Two local artists with deep connections to their creative communities -- including some common ties themselves -- were honored by Alameda County officials last week as part of the 2022 Arts Leadership Award program.
Anne Giancola, a Pleasanton Civic Arts Commission member who works as the visual arts and education manager at Livermore Valley Arts, and Dennis Baker of the Alliance for the Visual Arts were among six winners countywide. Baker, of Livermore, represented Supervisorial District 1 while Pleasanton's Giancola was the District 4 recipient.
These two Tri-Valley residents share more than just this award.
Giancola is a founding member of the Alliance for the Visual Arts, of which Baker is the co-founder and president. The nonprofit offers space on its website (for free) to help artists in Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin show their works, build their brand online and leverage alliance events and outreach.
They were also both instrumental in establishing the Tri-Valley Artist Studio Tour, which during the pandemic in 2021 saw 57 artists from Danville to Livermore open their homes, studios and collectives to viewers to get a look behind the scenes of their creative process. The next tour is on the horizon, in May 2023.
I reached out to Giancola and Baker separately in the past week to get to know them a little better and learn what this county award meant to them.
"I was very honored to have won the award. There are many people in our district that do so much to help the arts grow, so it is humbling to receive the award and to be a voice for visual arts," Giancola told me, just days after organizing another successful ArtWalk in Livermore.
Giancola said advocacy for visual artists sort of found her after she started participating in local cultural arts groups while running her decorative arts business.
"Many of the artists I know are quietly working away in their studios and many are not so comfortable getting out there in public to talk about their art," she said. "I started making connections between artists and the public and worked at getting artists more work and more opportunities."
"I feel like I am a 'weaver', weaving connections and nudging artists in directions that I think might help them get a bigger voice; or help people tap into their own creativity, or encourage young artists to stay in the field," Giancola added.
Baker said he was aware several of his art friends nominated him for the Alameda County Arts Commission recognition several months ago.
"Even though I didn't know if (the award) would happen, it was very satisfying to have them reach out and tell me of their feelings for the time I spend helping the arts community," he told me.
Baker feels a strong bond with the art community of the Tri-Valley.
"Every person that creates something to share is showing you a very personal side of themselves," he said. "Getting to know a creative person is easy as you both have so much in common even if your methods of expression are different.
"There is a great enjoyment in discovering people and building a beautiful composition of friendship," Baker continued. "That's the beauty of volunteering -- one meets so many others that are a joy to explore, and along that journey one finds inspiration for one's own expressions in the studio. I never lack for inspiration and enjoy seeing myself in others and the light in their eyes as they share their creations."
Giancola, Baker and all of the winners were honored during a hybrid ceremony with the Alameda County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 4.
The other 2022 recipients were artist Ruey Lin Syrop, curator of the Hayward Arts Council's John O'Lague Galleria at Hayward City Hall (District 2); Tina Blaine, former executive director of Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda (District 3); Naru Kwina, aka "Dr. Science", rap artist, teacher and founder of Alternative Minds Foundation and its Hip Learning program (District 3) and Naomi Johnson-Diouf is the artistic and executive director of Diamano Coura West African Dance Company at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in Oakland (District 5).
Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh has been the editor of the Embarcadero Media East Bay Division since February 2017. His "What a Week" column publishes on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.