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Project Provides Air Time for Artists

Television: Local archivist spotlights some of Ventura County's top creative talent in series.


As the cameras readied to roll, Donna Granata took the stage.

"If you'd like to enjoy a candy, please unwrap it now," she told the audience at Ventura's Laurel Theatre. "The microphones pick up everything." The crowd sat quietly in the darkened room. This was not just another interview with a local artist, it was the start of a new documentary series and a dream come true for Granata.

For years, the tireless arts educator and archivist crammed every available surface in her Casitas Springs home with clippings, files, audio recordings and videotapes of Ventura County artists. The lives of the famous ceramist Beatrice Wood, the great photojournalist Horace Bristol and the world-class painter John Nava have all been chronicled by Granata.

And yet she has yearned for a bigger audience, one with which to share her exuberance over these nationally renowned but often locally anonymous artists.

Combining this vision with the video and editing expertise of students from the Ventura Adult Continuing Education Technology Development Center, Granata recently finished the first of six documentaries on local artists, which is airing on cable access stations throughout the county.

She begins with a 90-minute interview of the artist before a live audience at the Laurel Theatre. Technicians record the dialogue, then splice in other video showing the artist at work and snapshots from the artist's youth. Music is also added to the half-hour program.

"The first one is just awesome," said Granata, as she prepared backstage for an interview with Ojai artist Christine Brennan, known for the whimsical, moody and occasionally bizarre characters she paints. "People will be blown away to know how many world-class folks we have here."

As founder and executive director of the arts education and advocacy group Focus on the Masters, Granata has been doing live interviews of artists since 1995. These form a part of the biographies she creates as education and research tools.

"I always knew TV would be our ultimate goal. The stories are so good, but ask local people if they know [the late] Beatrice Wood or Horace Bristol, and they never heard of them," said Granata, a former painter who is now an accomplished photographer. "This got my head spinning. It made we realize how important it is to get the story out, that's what makes this so critical."

A crucial part of assembling the documentaries has been the technicians at the adult education center in Ventura. "Part of our mission is to educate the community, and one area we lean strongly toward is the arts community," said Barry Tronstad, director of continuing education at the school. "We wanted to do a series of shows on the art community."

Granata and Tronstad joined forces: Tronstad had students wanting to do video projects and Granata had the interviews they could build upon.

The first program focused on rock carver and sculptor JoAnne Duby and took about four months to complete.

It began with an interview at the Laurel shown with a mix of photos of Duby growing up. It then progressed to video of her chiseling huge hunks of marble and onyx to create sculptures and carvings.

"It was first-rate," Tronstad said. "You have a 90-minute interview with the artist, which, if you're not into art, can be pretty dry. We compressed it into a half- hour and showed scenes of the artist working and close-ups of the material the artist is using."

Granata is an amiable but probing questioner, asking about the smallest details of an artist's life in order to build a bigger picture.

Her interview with Brennan for the second installment in the series began with a simple enough question: "Tell me what kind of house you were born in."

She followed with, "So would you say your works are self-portraits in the sense that they come from an inner place?"

In the end, Granata decides what the final documentary will look like. The first program will continue to air at different times in the months ahead.

All the video production work has been donated by the school. Considering the time involved, Tronstad said he could only commit to six films. The artists chosen for documentaries are Duby, Brennan and Nava along with wildlife painter Lindsey Scott, ceramist Otto Heino and sculptor Ted Gall.

Gall of Ojai is currently being videotaped as he readies three 4,000-pound sculptures of men welded to wheels, racing each other with arms outstretched. The final product will adorn the front of a new motorcycle museum in Birmingham, Ala.

"They are covering every facet of building it," Gall said. "It's really a fragmented process, but if you can see it captured in segments--in a half hour--what has taken me a year to do, then it will be very exciting."

Gall called the documentaries "outstanding" ways to show art students how to carry through on large projects.

"I think this is nice for a community and it's a great stroke for the county,' he said. "I don't know how many communities have this kind of thing done for them."

Granata says her goal is preserving history.

"Often the people in the community don't realize how huge these people are," she said. "History will dictate who these masters really are, but the fact is that we can guess who will float to the top."

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