Petaluma Arts Center exhibit showcases artists’ interpretation of the times

“The Zeitgeist Exhibition, Capturing the Moment through Art,” which features work from creators providing their perspective on the times in which we live, runs May 14 through July 10.|

What does the spirit of our times look like through the eyes of artists?

The answer to that inquiry is explored in the Petaluma Arts Center’s new juried exhibit, “The Zeitgeist Exhibition, Capturing the Moment through Art,” which showcases work from 65 artists providing their perspective on the times in which we live. The exhibit, which runs from May 14 to July 10, showcases 69 works of art from creators in locations spanning from San Jose to the Oregon border, with more than a third of the submissions from Sonoma County.

“Zeitgeist is a complicated word and I like that,” said Katherine Plank, former chair of the center’s exhibition committee and the designer of this show. “It literally means the ‘spirit of the times’ but it also implies the beliefs and the currents of the world. What are the shadows from the past lingering and affecting the future? Zeitgeist gives the suggestion of something fleeting, of something that will change.”

Plank embedded words such as culture, discovery, beliefs, Supreme Court, religion, technology censorship, empire, spirit and music in the call for entries to reflect the wide breath of ideas available for the artists to work with.

Three jurors, Thomas Reynolds from the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco, Dennis Calabi from Santa Rosa’s Calabi Gallery and Darice Machel McGuire, artist and owner of Art E Studio and president of the Lahaina Arts Association in Hawaii, evaluated each of the 400 entries on its own merit without knowing who the artist was using special software for blind judging.

Plank said she hopes the show will capture what’s going on in the art world in Northern California.

“And on a deeper level,” she added. “What are the things that we are responding to in this world?”

Plank was pleased with the artistic community’s response to the idea.

“We got incredible work submitted,” she said, “Paintings, wall hangings, ceramic pieces, sculpture, metal pieces, photographs, all with unique points of view.”

Petaluma artist Evelyn Dolowitz Nitzberg’s painting of a shopping cart filled with possessions against a backdrop of an American flag and soldiers was selected to be part of the show. The piece is intended to reflect a growing problem many veterans face trying to find housing, with nearly 50,000 homeless veterans around the nation, according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development.

“Everyone in ‘America Has Wheels’ is expressing the idea that not everyone in the U.S. is living the ‘American Dream’ of owning a car and having a roof overhead,” explained Nitzberg, a signature artist of the Society of Western Artists. “There are more and more people living on our streets. I don’t remember seeing any folks living on the streets when I was a kid and cow town Petaluma was only two blocks long.”

Plank said art shows, such as the Zeitgeist Exhibition, serve as a way to bring communities together.

“We are hoping to get people interested in art and to get them engaged,” she said. “The show is an invitation to explore new ways of thinking and even inspire individuals to do art themselves. Art is such an important aspect to being a whole person.”

In addition to bolstering a more engaged local audience, the juried exhibit also helped the Petaluma Arts Center to become more involved with the greater California arts community, Executive Director Val Richman said,

“One unexpected and positive outcome from reaching out to such a wide geographical area is that we investigated and contacted art centers and art associations all over Northern California and now we are in more direct communications with them,” Richman said. “We made it more personal than just sending out a call for entries. We contacted these other organizations and asked them to send the notice out to their mailing lists of local artists. And now they have liked us on Facebook and we have new friends all over the state.”

Three cash prizes will be awarded on May 14 at the artists’ reception to the artists whose work received the highest combined scores by the three jurors. The first prize of $1,500 has been donated by a Petaluma woman in honor of her husband who passed away recently. The second prize is $750 and third prize is $500.

In addition to the exhibit, a discussion and Q&A with selected jurors will be held from 7-8:30 p.m. June 2, followed by a mini film festival showcasing California filmmakers from 7-9 p.m. June 10, and an open forum and Q&A with an artist, an architect, a farmer and an economist from 7-8:30 p.m. June 23.

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(Contact Elaine Silver at

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