MIDDLETOWN, Calif. — The Middletown Art Center, or MAC, has plans for a diverse slate of programs focused in great part on cross-cultural projects for communities throughout Lake County.
Adapting to the challenges of a pandemic hasn’t been easy, but through creativity, willpower and the support of community, the MAC is weathering the storm while ambitiously striving to extend its reach by weaving the arts further into Lake County communities.
“MAC is committed to providing inclusive, affordable and equitable arts access in a safe and welcoming environment for all peoples in Lake County,” said Lisa Kaplan, MAC’s executive director. “Countywide, we grapple with issues of poverty and the trauma of recurring wildfires and recognize that local underrepresented communities in particular have specific needs and barriers that require distinct and varied outreach efforts to help facilitate equity.”
To realize MAC’s vision of extending the reach of the arts into Lake County’s diverse communities, the organization expanded its board, committees and staff to reflect the county’s various populations. This facilitated new collaborations and outreach opportunities.
MAC’s staff applied for an Impact Project Grant from the California Arts Council for “Weaving Baskets, Weaving Bridges,” a program which was collaboratively designed by MAC team members, Middletown tribal elder Millie Simon, cultural educator Rose Steele and Pomo basket weaver and cultural educator Corine Pearce. They recently welcomed the good news that the project was funded.
“Weaving” will begin in early November and will run through the summer of 2022.
A multifaceted project, “Weaving” uses the art of basketry as a vessel for healing and understanding with a holistic approach, from native plant cultivation and preparation to weaving in community.
The project comprises basketry workshops, a native plant demonstration garden and a variety of cross-cultural engagement opportunities to provide historical and cultural context. Pomo storytelling, readings, art presentations and film screenings will all be included.
The project will culminate in an exhibit of contemporary and traditional Indigenous art at MAC with Pomo basketry exhibits at Lake County’s three historical museums.
In addition to programs that honor local Indigenous culture, the experiences of African American musicians living and working in Lake County are being highlighted through another project, “Sounds of Liberation: Discovering Wisdom and History in African American Music,” a series of intimate conversations and performances about race and music.
Events in 2020, including George Floyd’s tragic death and the wide participation in the calls for justice that followed, were in part the inspiration for Sounds of Liberation.
A collaboration with local African American composer, cellist, and educator Clovice Lewis, Sounds of Liberation was launched on Juneteenth (June 19) at the MAC with a conversation with and performance by Lewis. Lewis was interviewed by arts professional and social justice advocate Sabrina Klein-Clement, and this was followed by a Juneteenth celebration.
The second event in the series was a conversation between Lewis and singer-songwriter Gloria Scott. Additional events will follow in the months to come.
Both “Weaving” and Sounds of Liberations provide options for in-person and Zoom-based remote participation.
Sounds of Liberation is funded in part by a grant from California Humanities, a partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“We are honored that our current projects have been funded by state agencies,“ said Kaplan. “The awards cover a significant portion of project costs, but not all, and they are designated to the project only, not to general operations or facilities.”
Kaplan said MAC relies heavily on community support through membership, donations and program attendance, all of which have been much lower during the pandemic.
During COVID-19, MAC benefited from CARES Act support which enabled it to adapt, continue operations and develop programs during a time of distancing.
Before COVID, many of MAC’s community-focused arts and culture activities happened on site, from classes and exhibit openings to live music performances and dances.
MAC continues to weave the arts into the fabric of Lake County through gallery shows, events, school field trips to the gallery and studio, and many other educational programs for youth and adults, now to include multigenerational weaving workshops.
As to the EcoArts Sculpture Walk at Trailside Park in Middletown, there are currently eight works on view, including a couple of new or refreshed pieces. Due to the pandemic, proposals for sculpture installations continue to be accepted on a rolling basis. MAC hopes to hold a festive opening in 2022.
Much more is in store for MAC as it serves the community in the coming months.
A “MAC for Lake County” celebration of MAC’s 7th year of operations is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 9, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. This will include an interactive sound and light installation that is part of the new “LIGHT” exhibit, which is on view through the end of 2021. Learn more and RSVP to this free milestone event on the MAC website.
As MAC Board President Amanda Martin said, “Looking to the year ahead, we have a full slate of activities planned, including Weaving and Sounds of Liberation, additional virtual exhibits, artistic work at the MAC building, and new marketing programs, collaborations and partnerships. We also plan to expand the MAC’s committees and volunteer base.”
The MAC is located in Middletown at 21456 State Highway 175.
To support their work, to learn more, or to sign up for current programs, please visit their website at www.middletownartcenter.org.
Esther Oertel is a features contributor and columnist for Lake County News.