Last October, local businessman Mike Cregan opened the La Cumbre Center for Creative Arts to give La Cumbre Plaza a shot in the arm when an increasing number of vacant storefronts started to make the mall look like “a bit of a ghost town,” as the News-Press reported ahead of its opening.
Now with the COVID-19 outbreak, the center’s three galleries, each holding spaces for eight artists, remain closed. Nevertheless, those artists are looking ahead to its reopening by planning a community art project to say “welcome back,” whenever that day comes.
As Mr. Cregan recalled, the initial idea for a community-wide project was born out of getting free cardboard art materials for the La Cumbre Center. Center member Lyz Rothman, a painter and mixed media artist, saw an online offer from a local resident looking to get rid of many cardboard rolls from paper towels he had cleaned out of his house. After receiving the materials, the center’s artists thought about how best to use them and ultimately decided to plan an art project that would involve public participation.
Though society at large likely won’t be totally finished combatting COVID-19 by the time the galleries reopen, Ms. Rothman said the project is intended to serve as a symbolic gesture to “put it in the past and move on.” Ideas she brainstormed while chatting with the News-Press included making lanterns bearing the names of people who passed away from the virus or, a more lighthearted possibility, using the cardboard materials to make a pinata in the shape of a COVID-19 particle.
Having done a painting on top of written messages that she allowed members of the public to draw on one of her canvases, Ms. Rothman is no stranger to art projects that involve the greater community and is greatly anticipating celebrating with one when the La Cumbre Center reopens.
“Involving the community is always kind of an important piece of the project, letting the observer be a part of the work,” she said.
Mr. Cregan expressed similar sentiments and expects the Santa Barbara community will produce something outstanding when guided by the planning and expertise of the center’s artists.
“When they get working on it, they’ll come up with something pretty good,” he said.
Until then, Mr. Cregan has his own project to tackle: Paying the monthly rent for the three galleries and helping its artists make it through these hard times. Since its artists can’t presently sell pieces out of their spaces, the La Cumbre Center’s owner and general manager has been helping them search for other sources of income to hold them over. These include one artist landing a gig for a paid project with the Squire Foundation and the center at large setting up accounts on Artcloud, an online art purchasing service. The latter has produced some sales, but not nearly as much as when the La Cumbre Center was open. Though not an artist himself, Mr. Cregan echoed the opinion of many local artists and gallery owners, that encountering a digital image of artwork online doesn’t convince one to buy it like seeing it in person does.
“You can look at pictures of the ‘Mona Lisa’ all your life, but when you go and see it in person, there’s an overwhelming communication there that does not come across in a photo. When you see it in person you say, ‘Okay, now I see why it’s so famous,’” he said.
On top of making sure the La Cumbre Center’s artists are taken care of, Mr. Cregan has been on the lookout for other sources of money that can pay its rent. Since he approaches the artists about paying their share of the following month’s rent in the middle of the current month, the center’s April rent is already taken care of. He couldn’t go into specifics, but Mr. Cregan thinks he may have found a source that would cover most of May’s rent and expects to know whether it will materialize before the end of this month. Should it come together, Mr. Cregan is looking forward to feeling as if a great weight has been lifted from him.
“To be able to relieve that pressure is going to feel really great,” he said.
Because the La Cumbre Center won’t open its doors until June at least, Mr. Cregan will have to meet the same challenge once again. Nevertheless, he spoke with certainty that it would be met. Ultimately, he sees the COVID-19 outbreak as just a bump in the road of the La Cumbre Center’s young history.
“It started last October, so we haven’t really hit our full stride yet. We’ll view this as an interruption and we’ll be back on the mark,” he said.