Art Space: Fine Art president wants to create creative places | April 3, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - April 3, 2009

Art Space: Fine Art president wants to create creative places

by John A. Barry

Marilyn Mattson has a big job ahead of her. As president-elect of the Contra Costa Academy of Fine Art, she wants to expand the scope and efforts of the organization, whose current stated mission is "to nurture the art spirit and provide the art education required for producing the highest level of every student's artistic potential. To create the first art academy in the East Bay."

Mattson's own potential is noteworthy. She has a BFA from UCLA, a lifelong commitment to the arts, and has studied several genres under a variety of teachers, including Beth Batchelor.

Artist Beth Batchelor founded the Academy in 2001, and at age 91, she is still going strong. Mattson characterizes her as a "visionary ... teacher of teachers." Batchelor was also a co-founder of the Alamo Danville Artists Society, ADAS. Look for a profile of this lively nonagenarian in a future column.

The Academy currently has about 50 members and offers classes in donated space at Richards Crafts in Alamo, and the community room in the Alamo Plaza's Safeway. Mattson credits both entities for their generosity and gives a special nod to Dick Defosse, owner of Richards.

"He's an incredible supporter of the arts," notes Mattson. "He donates food, space, art supplies." Among the Academy's teachers are Leroy Parker, an art professor at San Jose State; abstract artist Noel Williams, a teacher at Orinda Academy; and sculptor Christian Rousset.

But Mattson wants to do more, such as develop the first comprehensive art academy in the East Bay, to help bring together various groups that collectively involve at least 1,900 artists in the area, according to Mattson's count.

"There needs to be a home for the arts in the East Bay. Although there's Civic Arts in Walnut Creek, it's kind of limited ... just for classes. This is a larger view: to have a real 24-7 location."

As to finding that location, however: "I've been trying for years," says Mattson. Her efforts include writing to various Realtors "with seemingly acres of unleased properties ... I don't get a response."

Another approach is asking potential patrons of the arts to donate properties. She has attended Town Council meetings with that goal in mind. "The general manager at the time said, 'Well, maybe you can use the community center at Oak Hill Park.' I haven't heard anything."

Mattson's research has led her to other parts of the country where ideas such as hers have been put into practice. Three examples are Boulder and Golden, Colo., and Corpus Christi, Texas.

"All have vibrant arts communities, and they're all housed under one umbrella," she says. Mattson believes that "it's not inconceivable for (local arts groups such as ADAS and the California Watercolor Association, currently headquartered at Gallery Concord) to have a home together as a consortium." In Mattson's vision, such a home might combine a framing shop, a coffee shop, space for events, and work space for artists.

In keeping with the Academy's current and primary focus - teaching - Mattson envisions "artmobiles," vans sponsored by corporations, complete with necessary supplies, that would take teachers from school to school. A compelling idea as the recession worsens and schools look to eliminating art curricula to help balance budgets.

Mattson has years of experience in writing grants, and she plans to apply that experience in seeking funds to expand the purview and reach of the Contra Costa Academy of Fine Art. One such grant went to the Hirshhorn Foundation, based in Baltimore. "They said, we just need $400,000 in hand, and they'd come up with a million," Mattson notes wryly.

Marilyn Mattson is clearly frustrated by obstacles she encounters in her quest to take the Academy beyond its current status. "But that doesn't mean we won't continue," she says. "It is my dream to find a prominent family in Contra Costa, passionate about the arts, that is willing to provide the initial financial backing for the art center and leave a legacy for years to come."

--John A. Barry is a writer and aspiring artist. To share anything art-related, call him at 314-9528 or e-mail


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