Art Heads Outdoors in Sonoma

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Soon after shelter-in-place orders went into effect in March due to Covid-19, several arts groups in the Sonoma region joined forces to form the Sonoma Valley Arts Task Force, a Justice League for the arts that aims to support artists and connect the community while large group gatherings remain impossible.

In May, the task force initially set about creating at-home art projects the community could easily participate in. Soon after, the group installed its first public art offering, 22 large-scale artist-designed hearts in front of Sonoma City Hall.

Now, the task force is unveiling its largest project yet; a community-wide self-guided art tour, the Summer Arts Stroll, beginning on July 25.

Sponsored by the City of Sonoma and Sonoma Plein Air Foundation, the Summer Arts Stroll will feature art on display in storefront windows, in public areas or outdoor areas, and at residences and studios, where the art will be visible from the sidewalk.

“We took inspiration from the Sonoma Art Walk’s First Thursday series where artists are paired with businesses, and with the help of our community partners, adapted the concept to meet Covid-19 health and safety requirements,” Kala Stein, director of ceramics & arts at Sonoma Community Center, says in a statement. “This self-guided experience will bring art to the public eye throughout the Valley while connecting businesses with local artists and creative youth. We truly believe that art and art making are essential to the quality of life, especially now.”

Beyond the role that art plays in maintaining the community’s quality of life, it is also the source of income for many of the North Bay’s working artists. The pandemic and resulting shelter-in-place orders have had a notable impact on artists. With many venues closed or operating with limited capacity and the cancellation of summer art fairs and events, it is estimated that 95 percent of artists have lost income.

“It’s no secret that artists, like businesses, have faced unprecedented challenges and loss of revenue due to the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders,” Mark Bodenhamer, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce, says in a statement. “The Summer Arts Stroll is a win-win for artists and businesses; artists get new venues to show and potentially sell their work, and businesses get increased visibility and foot traffic.”

When the self-guided Summer Arts Stroll opens on July 25, patrons will find an interactive virtual map on the City of Sonoma’s website, complete with emblems identifying exhibits of interest. All are invited to take part in the Summer Arts Stroll, though patrons are advised to maintain the required six feet of physical distance from others and wear a facial covering when physical distance cannot be maintained.

The Summer Arts Stroll, as well as the hearts installation and the at-home art prompts are all part of the task force’s Sonoma Valley–wide “Heart of Sonoma” community art project, which the task force launched to help connect those sheltering-at-home during the pandemic and to provide opportunities for meaningful creative expression for the Sonoma Valley community.

The City of Sonoma and the Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Art Escape and the Chamber of Commerce developed the Sonoma Valley Arts Task Force, which quickly grew to over 24 nonprofits throughout Sonoma Valley. While it was primarily formed to support the community during shelter-in-place orders, the Task Force continues to evolve and respond to the needs of the Sonoma Valley community during the pandemic.

Co-chairs of the task force, Connie Schlelein and Kala Stein, write in a statement that they, “are hopeful that everyone in the community will be inspired to get involved in heartfelt displays of creativity. Whether it is an expression of appreciation for the work of first responders or essential workers, or just an expression of joy or change, positive messages will provide strength for our community as we continue to navigate these trying times.”

The Summer Arts Stroll begins Saturday, July 25 and will be on display throughout Sonoma until August 31. Maps and details will be available soon at Sonomacity.org.

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