Wahlquist steps into role as art leader

DOWNEY - Finally, someone has stepped up to accept the challenge of leading the forces bent on prospering the arts and culture in Downey.Harnessing the often differing artistic interests and concerns of local artists, writers and authors, musicians, theatre and other performing arts people, dance majors, photographers, teachers, arts/culture advocates, etc., into the service of a common goal could be a tall order, but Downey native and resident Andrew J. Wahlquist, a graduate of Downey High and Biola University (BA in communications with focus on filmmaking), was convinced the time was ripe to assume the all-important role. He saw how even with the blessing of the city council a well-intentioned Art in Public Places program can easily fall off the tracks. Aware as well of the often discordant voices crying out for a rational, coherent arts and culture policy but yet unwilling to venture beyond mere talk, Wahlquist, further egged on by equally serious fellow arts advocates, resolved to provide the much-needed dose of leadership. Wahlquist has had intensive experience in the film industry, beginning his career as an assistant to feature film producers in Hollywood, followed by a stint with the First Baptist Church of Downey as media director, as well as by service as multimedia video producer for the Los Angeles Times. He is currently the chief technologist for Santa Monica-based Local Hero Post, which specializes in color correction, visual effects and mastering of independent feature films. At the same time he keeps busy on the side (short films, screenwriting, and is currently editing a radio play adaptation he wrote and directed, of G. K. Chesterton's detective novel, "The Man Who Was Thursday."). A trumpet player in high school, he was president of the DHS band. A few months ago, Wahlquist founded the Downey Arts Coalition. He and his wife, Lana, a theatre actor and director and who is completing her master's thesis in theatre at Cal State Northridge, set up a website, downeyarts.org, for the purpose of "meeting fellow artists and collaborating towards more arts and performing opportunities in Downey." Their two boys, Peer, 4, and 9-month old Leif keep them pretty much occupied. Thus to say that the 32-year old Wahlquist goes about his daily activities with bleary eyes would not be an exaggeration. On Saturday Wahlquist conducted the coalition's sixth meeting. It was a lively one. First he passed out two sheets of paper which contained an articulation of the coalition's vision, a statement of its mission, a description of "who we are," and an outline of current and future projects. The group's vision and mission are at the moment working drafts, he said, subject to revision and further refinement by coalition members ("About 30 are actively involved, with less active supporters numbering another 25 or so"). The mission statement proposal goes something like this: "The mission of the Downey Arts Coalition is to collaborate and advocate for new opportunities to bring together local artists and the community in and around Downey to experience the arts in all its forms." His proposed vision statement begs for compression & sharpening: "The arts are a vital part of building community, developing culture, and spurring economic development. The city of Downey has a long and storied history with the arts, though instead of seeing our organizations grow over the years, the past two decades has seen them decline. The Downey Arts Coalition seeks to reverse that trend by providing a forum for local residents to come together and work towards goals that will foster a renewed spirit of artistic expression and cultural experiences in our hometown. Artists that grew up in Downey or have a home here have traditionally sought outlets for their work in the surrounding cities of Los Angeles and Orange counties, and they have mentally closed the door to engaging the arts in Downey. The Downey Arts Coalition challenges that way of thinking and believes that there is intrinsic value in connecting our citizens' craft and creativity with the community in which we live. Downey can become a home to art galleries, respected public art works, theatrical performances, innovative concerts, filmmaking, arts education, cultural events, and more. We as citizens feel it is our duty to actively involve ourselves in this vision." Wahlquist then explains what the coalition does: "1) We work to discover artists that live in, or are from our local community; promote and support their work, and provide opportunities for them to share their art or perform here within Downey and its neighboring cities; 2) We meet monthly to discuss local arts issues and opportunities, agree on initiatives that further the group's vision, and divide into project teams that will work toward those goals; 3) We bring together and advocate for our existing arts organizations in order to foster collaboration and identify ways in which we can help them develop and grow; 4) We aspire to maintain a healthy relationship with Downey's city council and city staff, to discuss ways in which the public and private sectors can work together to bring more arts and culture opportunities to our community; and 5) We connect with local residents grow the audience for the performing and visual arts, developing participation, volunteerism and patronage." Discussion of current projects produced a lively exchange of ideas. Formal collaboration with the city council on public art projects has been initiated, said Wahlquist, by informing Mayor Pro Tem Roger Brossmer and Councilman Mario Guerra (who are the council arts subcommittee members) of the coalition's plan to take on a utility box painting project of its own. The coalition also supports the re-starting of the Downey Museum of Art (someone pointed out that DMOA currently has some 400 paintings in inventory) and some sort of tie-up should be set up between the two agencies, Wahlquist said. Supporting the Downey Symphony's work, and working with VenueTech and other organizations/venues will be top priorities. The coalition should also support the "Art on the Vine' art exhibit hosted by Mari's Wine Bar on 8222 Firestone Blvd. starting Aug. 6 thru Aug. 30, he said. It will feature the works of Carolina and Jorge Del Toro, Don Lamkin and Claudia Hernandez. Its grand opening is this Saturday. "We are just forming," said Wahlquist. "As the group matures, we will firm up the formation of project teams that will focus on individual arts initiatives. We'll also need to set up our by-laws and otherwise seek to incorporate as a nonprofit with tax-exempt status." "Let's not forget the question of quality of our arts presentations," reminded someone. "In all our activities we have to act professional. And above all, these things are going to happen, not because of the city, but because of [our efforts].We can accomplish all this because of our passion."

********** Published: August 04, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 16