The arts find an unlikely home in Orland
Last Friday evening, about three dozen people gathered in a nearby art gallery. They greeted the artist and admired the works hanging on walls and standing on pedestals around the well-appointed, modern space, grazed on crust-less sandwiches and stood in groups gossiping with neighbors as a young man played classical music on a baby grand piano. The works were decidedly rustic in theme—oil paintings reminiscent of Louis L’Amour paperback covers and bronze statues of cowboys and cattle—but that was the only clue that the exhibit was held in what some might consider an unlikely location: Orland.
The event was a reception for “The West: A Way of Life,” an exhibit featuring the works of Northern California artist Keith Christie, best known for a series of large-scale stagecoach statues that have graced the plazas of Wells Fargo administrative buildings worldwide since 1972. It is also the latest of many events made possible by the decade-old Orland Arts Commission and held at that group’s headquarters, the Orland Art Center Gallery, which occupies the bottom floor of a Masonic building on the town’s main drag, Fourth Street.
Since its formation in 2005, the Orland Arts Commission’s accomplishments include opening the gallery, where it hosts weekly art classes, free lectures, poetry readings, monthly exhibits and art sales, and has established multiple public art works, including a $34,000 half-scale bronze horse-and-rider statue and improvements to Library Park. Supporters also say it’s been a boon to the local economy and the city’s image.
“I think most people are pretty much in agreement that the Arts Commission has helped the city a great deal; it does a lot for the town and kind of puts us on the map,” said Orland City Councilman Bruce Roundy, who serves as a liaison between the council and the commission. “In addition to bringing the arts to town, it’s great for the economic development aspect.”
Unable to resist a dig at Chico, generally perceived to be the more cultured of the two communities, Roundy continued with a laugh, “I notice another city across the river hasn’t quite gotten that concept, and it’s caused a little controversy over there.”
Roundy was referring to the incremental defunding of the Chico Arts Commission over the last several years, and that organization’s attempts to save itself by focusing on the financial—in addition to the intrinsic—value of arts to the community. On March 30, Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy for Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Americans for the Arts, presented results from a study revealing that the artistic endeavors of nonprofit arts groups led to $17.7 million in direct spending within the city (see “Unsung industry,” Newslines, April 2).
In light of Chico’s ongoing battle over arts funding, Roundy confirmed people are sometimes surprised to learn that Orland has an active Arts Commission. He also said that establishing that commission was a difficult battle.
“Oh, sure, it was a bit of a struggle,” he said. “Something new? In Orland? It definitely took some work.”
Roundy credits the successful establishment of the Orland arts group to the efforts of longtime local couple George and Rae Turnbull. George, an artist himself, wrote the ordinance that brought the commission into being, and his wife serves as its chairwoman and the gallery’s director. Rae points directly to her husband as the man most responsible for the city’s arts renaissance.
“Orland has been pretty supportive since we got started, but that’s partly because people have such a great respect for George,” she explained. “They know his work as an artist, but they also know him as a working rancher, and they were able to relate to him because of that.”
After it was formed, she said the group focused on projects that helped beautify the community and make it safer, drew from its history and helped strengthen its identity, which explains the western flair to many of the commission’s undertakings. Early public projects included new signs and banners at city entrances, and in 2010 the city’s Library Park was enhanced with nostalgic light fixtures and a gazebo now regularly used for weddings and community events. The lights also addressed safety issues previously raised by residents, so that project’s public appeal was doubled.
“Nothing succeeds like success,” Turnbull said. “Once the people saw the town looking better, and realized art is part of who we are, then people bought into it and were happy to support it.”
The commission is composed of seven members appointed by the Orland City Council. Four of the members must be working artists, and the other three are from the community at large. A portion of funding for all projects comes from new building development fees and at no direct cost to the city; other sources include money raised through art exhibits, sales and classes. Turnbull said most of the money comes from community donations and fundraising efforts. The commission is all-volunteer, as is the gallery’s staff.
In addition to public appeal and volunteerism, Turnbull said the group’s commitment to high-quality art and exceptional guest artists is also integral to its success. She is particularly proud of the group’s 2,500-square-foot gallery space, which she points out is as fine and modern as any other in the North State.
“We’ve really taken the attitude that just because you’re a small town doesn’t mean you can’t have a viable arts community,” she said. “You just have to convince the town of its importance.”
Roundy, a former educator who helped start a theater program at Orland High School during his 30-plus-year tenure there, added that the gallery doesn’t just benefit visual artists, but gives young music students the opportunity to undergo a professional audition process and perform in public. He said the commission’s current efforts, which include plans to build another statue at the corner of Third Street and Highway 32, are just the beginning.
“Art begets more art, and that’s a wonderful thing,” Roundy said. “This isn’t just about dollars and cents, but aesthetics and the human spirit.”