Thursday, May 13, 2010

Santa Cruz Bank Hosts African Art Collection

Since opening its doors in 2004, Santa Cruz County Bank has taken on an unlikely second role -- an art museum.

The bank has about four exhibits a year, and while only local art has been displayed in the past, the bank now welcomes its first international exhibit.

"Circle of Life" is a collection of works from seven Zimbabwean artists. The art, which is currently on display, will remain up until July 9, and a reception will be held May 7. Mary Anne Carson, director of the Santa Cruz County Bank Arts Collaborative, heard about the collection, owned by Jess and Laura Brown, and contacted the couple in the hopes they'd be interested in sharing their art with the community.

"We like the public to have artwork that hasn't been seen before," said Carson, who is also the bank's senior vice president and director of marketing.

There are about 60 pieces in the exhibit, including sculptures and the paintings. The paintings are now up in the Aptos, Capitola, Scotts Valley and Watsonville offices, while the sculptures are on display in the bank's downtown Santa Cruz location.

Carson said the paintings are full of life and vibrancy, a stark contrast to the country's current economic and political climate.

"I was very impressed with the work and how colorful and vibrant and joyous the works are," she said.

The artwork creates an intersection where people can gather.

"It's our way of connecting the bank with our community and welcomingthe community into our bank," she said.

Jess Brown, the collector as well as the executive director of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, began volunteering in Zimbabwe in 1998. While there, he helped bring small-scale farmers together to form larger communities that could work together to yield more efficient and productive crops.

"The economy and politics is really bad over there," Brown said. "I really believe in these people and I want to help them"

His collection includes more than 100 pieces, ranging from paintings to sculptures. All of the pieces in the exhibit are for sale, and all of the money made will go directly back to the artists.

The bright colors and interpretation of life illustrates the hope they have as a people, he said.

"There's such vibrancy and joy in the paintings," he said.

Curator Joan Blackmer was touched by the sincerity in the work.

"I could feel the heat of the sun, I could feel the connection to the community," she said of the paintings. "There was a depth to how the figures were relating to each other."

The sculptures in the exhibit are Shona sculptures, an ancient process that enables spirits in the stone to be acknowledged in a more recognizable form. The sculptures on display in the bank combine ancient and contemporary principles, she said.

"They're really building on their cultural sensibilities and philosophies," she said.

Working as the curator for the bank's art collaborative has allowed Blackmer to be part of an emerging scene while sharing her love of art.

"It's exciting because it's developed into part of the arts community," she said. "Art enriches our lives."

Brown and his wife have long collected local art, but he feels a special connection to the people of Zimbabwe. Their art shows hope and inspiration, as well as the deep connection to community and culture. Most people who have seen the collection have been impressed with the spirit, he said.

"You smile," he said. "You feel good about it."

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel

By: Justine DaCosta

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