively.

“We are in really difficult times as a nation, in California, and yes, even here in Santa Barbra,” Gallo said. “Our city has astonishing levels of poverty, and we have difficulties in educational achievement. What we are about is trying not just to identify and address those issues but to knit the fabric of this community together and to keep it together because Santa Barbara is already a beautiful quilt with lots of passion.”

Click here for more information on how to become an associate member or to donate to the Santa Barbara Foundation.

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Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.