Longtime arts advocate, artist and performer Rod Lathim was recognized by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting with a resolution recognizing the 2012 Leadership in the Arts Award recipient.

Rod Lathim

Rod Lathim

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal presented a resolution from the Board of Supervisors stating, “On behalf of the Board of Supervisors, I congratulate Rod for his decades of work in the arts and his significant role in the successful establishment of the Marjorie Luke Theatre.”

The Santa Barbara County Arts Commission’s presentation of the 2012 Leadership in the Arts Award will take place at a festive celebration and holiday gathering from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the Channing Peake Gallery during 1st Thursday in downtown Santa Barbara. Chair Barbara Burger will present the award on behalf of the Arts Commission. The Channing Peake Gallery is located on the first floor of the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St.

“Over the years, the Leadership in Arts award has given the Arts Commission an opportunity to publicly recognize the great achievements realized by exemplary citizens who through their vision, commitment and dedication continue to infuse our regional arts and culture and increase access to arts in Santa Barbara County,” said Ginny Brush, executive director of the Arts Commission.

Lathim has been a tireless advocate for access to the arts by people living with disabilities, youth and minorities and has served as an ambassador for the arts encouraging workshops, performance and exhibition opportunities for artists that live and work in Santa Barbara, ensuring the preservation of Santa Barbara’s unique cultural signature.

In 1979, Lathim founded the visionary Access Theatre and developed the company from a grassroots community theater, to a professional, award-winning, international touring company that trained and employed artists who were disabled, able-bodied, blind, sighted, deaf and hearing. For 18 years, Access Theatre served as a national model of accessibility and was honored in 1998, by Stage Directions Magazine as “one of 10 theaters nationally who have made a difference.”

Lathim directed and in many cases co-wrote many of Access Theatre’s 20 original productions including the award-winning international tour and television production of STORM READING that stared Neil Marcus. Rod achieved international acclaim for his work in 1985 when awarded the prestigious Princess Grace Award presented by HSH Prince Albert of Monaco and Frank Sinatra.

As a pioneer of accessible performing arts Lathim served for four years as the president of the National Association for Theatre and Accessibility where he assembled and hosted the first national gathering of audio describers through ATA. He has since presented workshops and seminars internationally on topics of accessible theater and the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act on theater. The Access Theatre Endowment Fund that Lathim established at the Santa Barbara Foundation continues to fund accessible theater projects throughout Santa Barbara County.

Lathim was instrumental in fundraising and development leading efforts to raise the $4 million efforts to renovate the award-winning, historic landmark Marjorie Luke Theatre. He was key in forging a unique public/private partnership with the Santa Barbara Unified School District to create a performing arts venue used by public schools and the community. Since its completion in October 2003, the Marjorie Luke Theatre has since become one of Santa Barbara’s busiest venues — utilized by more than 145 area organizations.

While president of the board of the Marjorie Luke Theatre, Lathim established a Rent Subsidy Program that continues to provide financial support to a wide variety of Santa Barbara performing arts groups. He also developed a variety of community-based programs, including the highly popular GLEE AT THE LUKE Benefit that featured the cast and producers of the popular television show.  He was also instrumental in development of the hugely successful ¡Viva El Arte Series a program that provides free Latino-based cultural performances to thousands of community families through a partnership with UCSB Arts & Lectures.

Lathim has provided decades of invaluable guidance and insight to foundations, nonprofits and area performing arts groups, serving on the Board of Directors of the Lobero Theatre, Center Stage Theater, Marjorie Luke Theatre, Boxtales Theatre Company and the Santa Barbara Performing Arts League. Over the decades, Lathim has been recognized by the community for his creative talents in writing, acting, directing and producing, as well as in the visual arts. He has been recognized as a Local Hero on two occasions by the Santa Barbara Independent.

Lathim, a fifth-generation Santa Barbaran, has enhanced Santa Barbara County’s vibrant cultural landscape through his passionate commitment to use the arts to affect social change.

— Ginny Brush is executive director of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission.