By Elisabeth Landon Sarrow
Studios on the Park is a magical environment for the 25 artists who create in open studios--all under one roof--and for the public who come to interact with them as they work.
Paso Robles, in California's central coast area, has been popular with local and tourists alike who visit its wineries and restaurants. However, this city, with an automotive and cattle ranching history, has never had an outlet for its artists and the art-loving public. It took the vision and dogged perseverance of local artist Anne Laddon to bring her dream of an artist workshop and gallery to fruition.
"This project is called Studios on the Park because that is what it is," says Anne. "We are in working studios, open studios, in front of the public, creating art. We want the public to come in and see things being made, and to wonder how things are made and to ask questions."
Anne based her vision for Studios on the Park on her experience in the 1970s with the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Washington, D.C. Led by visionary Marian Van Landingham, Anne and other founding artists joined together to renovate an abandoned torpedo factory into working studio spaces for artists. In 1974, the center opened to the public and is still thriving today.
Studios on the Park opened its doors in a renovated auto parts building on Paso Robles' beloved downtown park in 2009. Because of the historic significance of the previously abandoned building, the renovators were required to keep many of the automotive features of the structure, which adds to the charm.
After submitting applications, the 25 artists who call the building home were selected in a jury process.
For each of the artists who set up a new work space at Studios on the Park, the personal impact has been profound. Encaustic artist Heidi Franscioni says, "Studios on the Park has changed my life! It has given me the kind of public arena that I have never had before. I am 46 years old, and this is the first time I've been able to work full time as a professional fine art artist."
Since most of the studios are shared, decisions about the choice of "studio mates" were based on reasons very particular to each artist.
Anne Laddon, an oil painter, and silversmith Randy Stromose knew they would be a good match.
"Both of us knew that our work would read well in the same space," says Randy. "Anne paints big and colorful. My work is monochromatic."
Nationally acclaimed plein air painter Elizabeth Tolley (pictured left) had always worked outdoors or in her private studio.
"It took me a couple of months to adjust to the lighting in the building. First I had to establish a comfortable place to paint and have the public see my work while not standing right behind me. After I established the easel placement, I had to work on creating consistent and balanced light on my palette and easel. There is a creative and positive energy in the building and I enjoy the days that I work at the studio. And surprisingly, I have found that I really like being part of a community of artists," she says.
Storage was a high priority for all the artists, including mixed-media artists Lynn Kishiyama and her studio-mate Laure Carlisle.
"Everything that Laure and I use is behind a curtain at the back of our studio. We stacked two sets of shelf units and bolted them to the walls making more storage room for small hand tools, cleaning supplies, and wrapping materials. We wanted all of our work materials out of sight," says Lynn.
"We created a back wall covered in corrugated roofing material and separated by a pair of curtains. We chose to use corrugated material in keeping with the theme of the Studios being a used auto parts shop and the corrugated materials used in the atrium area. Additionally, we both created storage space under our work stations."
Each artist made storage decisions in keeping with how they were used to working. Laddon chose to store her blank and completed canvases high up over the 20-drawer flat cabinet. Her "in use" tools are compactly placed in a roll-around turquoise cart.
Finally, not only did Paso Robles get a venue with Studios on the Park, it got an annual event. Last summer Studios on the Park and the city co-sponsored "The Festival of the Arts," now an annual Paso Robles Memorial Day Weekend event, which features free events like "quick draw," an art auction, and numerous hands-on art activities for children.
Beyond the Studio
Beyond encouraging individual artists, Studios on the Park also has a commitment to creating educational programs for children and adults. Every month brings a new schedule of workshops, demonstrations, and classes.
All materials are made available free of charge to children and adults who come to Studios to paint live models, which have included: alpacas in a pen in the middle of the atrium; dancers in costume from the local Ballet Folklorico; cowboys in chaps, hats, and full regalia posing for students; and the very popular create your own jack-o'-lantern class.