Arts Alliance Davis: Area organizations confront racism

by Wendy Weitzel

Members of the local arts community met virtually on Oct. 7 to support each other and share how they are reimagining their work in the time of COVID-19.

Arts Alliance Davis was formed a few years ago as a grassroots effort to give artists and their supporters the opportunity to gather, collaborate and create meaningful impact. Meetings, typically every other month, are open to anyone. The October meeting, via videoconference, included 17 artists or representatives or arts organizations.

Much of the discussion focused on anti-racism. Davis resident NJ Mvondo, a Black artist and community organizer, recently launched the interactive Healing Art Project to provide a positive platform for dialogue about systemic racism. Mvondo runs Multiculturalism Rocks!, an organization celebrating cultural diversity in the arts. The Healing Art Project is a treasure hunt for two-dimensional art — displayed in merchant windows in downtown Davis and beyond — encouraging patronage to local businesses.

Artists — some of whom can receive a $100 stipend — are asked to answer the prompt: “What does healing look like to you?” Via an online platform at, audiences are then asked, “What is a change that you would like to see in the world right now?” Observers are also asked to share a word of encouragement for someone who needs it.

Artwork should start appearing in windows on Oct. 21 and continue through early January. Mvondo hopes the project boosts both local businesses and community morale, “as many deal with the stress and challenges generated by COVID-19, the ongoing fires, the current protests for racial justice, and the changing social fabric of our lives.”

International House, Davis recently completed its 10th annual International Festival. Normally, the free, daylong festival is in Central Park. This year, it showcased 23 performing groups as part of a three-hour video program that focused on diversity. It’s posted on its home page,

Though the pandemic brings challenges to the organization, “our commitment to unity and diversity has never wavered,” Shelly Gilbride, I-House executive director said in the program’s opening. Via its website, the nonprofit is converting the online performances into a directory for cultural groups: Culture Commons. It allows visitors to filter content by diasporic origin (like Africa or Asia) or by the group’s focus area (like its cause or religion).

“It lets cultural groups have an online presence if they don’t have one,” Gilbride said at the meeting. “(And) shows the incredible cultural depth of our community. Arts and culture are a really powerful way to engage with issues, like confronting racism. ”

Additionally, with funding support from the City of Davis Arts & Cultural Affairs Fund, I-House will coordinate a series of anti-racism trainings with a cohort of leaders from the arts and non-profit sectors, in partnership with The Impact Foundry.

Rachel Hartsough, the city’s arts and culture manager, said she’s “very concerned for the well-being of a lot of the individuals and organizations within the arts. Sacramento, and other cities, are putting a lot of money into sustaining the arts and culture communities.” However, because of deep budget cuts due to COVID-19, the city of Davis has a much smaller pot of money for this, Hartsough said.

Meanwhile, arts organizations are struggling. Stacie Frerichs, director of The Davis Arts Center, told the group that “every month, I’m getting barely enough cash to stay open.” Though she says there’s enough money to stay afloat through the end of the year, “if I have to wait for summer camps, we won’t make it. And what does startup actually look like? It’s going be a really painful process for the next year.”

Frerichs has submitted plans to the city to host a revised Davis Arts Center Holiday Sale on Nov. 1 ­— outside, in the parking lot, for artists to sell gifts. If approved, it would not include music, hands-on crafts or the Secret Store.

I-House’s Gilbride, who also serves on the board of the Davis School Arts Foundation, said that nonprofit is revamping its mission to make sure all children in Davis schools get culturally relevant arts education. It’s funding art kits made by Davis Arts Center to at least one grade level in the school district.

Lorie Hammond, the founder of Peregrine School, said the elementary and preschool’s annual Oktoberfest arts festival is going partly digital. The nonprofit private school is back open for in-person classes on a small scale. Visitors will be able to see art displays in the parking lot on rotating days, Oct. 27-30.

Yelena Ivashchenko, owner of Bohème Hip Used Clothing downtown, reported on plans for the Davis Downtown Business Association’s “Seven Days of Halloween,” which also awaits city approval. Instead of the canceled Trick-or-Treat Trail, she imagines it as a way for people to come downtown in a fun, safe and responsible way — not just on the Saturday holiday — to support local shops. Watch for details.

Natalie Nelson of Pence Gallery reminded people that the gallery is open several afternoons a week, with masks required. She said it’s important for artists to continue to have physical shows.

Michael French of UC Davis Arts said most performances and events have moved online, including Thursday noon concerts and a Visiting Artist Lecture Series. See links at

Gia Battista of the Davis Shakespeare Festival said one silver lining of these times has been a digital internship program DSF offers for college students interested in theatre. Because it’s online, they have reached participants from across the country. “I’m inspired and invigorated by these students,” she said.

Autumn Labbé-Renault of Davis Media Access, who serves as chair of the Arts Alliance, said the community TV and radio station found a niche helping local groups get video coverage of their events. She called it “great and challenging, to help other nonprofits get the info about their important work out there.” For details, visit

Labbé-Renault, DMA’s executive director, hosts the COVID-19 Community Report every Tuesday from noon to 12:30 p.m. on KDRT radio, 95.7FM, where she interviews local leaders to gain insight on the pandemic’s local impact, and provide resources to listeners.

Local artist Thelma Weatherford shared news of Arboretum Artworks, a newly reimagined space near Davis Commons that houses nine artist studios. The project hopes to have more opportunities for public engagement in the future.

For more information on Arts Alliance Davis, to post an event or opportunity, or to subscribe to the mailing list, contact Labbé-Renault at [email protected].

Learn more about local and regional arts, Arts Alliance Davis and city of Davis Arts and Cultural Affairs through the following channels:

* Arts Alliance Davis Facebook page:;

* Arts Alliance Davis website:;

* City of Davis arts Instagram: @cityofdavisarts, hashtag #cityofdavisarts;

* City of Davis Arts & Cultural Affairs Facebook page:; and

* City of Davis Arts website: