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Petaluma Arts Center ‘Idea Lounge’ series explores out of the box concepts

What do the most beloved movies of all time have in common with the life of a sailboat captain for hire?

That very question was pondered last month by an engaged audience at the debut of the Petaluma Arts Center’s “Idea Lounge,” a six-month series held at Lagunitas Brewing Company that’s part of the center’s new “Out of the Box” initiative to help complete its mission of putting the “s” in arts, and not just visual arts, Executive Director Val Richman said.

The Idea Lounge, an hour-long event that takes place on the third Thursday of the month, pairs two speakers-one who discusses an artistic concept and the other who speaks about a seemingly random subject. In the inaugural evening held in a new cozy lounge space Lagunitas created for nonprofit events at its brewery, Petaluma Arts Center board member and filmmaker/screenwriter Eric J. Adams outlined the hero’s journey as seen through films such as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Up” and “Casablanca.” Bradford Rex then spoke about some of his (mis)adventures as a sailboat captain for hire for motley crews of leisure fisherman.

“The third speaker is the audience,” explained board member Carin Jacobs, the curator of the series. “It is up to the audience to make the connections between the two speakers and the ideas they are presenting.”

The audience had plenty to say about the ideas laid out by the two speakers – the discussion morphed from finding connections between the two talks to asking the speakers about their own hero journeys and how their experiences created opportunities to undertake transformations.

Audience member Rodney Gagnon said he found the discussion fascinating.

“I like having my pre-conceived notions challenged and coming up with new ideas,” he said.

This is music to Jacobs’ ears. Jacobs, a former museum educator who is now is the director at Sonoma State University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, School of Extended and International Education, has been waiting years to find the right venue for this series.

“There is a model that inspired me,” she explained. “At the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, they have a series called ‘Mixed,’ where they present tag team lectures on unrelated topics. They don’t a have a speaker from the arts and they don’t always have a local flavor, so those are the modifications I put in. I wanted the speakers to be local icons in the community.”

Jacobs believes the series is important for several reasons.

“It showcases the relationship of art to life,” she said. “Art can be rarefied and put on a pedestal. The Idea Lounge can make art more accessible and less intimidating and highlights the interconnectedness in how we live our lives. And taking the arts center literally out of the box of the building and bringing its value out into the community expands the possibilities of who might intersect with the arts center.”

The Idea Lounge series is the first manifestation of Petaluma Arts Center’s Out of the Box framework that Adams introduced to feature collaborative activities to take place outside arts center and the templates of a traditional art exhibit. Adams understands out of the box in the metaphorical sense, as a place to find community ideas for projects “and nimbly bring something new and fresh that was not there before,” he explained.

“We felt that PAC is a wonderful venue within its walls,” he said. “We have three charters and we do two of them – exhibitions and education – well. The third is art and community engagement and it has fallen by the wayside.”

Out of the Box will reflect the values and the eclectic profile of Petaluma, and Adams is encouraging people who have great ideas for interesting art programs to come to partner with the center.

The projects can take many forms: non-traditional lighting, mixed media, music or sculpture presented in refreshing, surprising and inclusive ways will be considered. And the good projects will live from year to year, he added.

“The way we see it is that PAC is the studio and Out the Box is indie film making,” he said, adding that the speaker series is the “perfect example” of the program’s mission. “It is designed to inspire, surprise, uplift and engage. If an idea is selected, we will help shape and coordinate the idea and use our marketing prowess and community connections to ensure success.”

The next Idea Lounge will feature speaker Matt Maquire, who works part time at Petaluma-based Sonoma Portworks and will discuss the “Geographies of Port,” juxtaposed with Jock McDonald, a self-taught photographer whose work has been featured internationally,. McDonald will speak about “Constructing Nature; Building Art in Our Image.”

Both Adams and Jacobs welcome suggestions for speakers for the Idea Lounge and Out of the Box art projects.

Community members can connect with them through the center’s website, petalumaartscenter.org, where more information can also be found about upcoming speakers.

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