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The state of the arts

By Neil G. Greene, Special to the Daily Planet
Monday June 03, 2002

With the fifth annual Berkeley Arts Festival just around the corner now, festival organizers have begun raising money to create the best possible event in a city they contend is letting its vibrant art scene slowly slip away. 

At yesterday’s garden party fundraiser, festival supporters and patrons of the arts gathered to enjoy the sunny Sunday and talk about the state of the arts in Berkeley.  

“The City of Berkeley could do a lot more for artists. For a city with our reputation we do very little,” said festival founder and organizer Bonnie Hughes. 

While the city has contributed $20,000 to the festival’s $40,000 price tag, Hughes said too often money allocated to the arts funds only highly visible projects, rather than the back-street creators who teeter between starting their artistic career and struggling for a space in which to create. 

“A lot of creativity is ignored. People who do more experimental and inventive work don’t get a lot of support,” said Hughes. “It’s those things that are tried and true and sure to bring in the dollars that the city supports. This takes away from the vitality of the art scene.” 

Hughes once curated the Berkeley Store Gallery, which has since closed its doors and been replaced by Kinkos. 

The Gallery was renowned for its ability to both harness and house the full spectrum of Berkeley artists. There, sculptors mingled with painters, and musicians with poets. Musicians from across the country and from around the world came to the gallery to perform. 

However, since its closing in 2000, Gallery artists have percolated into the relative isolation of their respective studios and left part of the art scene disassociated from itself. This is one reason why Hughes believes the festival helps resurrect Berkeley’s artistic community. 

“The festival provides visibility for a wide variety of artists and reminds people of the depth and breadth of activity out there in the art world. It’s a worthy thing to do,” she said. 

At yesterday’s garden party, few in attendance doubted that the festival would go on if it weren’t for Hughes’ dedication and her seemingly magical ability to organize and raise the much needed and hard-to-come-by funds.  

“It takes mavericks like Bonnie to make the event happen,” said Joshua Hayes, a patron of the arts and contributor to yesterday’s fundraiser. He added that Berkeley’s problem with supporting the arts is two-fold. 

First, Hayes contends that within the city there is a general apathy stemming from people too stressed and overworked to get involved with the arts. This leaves them with little time to make arts events happen. 

Secondly, he said, little space is set aside or made available for the arts. 

“The arts aren’t profit driven. They don’t make as much money as Kinkos. We [society] only create space on commercial potential,” he said. 

In an effort to diversify and enhance the festival’s artistic experience, Hughes solicited the support and participation of theater stalwart George Cotes. Hughes and Cotes worked together and successfully gained approval from UC theater owners to use their theater from June 5 through November 10. However, the city subsequently denied a use-permit, leaving Cotes’ theater production on hold. 

With fingers still crossed, Cotes and Hughes are hopeful that enough support can be mustered to make the production happen. 

Despite bumps in the road, Hughes remains focused and determined to make this year’s festival a success. There will be a strong focus on kids’ arts, with the participation of VALA (Visual Arts, Language Arts), a nonprofit groups that helps organize youth art projects ranging from painting to sculpture and poetry. 

Burgeoning artists also will be given the opportunity to display their work throughout the festival in galleries and in the streets.  

The festival will be held from August 10 to 25.