The Art of Petaluma

New executive director at art center

Why is a town with an art center better than a town without one? That’s the question the new leadership at the Petaluma Arts Center wants us to ask ourselves.

If there is one common thread that crosses ideological, cultural and political lines in this time of Covid, it’s that art heals. Streaming services subscriptions surged as the pandemic took hold last year. Fans of theater and live music tentatively reserved tickets for shows and crossed their fingers that the events would actually happen. Social media is awash with people creating and sharing for the first time.

Carin Jacobs, the new executive director at the Petaluma Arts Center, is willing to bet that the healing really starts locally. “I moved to Petaluma about eight years ago and this is now my forever home,” she said, laughing, as she showed me around the current exhibit showcasing local handicrafts from wool sweaters to guitars.

The show, “By Hand, Makers Among Us,” focuses not just on the works created by talented community members, it also highlights the process of creation. Finished works like an impeccable sweater are displayed along with a loom and the same raw wool that was used to make the art object. Fine bowls are displayed with lumps of clay. Jacobs points out that showing the process is important because it “pulls back the curtain on art and humanizes it” and also reflects how the “frame” of a gallery changes how you see objects that have an everyday form and function in the world.

Jacobs first moved to town during a seven-year hiatus from her career in the art world, so she volunteered at the PAC to feed her passion for art. “The community that I found here has become a surrogate family to me, truly,” she said.

That is how she sees her work; as “expanding the family of the Art Center.” She wants to capture the vital energy of the town, appealing to both the new urban transfers and those who have lived in Petaluma for multiple generations.

Connecting diverse communities to the PAC so that community members see themselves in the art, is her strategy for building membership. “You blend that and create a place where people not only say ‘I’ve been there’ but they say ‘I go there,’” Jacobs says.

By expanding the Board of Directors from 6 to 9 members, Jacobs plans to bring diversity into leadership, as well. In part, this means younger representation. “Age diversity is important, because if you don’t want only retired people over 65 coming through the door, you need to have younger people see themselves here,” she says.

She adds, “It’s organic in terms of those people telling their circles and their friends and their communities, and that’s how you grow.”

PAC’s remaining 2021 exhibitions serve that purpose well. Next up is the city’s popular Día de los Muertos observation, featuring an altar installed at PAC and a joyous procession through city streets that lands revelers at the Center’s ample outdoor space to dance to live music. The series of events highlights the benefits of acting as a nexus for a community looking for meaningful ways to come together.

The last show of the year is the annual Members Exhibition, created for members to really connect in just the ways Jacobs believes are so important. Work displayed is selected from submissions of member’s own work.

“I think we would all agree that a town with an art center is better than one without one, but I think we need to get better at explaining why,” Jacobs says. “The more people that can answer that question, the more people are going to organically become ambassadors of the message and the mission and the work that we’re doing.”

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