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Long live Lodi arts

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Posted: Friday, March 14, 2008 10:00 pm

You may not realize it yet, but there is a lot more to Lodi's art scene than the sound of the saxophone you admired at Friday Night Live, or the large-scale paintings you stood under at the First Friday Art Hop.

Behind every art event in Lodi there are people who hang the photographs, people who find wineries to donate wine so your glass stays full, someone playing the piano while you stare at a sculpture or try to count the layers of oil on a painting.

Behind the Night Time Live Jazz series, the First Friday Art Hops, the Open Studio's Tours, the countless classes at Hutchins Street Square and the Art on the Square event is the City of Lodi branch known as the Lodi Arts Commission.

"(We provide) a bridge to the community for the appreciation of arts, ideas and events that further arts in all area - music, painting, sculpture, writing," said Margie Lawson, chairwoman of the Lodi Arts Commission.

But because there aren't enough people stepping up to the job of arts commissioner, Lodi may lose some its most popular art events. Already, the commission has had to cancel the 2008 Art on the Square - one of the most successful events - because they don't have the man power to run it.

"It's such a big undertaking and there weren't enough commissioners to handle the workload," said Deanie Bridewell, events and arts coordinator for Hutchins Street Square.

Haunted Hutchins, a Halloween festival for children, already said good-bye and had its final run in 2006.

Anyone who is registered to vote in San Joaquin County and has an appreciation for the arts can apply to be a commissioner.

Each of the arts commissioners enjoy various aspects of art. Not all of them are artists. Some show up to lunch-time meetings in nylons and heels, while others are comfortable in sweatshirts and jeans. Some prefer jazz over classic rock. They joke and talk and sometimes have to be told to keep it down. Everyone's background is different - there are teachers and artists, a cartoon animators and business owners.

But a passion for art and the community has brought them together under the tall ceilings of Hutchins Street Square, where they have their meetings and host some of the events you've likely attended. They thrive on bringing art to Lodi, and helping other organizations share art in all of its forms.

Ben Burgess, the art-enthusiast and retired animator for Disney, has joined several branches of art in Lodi, carrying idea sketches of Art in Public places with him and presenting his ideas of statues to anyone involved. One reason he wants to preserve art in Lodi is because he says the school system is lacking.

"The commission is picking up the ball where the state school system has dropped the ball," he said. "It's sad to see art as a language be literally reduced."

Meeting the people behind the Lodi Arts Commission

Jennifer Walth

Jennifer Walth, commissioner

Years on the commission: 5

Profession: owner of Perfect Balance Day Spa in Lodi

Though she is a businesswoman who owns a day spa, Jennifer Walth says her first love is music.

Her passion for music is also what inspired her to join the Lodi Arts Commission.

After attending several concerts of Lodi's Night Time Live Jazz series, she realized she wanted Lodi to be able to enjoy even more music in Lodi, particularly smooth jazz.

She proposed some ideas, and soon, local musicians had the opportunity to perform at various art and wine events throughout Lodi.

Walth doesn't play any instruments, but growing up with a painting mother taught her to appreciate all forms of art.

Through programs that the city offers, she hopes children will get the opportunity to experience art the way she did as a child.

"There's a big need (for art) because schools are cracking down on programs. We are doing a big part to keep it alive and well," Walth said.

Nancy Carey

Nancy Carey, commissioner

Years on the commission: 2

Profession: retired teacher

A lot of art and entertainment has happened in Lodi since the Lodi Arts Commission was first chartered in 1982. Nancy Carey knows. She is one of the original commissioners. She says the goals are the same, but the need for commissioners is greater because the commission does so much more.

In 1979 and 1980, Carey was president of the Tokay Players, a drama group in Lodi.

She also taught in the family and consumers department of Lodi High School for 32 years.

To Carey, working on art grants is one of the most important parts of being a commissioner. This year, she says there are seven main groups.

"They are all worthy causes," she said.

Grant recipients vary from helping the Lodi Community Band or helping students at Tokay High School publish a literary magazine.

Margie Lawson, chairwoman

Years on the commission: In her second 5-year term

Profession: retired teacher

Margie Lawson is a retired teacher of Claremont Elementary, but this year, she'll keep busy as chairwoman of the Lodi Arts Commission. In addition to the commissions own events, she wants to help community art groups manage themselves.

Lawson is involved in organizations from the First United Methodist Church, Horizon Community Church and she even manages and sings back-up for a local band.

Laura Heinitz

Laura Heinitz, vice chair

Years on the commission: 12 years

Profession: owner, Town and Country

There are the First Friday Art Hops. There are the concerts. There are the artist studio tours. All of these things are to enrich the lives of people living in Lodi. But for Laura Heinitz, it is being a part of these things that has enriched her own life.

"This really makes me whole," Heinitz said. "I love helping with the arts and making some type of impact on the arts in Lodi."

