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The Arts Council of Kern Provides Arts Opportunities, Education and Advocacy

By S. Mathur

Since 1977, The Arts Council of Kern (ACK) has carried out its mission "to provide, support, and promote arts access, advocacy, and education for all Kern County residents and visitors." The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supports its programs with funding from local, state and national sources, says Executive Director David Gordon: "Over the past fiscal year we have been able to fulfill our mission in the form of Community Grants, projects, and programs supported by the California Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts through grants made possible by leveraging the County's economic support."

ACK supports artists through grant-making, disbursing a total of $15,000 to smaller arts organizations each year, in Kern County's five districts. These grants help the local organizations to provide arts access to the community. The Council also maintains listings of calls to artists, and an artists' directory.

The popular ArtWalk at First Friday brings together more than seventy-five artists from Kern County to downtown Bakersfield to display and sell their fine art at the community event. First Fridays are attended by thousands of people, says Gordon, and make a real cultural and economic contribution to the community: "The event has grown substantially under the guise of the Arts Council, generating a safe environment that is an economic success."

The Access Center Gallery and ACK support new artists with six gallery exhibits each year, featuring local artists exhibiting their work for the first time. These exhibits provide artists with professional experience in designing a gallery show and opening reception, marketing and media communications, writing an artists statement, and pricing.

Bringing art to the community, the annual Kern County Plein Air Painting Festival brings some of the finest landscape painters in California to paint Kern County landscapes like Tejon Ranch, Wind Wolves Preserve and the Kern River Canyon "complete with wild flowers". Another new initiative is the McFarland Project, a family oriented, free arts festival with live bands, art vendors, and family visual arts creation stations.

In collaboration with local schools and agencies, ACK offers art classes to the public for both children and adults. In May 2016, together with Wasco Parks and Recreation, ACK will offer the first ever free adult drawing and painting classes. There is also a monthly lecture series on topics such as local history, Valley arts, indigenous arts and crafts, cultural heritage, music, and San Joaquin Architecture.

Local schools benefit from artists' residencies and exhibitions of student work, as well as free art classes for elementary school students. Through the Art Care program, ACK in collaboration with San Joaquin Community Hospital, provides "live music and hands-on visual arts to patients and their families during their stay at San Joaquin Community Hospital," says Gordon, "This program engages patients, their caregivers, and hospital staff in the creative healing process."

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