Monday, August 20 , 2018, 6:24 am | Fair 64º

Good for Santa Barbara 2017: Noozhawk's 2nd Annual report on Nonprofits and Philanthropy
Sponsored by Montecito Bank & Trust

The Arts Fund of Santa Barbara Paints the Way Toward a Creative Future

35-year-old nonprofit organization helps aspiring artists turn their dreams into reality while inspiring community appreciation for the arts

Torrie Cutbirth Click to view larger
Torrie Cuthbirth, executive director of The Arts Fund, shows off the current art exhibition (postMARKed), at The Arts Fund Galley, located in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. The exhibit showcases art, mainly postcards, sent via the U.S. Postal Service and will run until Sept. 7. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: First in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]

For 35 years, an association of, by and for Santa Barbara County artists has operated galleries, mentored up-and-coming artists and curated the works of seasoned professionals.

Now, The Arts Fund is embracing a new age with a vigorous events calendar, an expanding mentorship program, an entirely revamped Internet presence, and a youthful executive director who is no stranger to oil and canvas.

“I always knew I wanted to be an artist and to be in a career that was giving back to this community I grew up in,” Torrie Cutbirth, executive director of The Arts Fund since 2017, told Noozhawk.

“The Arts Fund was the perfect fit because it combined my love of the arts with serving the community, and they had done so much for me. I wanted to continue to provide these opportunities to artists in our community who have that passion, but don’t have someone to guide them, to show them.”

A decade before Cutbirth was a sparkle in her parents’ eyes, a loose-knit group of Santa Barbara artists banded together with designs on supporting each other’s endeavors. Santa Barbara County Arts Associates evolved in 1983 into The Arts Fund, a private, nonprofit corporation focused on facilitating the art activities of the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission.

By the late 1980s, The Arts Fund had settled into its modern mission of offering art education, development and exhibition opportunities to aspiring artists and their curators, and opportunities for county residents to expand their appreciation for the wealth of local arts and artists.

In March, the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission granted The Arts Fund its 2018 Leadership in the Arts Award.

“It was big for us,” Cutbirth said. “It’s the Arts Commission’s 40th year, and our 35th. It’s an exciting thing to be recognized for the work we’ve done supporting artists and youth in the community,”

Start Them Young

Among The Arts Fund’s longest-running programs is its Teen Mentorship Program, which began a quarter-century ago with the financial support of the James Irvine Foundation. Today, through the support of local donors, the program continues to offer promising teenage artists opportunities to work closely with professional master artists in a studio environment, develop a portfolio of work, then exhibit and sell those works in The Arts Fund Community Gallery or perform in a public venue.

Participants also are introduced to aesthetic styles and career options for artists.

The tuition-free program is open to all high school-age students in Santa Barbara County, and admission is highly competitive. Through the support of artists and advocates such as Dominique Padron of Santa Maria, the program has begun expanding into the North County.

Artist Click to view larger
Throught The Arts Fund’s Teen Mentorship Program, promising teenage artists get the chance to work closely with professional master artists in a studio environment, develop a portfolio of work, then exhibit and sell those works in The Arts Fund Community Gallery or perform in a public venue. (The Arts Fund photo)

“About 85 percent of our mentorship graduates have gone on to pursue advanced studies in the arts, and many of them have become career artists or have found careers related to the arts,” Cutbirth said.

She stands as a shining example. Cutbirth’s path to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and back home again can be traced to her own participation in The Arts Fund Teen Mentorship Program.

“Not only did it provide art enrichment, I also learned to hang gallery shows, which enabled me to find great-paying jobs as an artist’s assistant and hanging shows,” she explained. “The program taught me how I could make it as an artist.”

That final lesson was key then, as it is today.

“In 2018, when your kid wants to be an artist, you say, ‘What?!’,” Cutbirth said. “But there are so many ways to make a serious living in the arts.

“You can be an artist and show, but also be in the art world and help other artists and make a really good living doing it.”

Getting Funky

Through the years, The Arts Fund has expanded its programs, activities and visibility. In the early days, it offered the Individual Artist Award program, which recognized local artists for their work and provided winning artists space in public venues.

Artwork Click to view larger
Skills developed through The Arts Fund’s Teen Mentorship Program go well beyond the creative process. (The Arts Fund photo)

Rafael Perea was an early beneficiary of that award program, and went on to serve as a teen mentor and instructor at Santa Barbara City College.

In 2001, The Arts Fund established its first Community Gallery to provide its own space for rotating exhibits of works by emerging artists, promote audience awareness of those artists, and serve as an educational venue for workshops and artists talks, both for The Arts Fund and for other area organizations that lacked space of their own.

Now located in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, the Community Gallery offers six curated group exhibitions each year. A guest curator program also provides art enthusiasts opportunities to learn about curating, highlight their own local favorites and breathe fresh life into the gallery.

“You don’t have to have curating experience to curate a show,” Cutbirth said. “You don’t have to be an artist. Art enthusiasts come in all descriptions, and they bring with them knowledge of artists that we might not have considered or that we might not be aware of. The Guest Curator Program opens that door.”

Taking It to the Street

The Arts Fund and its Community Gallery are located in the heart of the Funk Zone, an industrial neighborhood turned Bohemian epicenter east of State Street and bordered by East Cabrillo Boulevard, Garden Street and East Montecito Street. Since the 1990s, the zone has evolved to include several galleries and artists’ studios, as well as wine tasting venues, and alternative businesses and shops.

“We like to have one gallery show per year where we collaborate with another organization to maximize the effectiveness of our resources,” Cutbirth said. “There are so many nonprofits in this town. We’d rather work together than reinvent the wheel.”

Collaboration is key throughout The Arts Funds programs, from working with donors in funding its efforts, to organizing exhibits, sharing space with other nonprofit groups, even organizing community events. Partnerships have included the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation, SBCC, and countless galleries and artists’ studios.

For a half-decade, The Arts Fund has coordinated its bimonthly Funk Zone ArtWalk to highlight the neighborhood’s vibrant artistic community. Today, nearly two dozen studios, galleries and art-centric venues combine efforts to coordinate new exhibit openings with the walks, held from 5 to 8 p.m. on the odd Fridays of each month. Visitors might experience artist receptions, art lectures, live music, pop-up artist booths, beer and wine tasting, and other interactive activities.

“We really want to highlight the artists down here, support our neighboring businesses and expand the public’s awareness of the great art we have available in our own community,” Cutbirth said.

The Arts Fund also has worked closely with the City of Santa Barbara during the past three years to curate murals in the district.

“It’s really exciting,” Cutbirth said. “We have had such a great experience working with the city, and hope we can continue working together to expand the mural program.”

Click here for more information about The Arts Fund. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jennifer Best can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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