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Diane Trautman: Taking art to a new level

Posted: January 10, 2009 7:59 p.m.
Updated: January 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Art. When we hear the word, many of us think of it as a separate realm reserved for the elite - an indulgence, a luxury, a thing apart from our everyday lives.

This reasoning puts the arts and arts education on the chopping block during economic downturns and places it on a back burner even in good times.

Yet, art is a part of our daily experience, a necessary component of a good education and a crucial support system to help us weather challenges.

We seldom think about the value it adds to our lives, and to our community. Art has saved at-risk youth from lives of crime, brought comfort to those in crisis (such as during the Great Depression) and bridged cultural gaps.

Students who participate in comprehensive arts programs are more confident, get better grades and are more likely to stay engaged in school than those who do not enjoy such programs.

Participation in the arts improves math, physical coordination and social skills, among other benefits.

These and other reasons should compel us to reexamine our approach to the arts, and find new ways to support it. Members of the city's Arts Advisory Committee are doing just that.

We believe the time has come to raise awareness, appreciation and participation in the arts in Santa Clarita through the creation of a city-level arts commission.

In 1996, the city encouraged local artists and arts organizations to meet and assess their needs. As a result, the Arts Alliance - now known as 661Arts - formed and began monthly meetings.

In 1997, it worked with the city to create the Cultural Arts Master Plan. The master plan called for the formation of a local arts agency to promote, support and develop arts and culture.

To fulfill that call to action, the city created an Arts Advisory Committee, composed of artists, educators and business and local leaders to serve as an advisory body, providing opinions about proposals developed and presented by city staff. It started meeting in 2002 and has done so almost every month since.

Arts Advisory Committee members have recently determined that the committee's status as an advisory body is insufficient to truly promote, support and develop arts and culture in our community by the means called for in the Master Plan.

Working as it does through city staff, the committee does not have a direct working relationship with the city council.

A higher level of responsibility and greater stature are necessary if the city wants to develop a first-class arts community. In short, it's time for the committee to become a fully fledged Arts Commission.

As liaison from the city's Planning Commission, which I've been a part of since 2002, I have served on the Arts Advisory Committee for four years and currently serve as vice chair.

My training is in theater arts and I bring that vision to the committee. However, my vantage point on the Planning Commission allows me to view the arts from a community development perspective.

The Santa Clarita Valley is home to about 7,000 residents who are employed in creative industries. Film permits result in millions of dollars of revenue for the city.

Local colleges offer excellent training for artists. We have the components to create and support more art locally, both community-oriented and professional, in order to establish a reputation as an artistic haven.

In promoting and developing arts and culture within our community, we will not only provide intrinsic community benefit, but the expansion of arts will draw more innovative businesses to the valley to support our economy.

Creative people want to live in dynamic cities, and creativity fuels our "information economy," which is the fastest-growing segment of our country's economy.

The greatest increase in business between 2007 and 2008 was growth in creative industries, according to a report released last year by Americans for the Arts and based on data from Dun & Bradstreet.

These businesses currently employ 2.98 million people and comprise 4.3 percent of all businesses.

On Tuesday, the City Council will review a report prepared by our staff and will consider our request to create an Arts Commission of equal standing with the Planning Commission, and with the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission.

Arts supporters are not asking the city for excessive funding, and we're not interested in dictating to artists, arts organizations, educators or businesses.

We simply want a commission that will do for the arts what the Parks Commission does for sports in our valley.

We intend to work with the council to create a framework upon which the arts can grow and thrive.

The Arts Commission would serve as a conduit and a resource for the community and for artists, connecting them for the benefit of all and reducing redundancy in the process.

I ask your support for our effort. Please call or e-mail your City Council members, or better still, coming to the meeting at City Hall at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Tell them that you support creation of an Arts Commission.

Diane Trautman is vice chairwoman of the Santa Clarita Planning Commission, vice chairwoman of the Santa Clarita Arts Advisory Committee and co-owner and education director of an in-home tutoring service. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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