Looking to redefine Santa Monica’s cultural vision, the city’s Cultural Affairs Division has turned to its residents to hear their cultural needs and desires through meetings, workshops and surveys.

Since the existing Santa Monica Cultural Arts Master Plan was updated in 1996, Santa Monica has seen many changes and is now looking to the community for input on how to shape the city’s cultural future over the next ten years, according to the Cultural Affairs Division.

“The meetings are about taking the pulse of the community,” says Jessica Cusick, City of Santa Monica Cultural Affairs Division manager. She adds that at this point the meetings are not about crafting solutions but rather are about gaining information about the issues in the hope that the city might fund a more in-depth study, including focus groups, from which to create an arts master plan.

All members of the Santa Monica community were invited to attend meetings that were held on Saturday, May 7th, and Wednesday, May 18th.

Prior to the meetings, residents were asked to think about a range of topics such as how the arts can further enhance the quality of life in Santa Monica, what government can do to make the cultural landscape of the city more vibrant, how arts and cultural programming can help address troubling social issues and how the city can support and invigorate its artistic assets, according to officials.

Over 40 people attended the first meeting, according to Cusick. Many were involved in the arts but many others were just interested residents.

“I was really pleased with the attendance,” Cusick says. “Some brought their teens, and the fact that people chose to spend Saturday morning doing this was great.”

The discussion took place in two parts and asked: what is your vision for the arts and culture in Santa Monica in ten years and what do you think we need to do to achieve the vision?

“At the end of the session we created a summary of the primary areas of interest and then participants were invited to use colored dots to indicate items or statements they strongly agreed with or felt were a priority,” Cusick says.

Those participating agreed on four areas of interest:

— to have Santa Monica become a cultural destination;

— to see an awareness of and participation in the arts;

— to see an increase in cultural facilities with possibly more artist space, museum space, etc.; and

— the need for more funding for the arts.

Cusick says that in addition to being known for its beaches and as being pedestrian-oriented, participants want Santa Monica identified as a cultural destination, so that when people think of Santa Monica, they think of the arts.

Suggestions included presenting more local arts and artists in public spaces, including dance and poetry installations, community arts events and community performances as a means for becoming a destination.

Cusick adds that the idea of developing a focal point for the arts — whether at the civic center or as part of the redevelopment of Santa Monica Place — resonated with the people.

Many comments revolved around how to build participation in the arts with a focus on making it easier to attend arts events by increasing activities in neighborhoods and parks.

“Accessibility came up over and over with participants saying art should be ‘out there’ and not behind walls, but immediate and available,” Cusick says.

There was also a consensus that there’s a lot happening with the arts in Santa Monica but many aren’t aware of it.

“Maybe an answer would be a community arts card with discounts to cultural venues, collective advertising or an ‘Arts Night’ a couple of times a year where all venues are open late on the same night and shuttle buses take residents and guests to the different venues,” Cusick says.

Participants also want to apply the arts to social issues and use art to build a relationship with the underserved community and youths at risk and provide a positive outlet for young people through the arts, according to Cusick.

Asked if the comments and suggestions at the meeting were different than what the committee expected, Cusick says, “The comments reflected what I’d already been hearing and I was pleased with and excited by the focus on building participation in the arts.”

She added that the local venues seemed to be looking forward to cooperating and collaborating to increase participation, feeling it would benefit all of them.

Surveys will continue to be available at City Hall and city libraries through Friday, May 20th, or by request at (310) 458-8350.

Julie Kirst can be reached at juliekirst@yahoo.com