Art association offers artists chance to expand

Guest artist Ray Harris demonstrates caricature on Malibu Art Association artist Isabelle Bryer. Photo by Jen Cleary

The Malibu Art Association was “founded on the principle that art is a necessary element for the mental, spiritual, and physical health of every human being on the planet.”

By Greg Sidor/Special to The Malibu Times

Nestled between the dual splendors of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu offers a wide variety of breathtaking environments to enjoy. It’s no wonder, then, that artists have flocked to the community for decades in the hope they could capture some of that beauty in their work.

For more than 40 years, the Malibu Art Association has been there to meet them, offering painters the chance to expand their artistic horizons and providing a means for artists to display their pieces to the public.

Malibu resident Marjorie Knowles, who discovered her love of art at an early age, founded the association in 1963. “Starting out in kindergarten, art is the only thing I liked doing,” Knowles said.

After studying art at both Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. and UCLA, Knowles began teaching art classes at local schools, churches and homes. She still remembers the moment she decided to form the MAA.

“One cold March day an artist friend I knew suggested I start an organization,” Knowles said. Knowles had been mulling over the idea since becoming a member of an art association in Pacific Palisades. She didn’t like commuting to the meetings at night, and felt that an organization closer to home would be more convenient.

“We put ads in the paper for a meeting and exhibit. About 50 people came, and we elected our officers on the spot,” Knowles said.

Katy Allgeyer, publicity director for the organization, said the MAA was “founded on the principle that art is a necessary element for the mental, spiritual, and physical health of every human being on the planet.”

The MAA now counts about 120 members among its ranks, Knowles said. Members include several celebrity artists, such as Jane Seymour, Herb Alpert and Dick Van Dyke, all who hold honorary memberships.

Members are treated to art demonstrations at monthly meetings, where they are exposed to what other artists are doing in their mediums. In addition, the association has partnered with seven businesses in Malibu that offer them space to hang works for public view, Knowles said.

The MAA also participates in the Malibu Chamber of Commerce Art Festival, held in July.

The main draw for many, however, is the annual juried show, where selected members can showcase their work and compete for first prize. In the past, this show has been held at venues such as Pepperdine University and Santa Monica College.

Sarah Willman Grote, a MAA member for 10 years, who has held both the posts of board member and president in the past, said she has noticed a change in the makeup of the association’s members during her time with the group.

“In addition to hobbyists, we’re attracting a lot more professional artists,” Willman Grote said. The MAA has also succeeded in attracting more public attention in recent years, she added.

“We had hundreds of people at our last juried show in Santa Monica,” Willman Grote said. “There’s something for anyone interested in the arts,” she added, “and you don’t have to be an artist to get involved.”

The MAA engages the community in other ways, as well, offering scholarships to Malibu High School students interested in pursuing an education in the arts. The prizes are funded by voluntary commissions from members’ work sold through MAA events, Willman Grote said.

Hoping to attract more attention and to showcase artists’ works on the Internet, the MAA is preparing to launch, expected to be up and running by early winter.

Fine art photographer Jen Cleary, a MAA member who is serving as the site designer, said the goals of would be multifaceted.

“I want to showcase MAA art and bring in some new people,” she said. “A lot of artists don’t know where to go to show their art,” she said.

Each member will have a page to display their work, allowing prospective patrons to browse through a sort of electronic gallery, Cleary said.

“I’m keeping it very basic and easy to navigate,” Cleary said, adding that she’s designing the site with dial-up users in mind and wishes to avoid long download times.

In keeping with the inclusive nature of the association, Willman Grote notes that you don’t have to be a resident of Malibu to join the MAA.

“We’re attracting members from all over Los Angeles,” she said, adding that, “you don’t have to be a member to attend the demonstrations.” Becoming a member entitles the artist to show their work with the MAA and its associated locations.

Both Knowles and Willman Grote have similar hopes for the future of the association.

“I hope the quality of the work keeps going up and that we gain more members,” Knowles said.

“One of the long-term goals is that we’ve always wanted a gallery presence here in Malibu,” Willman Grote said. Noting that this could still be a ways off, she hopes that the MAA can “continue offering more educational and exhibition opportunities” to artists.

Those interested in getting involved can contact Membership Director Betty Barcley at 310.393.7017 or attend the next monthly meeting on Nov. 18 at: the Michael Landon Center at Bluffs Park, 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m.

The MAA will hold “Montmarte in Malibu,” an informal plein aire show, on Nov. 6 at Cook’s Family Market.