"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Time Warner Cable, and hosted by Signal Senior Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmaker is Scott Bruckner, presidnet of the Santa Clarita Artists' Association.
Questions are paraphrased and answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: Artists' Association, Santa Clarita. I don't think of Santa Clarita as an art colony.
Bruckner: That's what we're trying to do, though. We'd love to have some more art in Santa Clarita, and that's a part of the mission statement for the association. We're doing our best.
Signal: How many people are involved in the association?
Bruckner: We have about 160. Actually, up until last year, we had about 80 or so in our association. I think when we opened our gallery last year, we really opened it up to a lot more publicity for the association. That's how a lot of artists in the community found out about us and approached us and joined.
Signal: Doubling your membership were there a lot of artists in hiding who suddenly came out of the woodwork?
Bruckner: There are a lot of people who do art as a hobby. There are other people who just don't know that there's an association in Santa Clarita. As you said, there's really no primary place where you see a lot of artists or a lot of studios, as well as there aren't a lot of galleries in Santa Clarita.
Signal: Are they amateurs? Professionals?
Bruckner: We have professionals, we have amateurs. We don't have that many professionals in our association; probably about a dozen out of that 160 or so. But they actually make their living doing art. A lot of people sell art, but they don't necessarily do it full time, so a "professional" would be somebody who makes their living selling their art.
Signal: There are probably a lot of artists, graphic artists, in the film industry who live in Santa Clarita; are they involved in your association?
Bruckner: We have some graphic artists who are in the industry, but when they come home, that's when they do their painting, and that's when they really let go with their creative side. We have a few of those who are in our association.
Signal: Is the association primarily for painters?
Bruckner: You know, it's interesting. In preparation for this interview today, I actually looked to find out how many we really have as far as painters versus sculptors versus photographers. We're made up of about 10 percent sculptors, 10 percent photographers, and 80 percent do painting, whether it be oil or acrylics. But basically that's the way we're made up. I happen to be a sculptor.
Signal: How long have you been doing that?
Bruckner: I've been doing it for about 10 years. I went through a divorce about 10 years ago and decided that I had to have some kind of release, and that's when I went into doing wood sculpting. I do contemporary stuff, which actually dates back to when I was a kid and went to a parks and rec summer program and built a wood sculpture and never forgot about it. So that's when I really started to take it up.
Signal: But you don't do it professionally.
Bruckner: No, actually I'm in insurance professionally. Sculpting is what I do when I come home when I want to create something and get away from the more structured environment of the insurance world.
Signal: Have you ever sold anything?
Bruckner: I sold my first piece last year. That was a monumental thing for me. One of the reasons I joined the association was to see if my stuff was any good, if people really thought I was worthy, and won several awards over the last five years.
Signal: Tell us about the gallery.
Bruckner: The gallery is a block off San Fernando Road on 8th Street. It's in a little house. It's painted yellow, like some of the other structures around. We actually opened our first gallery last year, which was just a block away on San Fernando Road. There's a real story there.
Signal: You couldn't pay the rent or something like that.
Bruckner: They upped our rent on us at the end of the year. We were actually sharing a storefront with an antique store on San Fernando Road, and they decided they couldn't make a go of it. So when they moved out, that's when the rent went up for us, and we couldn't swing that anymore. So we moved right across the alley into this little old house, and the landlords were very nice. Actually, one is a painter himself and a member of the Artists' Association. They painted it yellow for us. If you look down the street, it really stands out .
Signal: When is it open?
Bruckner: We're open now Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 4 most days, so stop by and come in.
Signal: What will people see there?
Bruckner: Out of those artists, we have all-original art. We have paintings, we have sculpture. It's not a real big gallery we'd love to see more galleries in Newhall but it's a cute little place, and our artists love it. It gives them a chance to actually show their pieces.
Signal: Who pays the rent?
Bruckner: It's paid by the association. Each artist, when they hang a piece of art, they have to pay some money to put a piece in. The change-out goes every month there's a new show every month and based on those hanging fees as well as other donations ... that's the way we make a go of it.
Signal: Tell us about the upcoming Art Classic.
Bruckner: The Art Classic is one of the reasons I joined the association. We bring in independent judges to look at the art. Each artist is able to enter up to two pieces of their work, and it's in all different categories from oil painting to sculpture to watercolor and photography, as well.
