By Gianmaria Franchini

As this academic year nears its end, and the harsh summer sun begins to break through spring’s cool grasp, two distinct sounds reverberate around our city on a hill.

There is a collective sigh of anticipation and relief from a soon-to-be-christened graduating class, and a nervous murmur that settles in alongside early symptoms of post-graduation anxiety.

Certainly 2007’s seniors are all in for a reality check; but our art students, with life ambitions that usually overlook practical matters like bringing food to their tables, may have it worse off. The Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County (CCSCC) offers a call to artists that may assuage some of those budding fears.

A visual arts seminar held at the Museum of Art and History on May 11 featured a panel of curators from Santa Cruz, San Jose, and Monterey, as well as a collection of experienced artists. The seminar aimed to be both practical and enriching, providing artists with a platform from which to make connections with local and out-of-county galleries while cultivating a public appreciation for the arts.

“The intent is to inform visual artists — about submissions, portfolios, tips on submitting their work to a gallery, how to respond to a call to artists — and inspire them,” said CCSCC Grants Program and Technical Assistance Coordinator Nabil Ghachem in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press. “[It is also the intent] to connect local artists with local and out-of-county curators, and to educate the public about the art form.”

The spirit behind the seminar is truly collaborative, and also a sign of a larger effort by the CCSCC to create a local atmosphere where artistic and cultural events can thrive. Although this seminar focused on visual art, Ghachem said that the CCSCC is planning to organize seminars across artistic disciplines on a continuous basis, branching out to dance and even literature.

The seminar itself, conspicuously missing student attendees and held in front of a surprisingly middle-aged and over crowd, was a mix of no-nonsense advice and inspirational banter.

Curator for the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History Susan Hillhouse posed the panelists questions derived from the public and moderated lively discussions.

“I’d like to stress that artists are not businessmen by nature,” said panelist and Executive Director of the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art Cathy Kimball. “But to get your art out, you need to have your act together. It’s a business — 50 percent creation, 50 percent distribution.”

The panelists continually emphasized some harsh realities of the art business world, but, perhaps sensing the disheartening of the attending amateur artists, they also refused to compromise the position of individual artists and the personal value of their work.

“There’s the art world and there’s art,” said Panelist and San Jose Museum of Art’s senior curator Joanne Northrop. “The art world is a business — don’t let that stop you from doing your work.”

In an attempt to integrate the desire for a flourishing art community with a need for economic growth, Ghachem has also been working on an Economic Impact Study of the Arts as part of a nationwide study titled “Arts and Economic Prosperity III” led by Americans for the Arts. A local press conference about the study will be held on June 20.

The CCSCC has also been accepting submissions for a planned open studios exhibition since late February. The efforts to create a local community with art as an integral force may be enough of a reason to keep some UCSC graduates around.

“Art seminars are educating and inspiring,” Ghachem said. “We should not wait until there’s a need, because events like this one are part of a community enthusiasm and dynamism.”

You can visit www.CCSCC.org for more information.