Studios in the Park began with a bit of “window shopping” when Anne Laddon peeked into the building that is now Studios on the Park and was struck with inspiration that led to more than a decade of life and art on Pine Street.
On Feb. 12, supporters of Studios gathered for the annual Sweet Art Fundraising Luncheon, and celebrated honorees Anne Laddon and Jim Irving who spearheaded the project from humble beginnings.
“I first learned the importance of community in 1974 in Alexandria, Virginia,” Laddon said, “where a few of us young artists in late 20s early 30s, worked to turn an abandoned torpedo factory into an art studio. There were no codes, we did whatever we wanted, moved in, painted, ran wires all around, and the City was thrilled.”
“It was an amazing experience for me,” Laddon said.
Her experience in Virginia left an indellible mark that poured over into the downtown of Paso Robles.
“When I met this handsome man and moved to Paso Robles, I knew, we needed it here,” Laddon said. “In 2007, when I saw the for lease sign in our filthy windows, I knew with absolute clarity, what we needed in our little downtown.”
More than 12 years later, the studio’s neon lighted sign hangs on the side of the building as a beacon for artists, aficionados, amateurs, and visitors to Paso Robles downtown. Looking back, Anne appreciated the small first steps by those who believed in the idea.
“Studios would not have happened without a few people saying ‘yes’ early on,” Laddon said. “We got together a tight little board of couples — which was really unprofessional, as it turns out — Liz and Newlin Hastings, Mark and Elizabeth Sarrow, Elaine and Will Bateman, Phyllis Frank, Barbara Partridge, and very shortly Dee Lacey. Our first volunteer was Carol Tucker.”
Studios on the Park was formed by the group as a nonprofit, and transformed an old garage into a six-studio space featuring 15 working artists, four galleries, and a gift store.
“Right in the middle of a recession,” Laddon half-joked about the humble but passionate beginnings. “How crazy was that?”
As evidenced by the continued support from the community and the collaborations with community partners and the City and schools, it was a successful bet.
“With the guidance of my brilliant daughter, and very best friend, we pulled it together,” Laddon said, “and created an incredible community and arts resource. Look what we have today — family and community — it is just amazing.”
Laddon’s daughter Sasha Irving led Studios on the Park as the executive director through 2019, before taking a career change to follow her father’s footsteps as a real estate agent. Irving is lauded as a driving force behind the success of Studios over the past decade and an asset in the Paso Robles art community.
The now-iconic neon-lit facade of Studios on the Park that faces the downtown park squarely is a hub of activity and visual art exploration for all ages and all comers — with success measured in inspiration.
“For me, the success of our art studio is not measured in art sales,” Laddon said, “but it is measured in the inspiration we share with one another to create and explore it. I witness it daily in our Art Smart program.”
The Kids Art Smart program began in 2011, from a one-time grant from the Central Coast Wine Classic, and began bringing local elementary children into Studios on the Park for hands-on professional art classes free of charge. Since that time, the program opened up to all elementary schools in Paso Robles, and schools in neighboring districts, such as Atascadero and Templeton. According to the studio’s website, in the past decade, more than 10,000 schoolchildren have participated in art mediums otherwise not available — marbilizing, sumi-e resist painting, watercolor, collage, sculpting, ceramics, and printmaking.
“Last weekend, three little 13-year olds came in, plopped on the couch and said ‘oh yeah, we’ve been here before for classes and studied with this artist, and we just love Studios.’ And I said ‘this is what we are supposed to be doing down here,” Laddon said.
Iriving followed up on Laddon’s speech with a note about what makes Paso Robles special.
“It is community,” Irving said. “It is community that makes Paso Robles what it is. We can do this because we are a community that takes care of itself. We volunteer here, at the library, at the fairgrounds, and it is what makes this town special.”