Santa Cruz’s arts community needs a protective ‘SCAARF’ to survive

Sara Friedlander's new downtown retrospective is also a fundraiser for struggling Santa Cruz artists.
(Via Sara Friedlander)

Longtime mixed media artist Sara Friedlander has a retrospective at the Curated by the Sea gallery in downtown Santa Cruz through Sept. 10, with her friend and fellow artist Dee Hooker. Friedlander’s art has encouraged us to rethink immigration, the systemic oppression of women, climate change, the threat to democracy and more. In a Community Voices op-ed, she writes about the need to support Santa Cruz’s artists through the “SCAARF fundraising wall of art,” which is showing along with their exhibit. Check it out; you might get to take home your favorite piece.

Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.

We all know how fortunate we are to live in this incredibly beautiful county. And I don’t have to elaborate on how much more unaffordable and at-risk our community has become over time. If you need convincing, google “the second-most unaffordable place to live in the country.”

It is alarming.

Part of Santa Cruz’s uniqueness comes from the rich array of creative people who live here, some of whom are struggling to stay.

Back in 2008, artist Dee Hooker and I created the “Art for Art” show, a large exhibition featuring 28 local artists with a focus on supporting the creative community. It was just after the economic crisis had hit and artists were struggling and needed a way to show and sell their work. Remarkably, we were a town with more artists per capita than most in the country (listed in the top 100 small art towns in America), and there was not a single downtown Santa Cruz art gallery to represent our work.

It sounds like a joke, except it is distinctly unfunny.

Dee and I had met in 2001, right after 9/11, when I joined a monthly art group that met at Dee’s Soquel home/studio. We were both experimenting with combining photographs and paint and were inspired by each other’s work. Dee had been organizing the art auction for the Santa Cruz Cancer Benefit every year, and I contributed to that.

So when she had the idea to do a large art show in 2008 and asked me to develop the project with her, we began in earnest. The rest unfolded with time, as our friendship continued to grow and our art matured in new directions.

In that first show, we featured an artist-contributed raffle wall. With the proceeds from the raffle, direct contributions and a percentage of all the artists’ sales, we wrote a check for $6,000 that went directly to the building fund for the Tannery Arts studios and theater.

The art had sold well and the whole community benefited.

At that point, we began our research and soon realized how limited funds were/are, both locally and nationally, for artists facing emergency situations. So six months later, with our next “Art for Art’’ exhibition, we founded SCAARF (Santa Cruz Artists Assistance and Relief Fund), and we secured a nonprofit sponsor. We developed a website, listed emergency resources, created an online application and then went on to produce several other similar exhibitions to continue fundraising.

Over the years, we awarded over a dozen $800-$1,000 grants to artists facing career-threatening situations: illnesses (surgeries, burns, strokes), fire damage, theft, etc.

Then came the CZU fires, and in 2021, we gave our last five grants to artists who had lost their studios. For those five artists, it meant a great deal.

One grantee, Felicia Rice, printer, artist and publisher, has just announced the completion of her new studio, thanks to all the support she has received, including a grant from SCAARF. The Santa Cruz community cares.

Then along came Melissa Kreisa.

Melissa and her family relocated from the San Jose area to England and then to Santa Cruz in 2019. In San Jose and England, she worked and exhibited in art galleries and was the artist coordinator for the renowned Ann and Mark’s Art Party at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. She realized that a large portion of the artists in that Bay Area show — including Dee and me — were from Santa Cruz County. Once here, she saw that this broad artist community had limited spaces to exhibit their work. So in the middle of the pandemic, in summer 2020, she opened a gallery downtown.

Melissa is tireless. And personable. And determined. And talented.

Her gallery, Curated by the Sea, is a 4,600-square-foot space on Front Street, right next to the Museum of Art & History (MAH) in downtown Santa Cruz. By opening this gallery, she managed to invigorate the arts community throughout the pandemic, carrying us through some pretty dark times. And her generous spirit is infectious.

Curated by the Sea is a downtown gallery showcasing local artists.
Curated by the Sea is a downtown gallery showcasing local artists.
(Via Sara Friedlander)

When Dee and I told Melissa about SCAARF, she immediately offered to work with us. She found a nonprofit sponsor and has now graciously taken leadership of the SCAARF fund. Having it connected to the gallery allows for many more fundraising possibilities and greater visibility.

Right now, Curated by The Sea is featuring “STILL …” a joint exhibit (our first) featuring Dee and my artwork. It contains 100-plus pieces, dating from the 1980s to today, and showcases our evolving artistic styles.

"STILL ..." is showing at Curated by the Sea and has been extended until Sept. 10
(Via Sara Friedlander)

Though our methods and techniques overlap, our distinct personalities and perspectives seem to complement each other.

My work represents my journey artistically from ceramics through mixed media and back to clay again. But as time passes it tends toward socio/political issues and attempts to artistically comment on our current conditions.

Sara Friedlander's "Chinese Women: Bound and Determined" highlights the quiet dignity of women who had their feet bound.
Sara Friedlander’s “Chinese Women: Bound and Determined” highlights the quiet dignity of women who had their feet bound.
(Via Sara Friedlander)

Dee’s work, too, uses mixed media, but focuses on portraiture of real and imagined people. Dee is clearly more whimsical and quirky than I am, in her art and her life. She says she creates composites of people’s histories “assembled to her liking.” She borrows, manipulates and distorts using the latest digital tools.

Artist Dee Hooker creates composites of people’s histories “assembled to her liking."
(Via Sara Friedlander)

Together, you’ll see the world through the eyes of two close friends.

And as part of this show, which is ongoing until Sept. 10, with a closing event on First Friday, Sept. 2, we have set up another SCAARF fundraising art wall.

The SCAARF fundraising art wall at Curated by the Sea. Buy tickets for a chance to win your favorite pieces.
The SCAARF fundraising art wall at Curated by the Sea. Buy tickets for a chance to win your favorite pieces.
(Via Sara Friedlander)

Prominent local artists have donated 35 small works for you and our community. The artists include: Jody Alexander, Will Marino, Dag Weiser, Janet Allinger, Linda Christensen, Hildy Bernstein, Charles Prentiss, Susana Arias, Rose Sellery and more. Dee and I also donated work, as did Melissa, who is also an artist.

You can buy tickets for $5 each and place tickets into boxes next to the works you’d like to have. We will draw tickets from each box at our closing reception on Sept. 2. Maybe you’ll be lucky.

Meanwhile, you can know that your contribution will bolster and strengthen that supportive “Scaarf,” which we as a community are knitting together for those among us in need.

Sara Friedlander has lived in Santa Cruz since 1973.
Sara Friedlander has lived in Santa Cruz since 1973.
(Via Sara Friedlander)

With increased health and climate insecurities, rising costs and stress levels mounting, support for our local artists, and the need for art itself, is greater than ever. I’m hoping that having a local gallery and SCAARF downtown will encourage people to support Santa Cruz artists and keep this quirky, artsy town vital.

Sara Friedlander has been living in Santa Cruz since 1973. After 30 years as a psychotherapist, she shifted her focus to her artwork and has been exhibiting locally and nationally since 2000. She started with ceramics in the ‘70s and has worked with photography and painting, sculpture and digital collaging to create multiple series featuring Chinese women with bound feet, the New York subways, blurred landscapes, immigration, environmental concerns and more. Her work as an arts activist through Santa Cruz’s ARRT group has solidified her belief in the importance of the arts in preserving our democracy.

More from Community Voices