Heinitz came to Lodi from Walnut Grove, where she was a painter for 10 years and a member of the River Road Art Gallery in Locke. When she moved to Lodi, she went to work and stopped painting. The Lodi Arts Commission provided a way for her to continue to contribute to the arts.

Now, she is energetic and outspoken, always ready for the next art show, concert or meeting. Now she sits on several committees, including the arts commission and Lodi Arts Project Fund.

Judy Bader

Judy Bader, commissioner

Years on the commission: 4 years

Profession: Travel agent

Originally, Judy Bader joined the arts commission because she was concerned that artists didn't have a place to display their work.

But she also came to realize there was so much more to the commission. She fell in love with every part of it - singing, dancing, hands on art, the classes.

"I just feel so lucky that we have this in our town," she said.

Bader has an artistic side, too. She says she plays a little piano. When she was younger, she sold two paintings, but that scared her so much that she stopped painting all together. She transferred her creativity into writing books, one of which is completed but not published.

Ben Burgess

Ben Burgess, commissioner

Years on the commission: 3 years

Profession: retired animator for Disney

After working 18 years as an animator on Disney films like "The Land Before Time" and "Thumbelina," Ben Burgess called it quits on movies and moved back to his childhood stomping grounds. He grew up in Stockton, where his family owned a rental company. But now, he is in Lodi - and on a mission to preserve the arts.

He is involved in the Lodi Arts Commission, the Lodi Arts Project Fund and the Art in Public Places board.

He hopes that one day Lodi will have more examples of public art. Currently, he is working on an idea to beautify the corner of Cherokee Lane and Central Avenue. Not only will it improve the land, it will make people think about art more.

"People need to have a love for the arts," he said.

Deanie Bridewell

Deanie Bridewell, events and arts coordinator for Hutchins Street Square

Arts commission community liaison for 4 years.

Deanie Bridewell is not a commissioner, but she knows everything there is to know about the LAC. When something needs to be done - a poster being made or artist being contacted - she is likely the one commissioners turn to.

Under her new title as events and arts coordinator, she not only helps the LAC, but helps bring events to Hutchins Street Square.

Diane Amaral

Diane Amaral, coordinator of classes for the Division of Arts and Culture

Years in the job: 8

You know that dance class you're taking? You know that potter class you plan to take? Well you can thank Diane Amaral. Every year she searches high and low for instructors that can share skills with the people of Lodi.

If there's some kind of arts education class you don't see at Hutchins Street Square, she will look into it.

Like Bridewell, she is not a commissioner, but what she does helps the commission complete their mission of broadening arts appreciation in Lodi. The LAC also provides student scholarships that cut tuition of art specialty classes by 50 percent.

Thorstien W. Himle II and Karen Mattei have been approved by the city council as the newest arts commissioners.

Breaking down of arts in Lodi

Unless you've been in hiding, you know Lodi is full of art - statues and displays around town, photography and painting hanging in your every day coffee shop, music echoing outside on Friday nights.

But how did it come to be?

Was it through the Lodi Arts Commission? The Lodi Arts Project Fund? Art in Public Places board? The Art Advisory Board?


And yes, all of those groups exist in Lodi - and they're all connected with the main idea to spread art appreciation throughout the city.

To break it down, start with the Lodi Arts Commission (LAC). It's made up of local people who want to promote arts of all forms in Lodi (see commissioner profiles to the left). The LAC has its own events, like Art at the Square. But they also pair with other organization to bring music and art to Lodi. For example, they worked with Marlo Kerner productions to bring Night Time Live to Hutchins Street Square.

Other nonprofit art organizations that aren't considered City of Lodi groups can also seek the help and funds of the LAC. If Delta College or Changing Faces Theatre company want to bring theater productions to Lodi, they can present their ideas to the LAC in hopes of getting support.

If the LAC votes that in favor of the group, the LAC will then present the project to the Lodi Arts Project Fund (LAPF). The LAPF is a fund-raising group for Lodi arts and is made up of Lodi residents, and members of Parks and Recreation, public works, city planning and the LAC.

If LAPF likes the idea, the nonprofit group will likely get some sort of sponsorship by the LAC.

The LAC also gives annual grants to nonprofit organization who apply. This year, the city allotted $50,000 for the LAC to give away. The LAC makes a recommendation to the city council, who has the last say.

Another branch of Lodi Art is the Art advisory board of Art in Public Places. That is responsible for the crane statue at the train station and the repainted water tower. The board is comprised of five people who work for the city and the money comes from a percentage of developer's fees.

How to become a Lodi Arts Commissioner

If you are considering joining the Lodi Arts Commission, attend a couple meetings first.

"I want people to not be scared off," vice chair Laura Heinitz said. "We would like people to sit in on meetings so they're not overwhelmed by it."

The LAC meets the second Wednesday of every month at noon in the Thomas Theatre Gallery of Hutchins Street Square, 125 S. Hutchins St.

Once appointed by the city council, commissioners are expected to attend once-a-month meetings and help with art event throughout the year.



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