There are professional judges that come in and take a look at it. We started, last year, filming them as they went through each piece and critiqued it. For an artist to find out what somebody thinks of their work is a major education for them, as well as to win an award is very prestigious.
Signal: Where do you find the judges?
Bruckner: We try to get them outside of the Santa Clarita Valley. Last year ... a professor at Cal State Northridge was one of the judges; usually they're established people who have done judging in the past. It's not that easy to come out and pick out the best painting of 30 or 40 paintings.
Signal: Where will the Art Classic be this year?
Bruckner: It's going to be in the Valencia Library this year. It's going to be Saturday night, Nov. 18, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., so come on in. The tickets are $20 to get in. We're going to have hors d'oeuvres as well as wine and entertainment.
It's really a special occasion, because you can go into a store now and you can buy a piece of art, but usually it's some type of photograph that's taken someplace. This is all original work. Every piece is an original that you've never seen before. It comes out of the imagination of the artists.
Signal: They don't make prints?
Bruckner: They might; the artist would do it, but you're not going to go into a store and see something like this.
Signal: How would you define the level of skill of the exhibitors?
Bruckner: That's certainly been something that we've discussed in our Association. Some of the more professional artists, they kind of pooh-pooh someone who's just starting out. But what you see in the Art Classic usually are the best pieces. Usually someone who is just starting out isn't going to enter a piece that they haven't worked very hard on. A lot of the pieces that are in are in it because they want to win an award.
Actually, my mother is a part of the association. She has been oil-painting for 40 years. And it's her best work, because she wants to try to win an award. You see really the best pieces in this show.
Signal: Do the exhibitors sell their work?
Bruckner: Actually you can buy the pieces that are right in the show. Most of the professionals that's what they're in business to do, and that's what sets them apart from someone who does it more on a part-time basis. I think every artist would like to sell their work; it's a major thing for them to do so. Some of them feel that it really shows that they've really made it as an artist.
Signal: When you think of art shows, Laguna comes to mind; can you ever compare to a place like that?
Bruckner: You know something? There are a lot of professional artists who are here who have the same quality as some of the work that you would see in Laguna Beach.
What we really lack, I think in Santa Clarita, is really a place to show it. One of the reasons that as the president, I decided that we would go ahead and take the plunge to actually open a gallery in Newhall, which really had no visual arts presence last year, was because of the redevelopment study that they had done. The city paid over $1 million to have the study done, and in part of the study, right in it, they talk about having an arts (district) in Newhall. We already have two live theaters; the only thing that was really missing was the visual arts.
Signal: It seems like the redevelopment effort hurt you, if it drove up your rent at the old gallery, but has it helped you in any way?
Bruckner: I think it has given some visibility to us. Before we actually opened the gallery, myself, as well as about 80 of our artists, showed up at City Hall. We all wore little T-shirts that said, "Santa Clarita Artists," and we made kind of a plea to get some money from the city to sponsor us to open the gallery in the first place. No money really came, but the visibility and the publicity that we got from that increased our membership twice-fold, from 80 to 160, and it also increased the donations to the association.
But certainly we need more things in Newhall, and if you drive around Newhall, you'll see a lot of different empty storefronts, primarily maybe because the rent's going up, but it's also an opportunity. I would love to see the city invest a little bit more and allow some artists to open up some studios in downtown Newhall in some of the places that are available right now. I think that's what the city could really look at.
Signal: How do you see the association fitting into the city's plans for Newhall?
Bruckner: Well, hopefully the Artists Association will be a part of opening, someday, an art museum. I think, (in) a city of our size, an art museum just lends itself to being opened up as a part of the redevelopment of the city when they do finally start to build.
Signal: Do you do anything with local schools?
Bruckner: I'm glad you brought that up. First ever the Artists Association had never really done a lot with schools. This year is the first year that we're having after-school classes right now at the gallery, which just started up just two weeks ago, so they're running right now...
It's grades 3 through 6. It's just Newhall Elementary school right now. We're kind of walking before we really run. This is also the first time that the association has applied and gotten a grant, so the money to put on these classes in our gallery was actually part of a (Community Services) grant from the city last year.
