By Tonya Strickland
Some locals are calling it the beginning of a new era.
Bringing art to Paso Robles — not only in a gallery setting but in a way to experience its creation — has become the foundation of a new nonprofit endeavor called Studios on the Park Inc. set to open May 15 at 1130 Pine St. downtown.
The city, eager to add another level of tourism to its wine and dining campaigns, partnered with the group to organize the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts set for 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial Day weekend.
“With Studios, the artist … can say, ‘Look at this corner here, look at the way it blends with this color,’ ” said Phyllis Frank, president of the Paso Robles Art Association, which will soon call the new facility home. “If you see it being created in front of your eyes, the art is no longer just a picture hanging on the wall.”
More than 60 artists are scheduled to host exhibits in Downtown City Park on May 23. Titled “Follow the River, Paint the Dream,” the festival will tie in city plans to add shopping and recreation along the Salinas River. The pieces in the show will all be tied to the river.
Studios on the Park will have nine artist spaces, two classrooms and the Paso Robles Art Association showroom gallery in 9,600 square feet.
Its 20 artists will share the rented workspaces. The plan is to be open Thursday through Sunday so people can walk through the workspaces as the artists are creating their work.
Paso Robles resident Anne Laddon, president of Studios on the Park, cooked up the concept last year after becoming frustrated that art was largely missing from the cultural fabric of her town.
“I decided I was going to stop complaining and do something about it,” she said Monday morning, between overseeing the wood framing of the interior and setting up security alarms.
The idea came to her in a more concrete vision in May 2007, Laddon said, when she first saw the potential in the white curved façade of the former Pioneer Auto Parts building with the funky metal sign. The structure has been empty since the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake.
The idea for an interactive studio was not her own, but a vision built from her time at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Virginia. She held a studio there for 10 years.
The Paso Robles Art Association has been around for decades and has hundreds of members, but Frank said she isn’t upset many local artists think art is missing from Paso Robles.
Local artist Nancy Becker, an oil painter who was selected as a founding artist for Studios on the Park, said she first moved to Paso Robles in 1980, when “it was a land of barbed wire fences, barley fields and cattle.”
The town’s artists met at one another’s houses, she said, or made the trip to San Luis Obispo to make connections.
As soon as the wineries came, the overall feel of the city changed, Becker said, and art became more prominent. Still, there were few places to meet.
But with Studios on the Park, Becker and many others, see an evolution for Paso Robles on the horizon — a new destination for artists and those in the community seeking them.