West County Magic: SebArts for the win

I love Sebastopol. How could I not? I live a couple of miles from downtown, in a glass house in an apple orchard. With my personal garden just off the deck, and my own treehouse a stone’s throw from my front door, I have access to all the beauty this magical place offers.

Apparently, my family agrees. I recently invited them up from the bucolic foothills adjacent to Palo Alto where they live, and they were stunned by the peace and majesty of this area. Which says a lot, as they live in one of the Bay Area’s most sought-after neighborhoods. They told me in no uncertain terms that I undersold Sebastopol by telling them to “turn right at the shack” and describing this place as a “hippie town.” OK, OK, I said. It’s an unpainted house, and it’s an art town. That’s better, they begrudged.

One has only to approach downtown Sebtown to pick up on the art vibe. Local artist Patrick Amiot’s quirky junk sculptures dot the landscape, as do quaint restaurants, colorful characters, the town square and the Barlow Market District. But it’s the seminal Sebastopol Center for the Arts, a county-wide phenomenon since its founding in 1988, that best sets the tone for this town.

Located next to Ives Park, a couple of short blocks from the intersection of Hwy 116 and Bodega Avenue, SebArts is a local mainstay, attracting over 50,000 artists and visitors each year. As well as promoting artists of all types, offering classes, exhibitions, film festivals, poetry readings and more, the nonprofit, community-funded art space offers sliding-scale memberships with benefits and rentable event space.

Says Creative Director Catherine Devriese, “My job is to be in charge of our 8 programs: performance arts, literary arts, visual arts, 2 open studios—Art at the Source and Sonoma County Art Trails—the educational program and the ceramics studio. Una [Glass], co-director and financial wizard, claims I have the fun part of our jobs. We are a team.”

When the Center closed its doors on March 14, 2020, due to Covid, Devriese and her staff faced the enormous hurdle of transitioning the Center’s programs into online offerings. “[T]he award-winning documentary film festival, the exhibitions, Art at the Source—our first open studio—poetry readings, music performances and classes were shared through Zoom and video recordings,” Devriese says. “What a challenge!”

And yet, SebArts thrived during the Covid shutdown.

Program Associate Carolyn Wilson says, “This is my 7th year participating as an artist in Sonoma County Art Trails, but it is my first year as a member of staff, too, so I am now wearing two hats.” At work she is affectionately known as Chief Cat Herder and provides support to all the programs, including keeping 121 artists on track and on task for the upcoming Art Trails event over the course of two rapidly approaching weekends, Sept. 18–19 and 25–26.

WIlson’s own mixed-media paintings are inspired by nature. A self-taught artist, she discovered the combined mediums of collage and watercolor about 20 years ago. Her art will be displayed in her spacious backyard at the upcoming Art Trails, and visitors will have access to the inside workings of her studio and be able to learn about collage. Wilson “look[s] forward to meeting people who are curious to learn how and why we artists do what we do, and appreciate this event showcasing the wealth of talented artists we have in Sonoma County.”

What other calendar events can we expect from SebArts this fall?

“The International Fiber Arts X” exhibit runs at the Sebarts Gallery through Sept. 12. The Regular Submission deadline for the 2022 Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival is on Sept. 10. “Connections: A Night of Poetry for Vaccinated Guests” happens on Thursday Oct. 21, from 7–9 pm in the SebArts dining room, for a nominal fee of $10. But there’s more—the ceramics studio is open every day of the week, with classes on Sept. 24, 25 and Oct. 28, and art classes are offered throughout the month of September.

My family’s coming up for Art Trails, so they get another chance to spend a day in Sebastopol—this time getting a feel for the greater community. What can the rest of us do? Help keep the magic alive in West County this fall by continuing to support the Sebastopol Center for the Arts!

The Sebastopol Center for the Arts gallery hours are Thursday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm. 282 S. High Street, Sebastopol. 707.829.4797. www.sebarts.org

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