Signal: What are the schools doing? Are they training kids at any level in the arts?
Bruckner: What has happened is, they've done away with most of all of the arts education in the schools right now, at the elementary school level, so it's up to private schools, as well as things like what we're doing to offer that to the kids. Also, you have a lot of teachers who may be artistic themselves, so they're doing whatever they can within the school curriculum. But that is something that's really needed.
Signal: Why are the arts important?
Bruckner: Well, I kind of like to use myself as an example. I mentioned to you that I really started doing sculpting as a result of going back to a class that I took in a parks and rec (program). I grew up in Burbank; I took a parks and rec class in Griffith Park. I was in junior high at the time. My mom drove me to this class because she thought art would be good for me and as I said, she's been an oil painter for 40 years. As a result of that experience, I found myself now, at age 50-something, doing art and being totally immersed in it right now.
It brings out things that you don't really expect to find in your life. Art really adds to the pleasures and the things that we see. If you look around and you see some of the artistic things that we have around us, you don't really realize that that comes from artists from the cups that we drink (from) to everything that's around us.
Signal: What do you want to be offering students to plug the gap that the schools aren't filling?
Bruckner: I think certainly what we're doing now in the gallery by having this after-school curriculum for elementary school kids can be just a start. I'd love to have the type of class that I had when I was younger, and offer that to local youth, to have them come in and actually build a sculpture out of leftover remnants from construction sites. You'd be surprised when you get the creative juices going, what you can really do.
But what we want to do as the Artists Association, part of our mission is to bring art to the city as well as to bring along the artists who are part of the association bring them along to be professional artists.
Signal: What does that mean, "bring art to the city?" Do you want to display stuff around town?
Bruckner: We do. And actually, our city is doing a lot. There's the Bear Project, which was (among) the first public art that the city sponsored. They're also sponsoring some murals that are going to be painted in Newhall, and right now they're looking to artists to apply to do that.
But there are a lot of different things that they're planning to do, I know, to try to help bring the arts along. They're talking about having some public art along the pathways where we do jogging and things like that. That's one of the things that they're planning to do. We're also working with the city, and hopefully we'll have some art in City Hall. We've already talked to the city and have a plan in place to kick that off, hopefully early next year.
When you bring the visual arts to the people, you really start to appreciate what art's all about. If you go to Scottsdale, Ariz., which I happen to visit quite regularly in my job, you're just amazed at all the public art that they have. You drive down the freeway and the freeway overcrossings, and the retaining walls are all artistically done. It's not expensive to take and imprint cement as you're placing it up.
Signal: Santa Clarita has done that with its bridges and overpasses, although it's more subtle. If you look closely, you'll see different themes stamped in the concrete in our different communities. Were you involved in coming up with that idea? Are there things around town that we can see that the Artists Association had a hand in?
Bruckner: Well, the city has developed an Arts Alliance committee that meets regularly, once a month, and they go back to the City Council. It was originally put in place, I don't know how many years ago
Signal: Is that the Arts Council?
Bruckner: The Arts Council. Right. They actually go to different artists; everyone goes to this. It's not just the Artists Association but also the Canyon Theater Guild as well as the (Repertory East Playhouse) and the (Santa Clarita) Symphony, and all the different people come together. The idea is really to promote the arts and to work with the city to develop these type of programs.
Signal: Besides working with the city, do you work with other organizations around town? You're offering after-school classes in the visual arts; the Canyon Theatre Guild offers after-school programs in live theater. It seems that you're targeting the same kids. Is it a coordinated effort?
Bruckner: It really isn't, and you know, we really haven't done that much working together. I think one of the things is, the Artists' Association of Santa Clarita has really been kind of a laid-back little group; we really didn't have a lot of presence in the city. This last year was the first time we became a member of the Chamber of Commerce. This is the first time that a lot of people in Santa Clarita even heard that there was an Artists' Association in this town. The deal is that we really were just a group of artists who got together and decided that we would have an association.
