Sometimes living in a town like Davis or Woodland can feel a little isolated in terms of options for great art, music and dance. However, it means that you have a world of choices for entertainment, despite Yolo County’s population of about 200,000.
This past year was a watershed year for the arts in Yolo. The Nelson Gallery of UC Davis received a large naming gift, and embarked on a campaign to build a new facility. John Natsoulas created a gallery of public art throughout downtown Davis, along with murals by local artists. Even the business association Davis Downtown got into the act, coordinating the citywide Artober, a celebration of the arts and humanities, in which 75 separate events took place during October.
On Wednesday, Dec. 12, staff from four organizations in Yolo County shared their insights at the Pence Gallery’s panel discussion, “Arts Grown Locally.” The panel delved into how the Mondavi Center, the Davis Art Center, the Davis Live Music Collective and Yolo Arts try to stay local, serving their immediate audience, while remaining open to larger regional trends.
From the Davis Art Center’s 52-year-old organization to the fledgling Davis Live Music Collective, just a toddler at 2 years old, the organizations present represented a diversity of experience and focus. Despite their different missions, each one agreed that the “Yolo” character of their audience was distinctive.
Jeremy Ganter, associate director of the Mondavi Center, commented on the Mondavi’s annual orchestra series and its popularity with the Davis audience.
“It’s our most expensive series, and yet it sells out every year with subscribers,” he said. “And that just doesn’t happen in other communities.”
Ganter went on to underline Mondavi’s collaboration with a Davis-based dance company — the Pamela Trokanski Dance Theater — to involve adults with Parkinson’s disease, and the positive impact of the program on participants.
“It’s very moving to see participants connecting with people further along in the disease, and in some ways, letting go of the disease, through dance,” he said.
Other panelists, such as Kyle Monhollen from the Davis Live Music Collective, were comfortable with the focus on serving a mainly local audience, given its success in building an audience of like-minded music lovers.
“Our audience is mainly composed of people with school aged-children who still are interested in live music, who don’t want to travel across the causeway to Sac or further afield to San Francisco,” he said. “They want a shared experience that is enjoyable.”
Emerging from the active house party concert scene in this college town, the volunteer-driven Collective has had success in hosting distinctive performers such as Jolie Holland and the Sea of Bees. In June, the Davis Music Festival, a one-day event featuring upwards of 100 musicians, drew an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 participants, triple the attendance of the prior year.
Dani Thomas, director of Yolo Arts, shared her thoughts on how her organization has developed the Art & Ag Program, reflecting the county’s agricultural roots and its rich tradition of landscape painting.
“Who would think that these two groups — farmers and artists — would have anything in common?” she asked. “But they do, and farmers love seeing the views of their land, whereas artists enjoy seeing the beauty of the land first-hand, and what it takes to produce it.”
To prove her point, National Endowment for the Arts chairman Rocco Landesman visited Yolo County recently, specifically to see her program in action.
Erie Vitiello, executive director of the Davis Art Center, also commented on involving the community in new ways, especially since the economic downturn of 2008.
“Our ‘Trash to Treasures’ program, in which business teams compete to create a sculpture out of recycled materials in a two-hour window, is really unique for this area,” she said. “It harnesses the creativity of these different local businesses, and the sculptures that they make (and the Art Center displays) are truly inventive.”
Overall, panelists agreed that the recent burgeoning of the arts scene in Yolo was in some ways reflective of a larger trend during challenging economic times.
“Community,” Thomas explained. “The arts are about connecting people and building community.”
— Natalie Nelson is director of the Pence Gallery, which hosted the panel discussion.