Sonoma County has a long history of enticing artists and dreamers to its coastal shores, rivers and mountains. As early as the 19th century, painters were drawn to our rustic countryside; rural landscapes of the redwoods, oaks and Russian River come to life through their eyes and canvases. Fading photographs document the lives of settlers, town celebrations and momentous occasions. Various Utopian communities welcomed artists and visionaries and, later, the arts and crafts movement found a home here. Pomo baskets, woven from local, natural materials are recognized works of art in themselves.

Imagination and art must have an outlet. Today, many artists desiring a collaborative and supportive place to exhibit their work have formed non-profit galleries and centers in their respective communities. Whether springing from a few enthusiastic artists holding temporary shows at vacant, storefront “phantom galleries,” sprouting from an old school or “incubated” from an economic development committee, a number of art alliances have grown in our north and west counties: Cloverdale Arts Alliance, Healdsburg Center for the Arts, Windsor Arts Council, Occidental Center for the Arts and Sebastopol Center for the Arts are five. All but Windsor have year-round, brick-and-mortar galleries.
Currently, Sonoma County is home to 27,000-plus artists of all disciplines (more artists per capita than anywhere else in California), and visitors spend more than $290 million annually for arts and entertainment.

Lest you think that art is defined solely as paintings on canvas, these galleries also showcase glass, clay, pottery, jewelry, sculpture, performing and literary arts, and other creative mediums. Ever have the desire to take a class in ceramics? Japanese brushwork, weaving or collage? Your local arts group can oblige. Sculpture and art walks, film festivals and concerts all draw residents and visitors alike to the vibrant and healthy art scene in the area. Providing scholarships enrich the student community, as well.
There are open-air art shows and exhibits like Healdsburg Center for the Arts’ annual Art Festival, or the popular Sonoma County Art Trails sponsored by the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. These are a plus for both the artists who can show their works to a broader audience and for the public who can view a variety of items in a relaxed setting. A purchase – big or small – from a local gallery not only supports your local artist, it means taking home a distinctive piece that is imbued with beauty and spirit.

Cloverdale Arts Alliance
Cloverdale Arts Alliance is on the city’s main thoroughfare, at 204 N. Cloverdale Blvd. Their move to a larger location that doubled their space has an additional bonus, besides a greater display and workshop area. Their neighbors are complementary businesses: a hip coffee/pastry shop, a performing arts center and a commercial art gallery. The Alliance has developed a strong core of popular musical offerings such as Friday Night Live, Americana Night and THE Jazz Club.

“The program we’re best known for is our free concert series on Friday nights,” said Executive Director Mark Tharrington. The high-caliber bands and music draw audience members from as far away as Sacramento and San Francisco, besides being a local favorite event. “We also do other live music: a Jazz Club on the first Thursday of the month, and Americana on the third Thursday of the month. We have a house band with guest artists, each second Saturday. Our music workshops, based on skill level, are twice a month on Wednesdays.”

There are seven resident artists now and a few guest artists for each exhibit, which changes every two months. The Alliance offer classes for both children and adults: the “Discovering Art” appreciation classes have changing themes. Partnering with the Geyserville Community Foundation, they do a year-round, self-guided Sculpture Trail.

“People can check our website and see that there is often something going on every single night,” Tharrington said. A reception for the newest exhibit will be held on Saturday, Jan. 16,
5 to 7:30 p.m. at the gallery.

Healdsburg Center for the Arts
Celebrating its 13th year, Healdsburg Center for the Arts (HCA) is located at 130 Plaza St., only a half-block walk from the busy downtown Plaza. The location invites the curious tourist or local to come browse in a light and airy gallery, with a second-floor loft area. Jewelry displays and ceramics sparkle towards the front.

“Partnering with the community is important to us—finding mutual benefits,” Gallery Manager Vicky Kumpfer said. “Our number one focus is supporting art in the community and providing opportunities for people to experience art.”

The Center’s annual outdoor Healdsburg Art Festival is a free, city-wide celebration that draws collectors, casual strollers and locals to downtown to view ­– and buy – both traditional and hand-crafted items, such as sculpture, pottery, textiles and even shoes. The Festival also highlights the other galleries and businesses in town. Their center has classroom space and features local artists-in-residence, invited artists, juried exhibitions, classes and literary programs.

Opera in the Garden is a popular annual fundraiser held at the historic Madrona Manor Wine Country Inn, at the edge of town. Music takes center stage each May, when the Center hosts a concert during the town’s Jazz Festival. The after-school classes and Summer Art Camp for Kids allow students to express themselves in a positive, creative way. Their 2015 Young Artists Exhibition included artists from nine local schools. Adults need not be shy about trying their hand at art, either, with the “Beginning Classical Drawing for the Timid and the Curious.”

The next exhibit, entitled “Transitions,” reflects the organization’s growth and will be held Jan. 7 through Feb. 7; an opening reception is on Jan. 9. The 2016 Young Artists Exhibition runs Feb. 11 to March 6, with a reception to be held on Feb. 19.

Windsor Arts Council
The Windsor Arts Council began in the early 1990s and has more than 20 active members. Catherine Daley, acting president of the Council, said they are researching different sites to permanently display their members’ art. Lack of a physical gallery has not stopped the group from promoting art in their community and fostering a cultural exchange.

The Council participated in the 2015 Earth Day celebration on the Windsor Town Green and produced a large work, entitled “Green Walk.” This interactive public-art project invited people to walk across a canvas, making green footprints that evolved into leaves on a tree. It was later displayed at the Windsor Fine Arts Show. For 2016, they are considering other community-type projects, such as a mural, and showing their artwork at venues like the Windsor Certified Farmers Market.

