A home for Summer Solstice: Five-year lease of city building provides space to prepare floats and costumes

Members of the Santa Barbara Arts Collective, the Summer Solstice Celebration and dignitaries, including Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, attend Friday's ribbon-cutting for the new home of the Solstice Parade.STEVE MALONE/NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS
Members of the Santa Barbara Arts Collective, the Summer Solstice Celebration and dignitaries, including Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, attend Friday’s ribbon-cutting for the new home of the Solstice Parade.

STEVE MALONE/NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS

Wearing hard hats and holding shovels that were more metaphorical than practical, members of the City Council, the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission and the Summer Solstice broke ground Friday afternoon on a permanent home for the parade’s workshop.

The arts community also got a year-round work space in the bargain, a result of years of work by all involved.

With Friday’s ribbon-cutting, Summer Solstice returns to the complex at the corner of Ortega and Garden streets that it used from 2005 to 2011 on a year-to-year lease.

Bryan O'Quinn lifts the head off the "Last Doo Doo," a Solstice Parade figure, following the ribbon-cutting.
Bryan O’Quinn lifts the head off the “Last Doo Doo,” a Solstice Parade figure, following the ribbon-cutting.

After two years creating floats and costumes in a dirt lot donated by Alan Macy, Solstice Parade preparations will be housed in two buildings, formerly a motor pool and then a recycling center, leased from the city for five years.

The buildings are huge, with high vaulted ceilings, and will soon be filled with the beginnings of this year’s parade floats.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony immediately segued into a Solstice workshop kickoff party, with Pali-X-Mano’s inflatable float already up and bouncing.

“Historically, Solstice just had to hope for the space,” said Nathan Vonk, president of the Santa Barbara Arts Collaborative, which leased the buildings.

“After today, they will know they have the space and can count on the space for the future.”

Over the next three years the space will become a community arts workshop in the months when Solstice doesn’t need it.

It will be a classroom, a place to rehearse, or “whatever the community needs” Mr. Vonk said.

“There’s also a lot of history here,” he continued. “This space means Solstice to a lot of people, and it’s great to ensure this space for the future.”

“This has been on my radar for 30 years,” said Ginny Brush, executive director of the county Arts Commission. “This has been on the Regional Arts Master Plan since the ’80s. … This was the last portion of that plan after Center Stage and the New Vic.”

Funding nearly came through from the state several years ago, only to be nixed when redevelopment agency funding was canceled following the 2008 crash.

However, just as California’s economy has rebounded, so has funding. Mayor Helene Schneider and the City Council secured $300,000 to help Solstice, with the remainder of a $1 million budget to be raised over the years by the Arts Collaborative.

Rod Hare, co-founder of the Collaborative, said this all came about through three years of regular meetings.

“We want the space to be used to its fullest potential. If you can dream it, we want it to be used. Anything you can conceive in the arts, it can be open for that purpose.”

“It’s great to be back,” said Solstice head Claudia Bratton. “It’s like having giant carports to work in. And it’s paved. It’s wonderful.”

“This has been a long time coming,” said Ms. Schneider. “Things now are finally in alignment and I’m very happy the city was able to grant some of the $1 million to it. Now we have a great lease here.

“It’s happy ending. … Solstice is 40 years old this year, and then to have this space outside of Solstice — it’s the icing on the cake.”

Ms. Bratton turned and indicated the large mural of a woman’s face that adorns the larger of the two buildings, left over from a previous Solstice. The word “DREAM” frames the face.

“Part of that dream has come true,” she said. “Not all of it yet. There’s a lot to do.”

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