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Focus On Visual Art : Co-ops, Galleries, Cities Draw On Local Talent in Burgeoning Market


The visual arts have blossomed in North County and, say observers, the local visual arts environment is only going to improve.

Artists are banding together in cooperatives. Cities are recognizing the importance of art to civic life. New galleries are opening. And local visual arts are getting a push from area colleges.

All the activity gives the person interested in buying original artwork created by local artists more to choose from, more places to shop.

The quality of the art shown and created in North County varies widely--from amateurish hobby to nationally recognized innovation.

Here is some of what's out there:


Art has a long history in the Del Mar, Encinitas and Leucadia areas, but you wouldn't know it at first glance.

Surf shops, motels and beach-oriented storefronts dominate the main thoroughfare, Highway 101. But look closely and you'll discover art outposts hidden among all that beachiness.

The Leucadia Art Assn. is trying to make art more visible in Leucadia. Association President Morgan Mallory, owner of the Leucadia Art Gallery and Corner Frame Shop, said the goal of the group is to create a higher profile for the arts, artists and galleries in a community that has long played host to arts-minded residents, but which has not actively promoted its arts community.

"One of the most difficult things to do is get people in front of the art," Mallory said. "We have to let people know it is up here."

One way the association tries to accomplish that goal is by presenting an annual art walk similar to the larger art walk in downtown San Diego. Six Leucadia-area galleries along Highway 101 provide music, food and a village celebration atmosphere in an attempt to draw potential patrons through their doors. This year's art walk will be held Aug. 24 and 25.

Most of the galleries feature at least some area artists as part of their offerings. Two galleries, Offtrack and the San Dieguito Art Guild, both cooperatives, feature locals exclusively. The art in the galleries ranges from "nice $15 watercolors to the five figures," Mallory said.

The David Lewinson Gallery in Del Mar Plaza displays the upper end of the local art world. Lewinson defines the works he carries as "serious contemporary art." Prices for the paintings and sculptures range from the mid-$100s to about $12,000.

Lewinson, who opened the gallery in December, has featured the work of a number of accomplished local artists, including Peter Stearns, Gary Ghirardi, Ernest Silva, Robin Bright, James Skalman, Suda House, Walter Cotten, David Beck Brown, Michael Golino and Kathleen Marshall.

Because there are few outlets in the county for leading contemporary art, Lewinson said, "the art community is very happy we're here."


The cooperative, a band of artists coming together to accomplish together what may be impossible individually, is an old idea but one that has caught on in North County.

Offtrack, for example is a group of nine artists who occupy space below the Pannikan coffee house in Encinitas. According to founding member Nancy Rupp, the group tries to showcase artists who work in different media. On a recent visit, the gallery featured glasswork, oils, watercolors and other media.

The Vista Initiative for Visual Arts, or VIVA, was started two years ago and has already expanded to 120 members, according to Linda Watkins, the co-executive director.

VIVA's gallery, at 640 Alta Vista Drive in Vista, is a transformed adobe ranch house. Although the gallery has only been open since November, it has already mounted three shows.

But VIVA does not simply show the work of its members.

As part of the April 27 young people's art festival, it presented free, hands-on activities and a juried high school art show.

Watkins, an art teacher and oil painter with extensive education in fine art, says membership in VIVA is emblematic of arts life in North County.

"I think it's a good place to be an artist," she said. "VIVA has been a good avenue to get my work out there and let the community know about North County artists. . . . I think there are people in the community, no matter where they live, that are going to be interested in art and the cultural events of the city. Art is for everyone to see and experience."

Escondido has learned that lesson well.

Not only is the city building a new arts center, but artists in the area have formed their own co-op, the North County Artists Co-op. The group's gallery is located in the old Arcade Building at 218 East Grand Ave. in downtown Escondido. It is one of about a dozen studios in the structure, which also features wildlife and western painters, and artists working in other, more traditional styles.

According to Jean Benelli, the cooperative was formed several years ago "for the purpose of having studio space for new artists who have evolved past their dining room table stage and are becoming serious and building up a body of work."

So far the co-op has met with a warm welcome.

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