One area of interest moving forward is mentoring young artists. Peter Turk, treasurer of the Council, said, “Classes and summer programs are an opportunity for students, since art programs struggle in schools.” The Council is exploring offering grants and scholarships to school students and they plan to work with Creative Sonoma, a county-wide, arts-promotion agency, on this exciting project. A spring exhibit is planned; look for details to be forthcoming.

Occidental Center for the Arts
On the site of the old Harmony School, the Occidental Center for the Arts (OCA) incorporates an auditorium, art gallery, classrooms and outdoor amphitheater. Situated at 3850 Doris Murphy Court, it’s close to the famous Bohemian Highway. An almost-completed exterior mural is a new, hallmark project, done by artist Dave Gordon. It faces the Highway and Graton Road, beckoning visitors to the large, diverse Center.

“It’s an integrated piece,” said Gallery Manager and artist Trula LeCalle of the mural. “It’s about Occidental, its people and the area.” Familiar, local faces and representative events are woven into the scene.

The OCA organization was founded in 1998, the vision of Doris Murphy and Kit Neustadter. Things progressed after the donation of a classroom and multi-purpose room by Orrin and Terri Theissen, and through mostly “human” capital, the Board and volunteers completed their dream art center; the grand opening was in 2010.

The Center’s unique venue lets them offer musical, dance and theatrical performances, along with literary events, films and gallery exhibits—something to match every creative passion. The Redwood Arts Council and Occidental Community Choir regularly perform there. Monthly programs include drawing, writing and theater. Board President Steve Fowler, a writer and performer, said, “We claim to be home for all of the arts.” The majority of their visitors come from within a 10-mile radius.
Andrea Van Dyke is a performer and the OCA Event Coordinator. “I’ve booked over 200 events in the last five years, 35 in 2015, alone,” she said. The Gallery sponsors an annual, spring quilt show by the Pointless Sisters, juried fine art shows and featured artists.

“Emerging artists, most from Sonoma County, also gravitate to our gallery,” said LeCalle. There is a current “call to artists” for a juried show early in 2016.

Other 2016 events include Michael Sommer’s one man play on Jan. 24; Scottish folk music with Alan Reid and Rob van Sante, Jan. 30; a Feb. 14 Valentine Concert by Teresa Tudury; and folk duo Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen, Feb. 26.

Their classroom, outdoor amphitheater, theater and gallery are all available to the community for rental, too.

Sebastopol Center for the Arts
“Sonoma County is blessed with an abundance of artistic talent,” said Linda Galletta, executive director of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, “and the West County especially feels that art is important in our lives.”

The Center blossomed from an idea that the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce’s economic development committee had in the mid-1980s. “It created an organization to serve the needs of artists, the same way chambers serve businesses and senior centers serve seniors,” Galletta added. It was an organic process and the center grew incrementally. “We started with three file folders and are now using 18,000 square feet in the Veterans Building,” she said.

They honor and work with the vets’ groups, and are considering an oral history project. The larger space at 282 S. High Street accommodates a gallery, kitchen, dining room, auditorium, classrooms for painting, pottery and drawing and an event center that serves the whole community. The vibrant art center hosts three film festivals a year, concerts, music programs, classes and an affordable summer camp for kids. They sponsor the Poet Laureate, Word Temple poetry readings and Art at the Source. In early 2014 they took over the popular ARTrails open studio tour from the Arts Council of Sonoma County, a fall tour of artist studios (now called Sonoma County Art Trails); 164 artists participated in 2015.

“Our documentary film festival in March attracts filmmakers from around the world, all of whom explore the local communities, and dine, shop and stay here in Sonoma County,” Galletta said. She sees it as a win-win, and encourages communities to support centers and the economic vitality they bring, adding, “I have the utmost respect for each of the art centers. Each community has different things that are important to them.”

The Sebastopol Center for the Arts will feature two extraordinary watercolor exhibits in January 2016. The American Watercolor Society Traveling Exhibition is one of the premiere watercolor exhibits in the world. More than 1,200 artists from throughout the United States and 27 foreign countries submitted their work to a panel of jurors. Of these submissions, 147 paintings were selected for the exhibition; and from these, 40 paintings were picked for the Traveling Exhibition.

Only seven museums and galleries across the United States will be showing this collection and Sebastopol Center for the Arts is one of them. The 148th Annual International Exhibition of the American Watercolor Society and the SCA Water Media Exhibition, featuring California artists only, both run January 9 through February 7.

Keeper of the Soul
Encouraging younger artists is an important mission to all of the centers, manifested through special exhibits, after-school and summer art programs and scholarships. By mentoring youth and emerging artists, and teaching classes in painting, ceramics, writing and multi/mixed-media expression, they are ensuring that our next generation experiences the joy, passion and free expression that art can bring.
As Vicky Kumpfer of Healdsburg Center for the Arts declared, “Art is the keeper of the soul.”  SD

Gallery Hours & Information

Cloverdale Arts Alliance
204 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale
Open Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Healdsburg Center for the Arts
130 Plaza St., Healdsburg
Open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday
11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Windsor Arts Council (no current gallery)

Occidental Center for the Arts
3850 Doris Murphy Court, Occidental
Open Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Sebastopol Center for the Arts
282 S. High St., Sebastopol
Open Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 1-4 p.m.