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Essential Pairing—Petaluma’s Idea Lounge Brings Together Life and Art

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AN IDEAL LOCALE Petaluma Arts Center’s Idea Lounge series is hosted at Barber Lee Spirits, on East Washington Street in Downtown Petaluma. Photo by Andy Sewell

One of the criticisms of the arts is that they are not real life. Not truth, like science. Not immediately important, like activism or a salary. Artists can be treated as if they are not really living. Most artists almost certainly endure this complaint by someone they wish had supported them—their parents, for example.

We are uplifted by architecture spaces, brought to tears by movies, motivated to action by well-designed lawn signs. We feel good about ourselves when we wear well-crafted clothes. The impacts of the arts are seen and felt everywhere, even on those who do not recognize that value when speaking about art in the abstract.

Well, Petaluma Arts Center is acutely aware of this. PAC Executive Director Carin Jacobs has made it her mission to break through the false division between art and life.

Jacobs challenges the notion that art is not for everyone:  “Even if you don’t think that you’re an art person,” she says, “maybe try to figure out what art has to do with the rest of your life, because there are connections.”

There is also a gap from the art-world side—since art is a living thing in the town, it has to come out into the town, not just be found behind the walls of an art building.

These two thoughts led Petaluma Arts Center to the creation of the Idea Lounge several years ago, an event series which has always been hosted at a location other than PAC.

The premise of the Idea Lounge is “an artist talking for 20 minutes and someone who is not at all from the arts talking for 20 minutes, and the audience ferrets out what the connections are between art and life,” Jacobs says.

A unique element of the event design is that the pairings are not curated. The two topics are only connected in that the speakers just happened to be available on the same Wednesday night.

In effect the audience becomes the third speaker with its own 20-minute slot. For example, when a recent audience was presented with talks on jellyfish and dancing, the audience picked out “movement” as the topic to guide their conversation. On another night, a filmmaker was paired with a skipper who had sailed his boat down the coast to Mexico. The audience spoke about the human journey, a concept which happens to guide most successful script writing.

The sold-out event on Oct. 27 was the last of the fall season, before the Idea Lounge took a break for November and December. On the bill were two local legends in their own right.

Speaking for “Art” was Garth Bixler, a Petaluma-based multidisciplinary artist and former-PAC board member who worked to bring children’s tours into the Arts Center. These days, he is the secretary of the board for the Santa Rosa Symphony. Bixler’s talk was entitled, “Who me? An Artist? Coming to Terms with a Creative Nature.”

On the “Life” side, Sue Conley, one of the founders of local mainstay Cowgirl Creamery, discussed life in shades of cheese in her talk, “The Answer is Cheese.” Although, as someone who has been eating her cheeses since the ’90s, this writer might beg to differ that Conley is not an artist.

The Idea Lounge series is hosted at Barber Lee Spirits, on East Washington Street in Downtown Petaluma. An elegant space for fruitful conversations. Away from the PAC building and out into the town. Art coming to you.

The Idea Lounge will return in January 2022. Get more info and sign up for the newsletter at PetalumaArtsCenter.com.