The nonprofit organization was put together about 17 years ago. The idea was basically, as I said, to bring the arts forward. But if you have artists, one of their interesting things to do is to be in their studio creating their work, not to be out talking to people and promoting art. It was just kind of a fluke that I happened to get involved in the association at the right time when the Old Town Newhall plan was being developed. And actually, Toastmasters was my passion before I even started to do sculpting 10 years ago. So I'm able to sit and talk to people without falling on my face, and I decided that this was a good time, and that's when we first started really to get going.
Signal: Yeah, why aren't you in your studio doing a sculpting right now? Why are you the go-to person?
Bruckner: It all started in 2004, I guess, when we had our Art Classic, and one of my sculptures got Best of Show. As a result of that, some artists came up to me and said, "Well, you're Best of Show, you've got to be the president now." I guess I was so elated with getting that award, I said OK. So I just kind of wandered into it. A lot of things that are done, you just kind of wander into. And that's the way it just kind of happened.
The gallery, the first gallery we had, was absolutely stupendous. The room was just perfect for art. It had big skylights, and we just kind of went right into that and from there we've just grown. But the collaboration with other art groups in town is something that certainly we look forward to doing.
Signal: How is the Internet changing the way things are happening in the arts?
Bruckner: It's rather drastic, if you're into computers. We still have some people even in our Artists Association who really aren't that computer-savvy, but as far as half of the group, probably, we're very much into the computers; we understand them, we do them maybe in our day jobs. So it yields itself.
We do have someone, one of our artists, Diane Bruckner no relation to me who happens to be into computers big-time and does the home pages for different people, and she runs our Web site. She tells me we get 1,000 hits a month on our Web site, and when you join the Artists' Association, one of the things that comes with that is you get a page on our site. So if you don't have your own site, we'll give you one where you can have a bio and show a piece of your work.
Signal: A lot of high school kids are designing interesting Web sites; is the Artists' Association a place for them?
Bruckner: It really is. The idea is to bring artists together. We would love to get more young people involved in our group.
One of the things is, we're trying to move the group forward as much as possible; we need that energy. There are a lot of different things that we've done in the last two years that we've never done in the last 17 years. We want to keep that energy going forward.
It is very difficult, though, if you're used to being in a studio and you're really focused on creating your art, to get involved in an association. It would be nice if we could hire somebody to run the association, because it is very difficult. I've done very little art in the last couple of years because I'm expected to be the president.
Signal: You don't have a paid staff person.
Signal: Are you involved in other arts organizations? Do you visit other galleries and see what they're doing, and bring some of those ideas home?
Bruckner: I'm a member of MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles), so I go down for their openings. I also belong to the Mark Taper Forum and go to plays there. I'm always looking around. We don't have to look very far; if you look at the city of Ventura, they have a very active artists community up there. They have a studio tour where you can go up and I've gone to their studio tour, gone to their meetings, and seen how active they are.
When you look around, there are a lot of (things) to emulate. The thing is to get the support of the city and the support of the town, because even running the gallery, even though it isn't an inexpensive rent, it's still difficult to make ends meet without those contributions.
Signal: What are your biggest goals in the next year or so?
Bruckner: Well, since I'm turning over the presidency to a new president next year, it's going to be for her to decide. I think the vision that I've tried to bring is to bring the association into the new age of computers, as well as visibility. We've done so much partnership with the city and with other groups in town that certainly that's where we want to go forward.
I would love to see our show next year, the Art Classic next year, to be at a high-class venue like maybe the Hyatt. I would really like to see us continue to go forward, to raise the visibility of arts in the city of Santa Clarita.
Signal: So which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Will you need to hire a staff person to raise money, or will you need to raise money so you can hire staff?
Bruckner: We really need a heavy-duty sponsor. I think that's what we're really missing, is the funds. We're probably always going to be hampered, because we're all artists just trying to struggle along until we find an administrator to walk in and really move the association forward. That is really what's needed, I think.
Signal: In the meantime, next Saturday, what will we be able to see at the Valencia Library?
Bruckner: You're going to see over 100 pieces of fine art, original art. We're going to have some great entertainment. Leona Valley Winery is going to be there with wine, as well as hors d'oeuvres. We're going to have the Canyon Theater Guild there; they're going to (stage) a little performance for us.
We're going to have a silent auction, as well as a live auction. We hope to get some art from our artists between now and then; we'll auction it off as part of giving the presentations to the winners at the Art Classic.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.