Renowned artists donate work For the Arts

Work by artist Damian Elwes will be up for auction Thursday night at the Track 16 Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, helping to raise money to fund arts programs within the SMMUSD. Image provided by Damian Elwes

The works of artists such as Edward Ruscha, Julius Shulman, Laddie John Dill, Lita Albuquerque and more will be on auction to benefit the art endowment fund supporting arts programs in local schools.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Keeping the arts alive for primary and secondary students, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Education Foundation is throwing its second public art auction to benefit its program “For The Arts” on Oct. 11.

Partnered with the nonprofit Education Foundation, For The Arts taps local artists and parents to create a permanent endowment fund to support music, visual arts, dance and drama in district schools.

“We launched For The Arts because there simply are no district-funded arts programs for our schools,” foundation Executive Director Linda Gross said. “Even though there are state standards for arts education, just like for reading and math, the schools don’t have the money to teach arts as a core curriculum.”

Gross and For the Arts co-chairs Laddie John Dill, Astrid Preston and Ruth Weisberg believe insufficient funding for arts programs in public schools constitutes more than just institutional negligence; it’s willful blindness to the benefits of arts education.

“Art for art’s sake is valuable alone,” Gross said. “But using art to teach other disciplines reaches more kids. The goal is not necessarily to create an artist, but to expand and motivate their creative experience.”

Dill, a local artist of some renown, agreed: “The artistic process is right-brained stuff,” he said. “What state administrators are missing is that art teaches a subjective language that spills over into everything else they learn. From caveman days, drawing is self-expression at its most basic level.”

Accordingly, Thursday’s For The Arts fundraiser, to be held in the Track 16 Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, will feature more than 75 works by some of California’s most well known contemporary artists, including Edward Ruscha, June Wayne, Tony Berlant and Julius Shulman (who will celebrate his 97th birthday on Wednesday).

“Our first art auction in 2003 was a big success,” Gross said. “We raised over $100,000. When you see PTAs having to raise the money to hire an art teacher, these kinds of funds go far in establishing an effective endowment.”

The soirée will feature cocktails from Elixir G, hors d’oeuvres catered by Joe’s Restaurant (of Joe Miller’s fame) and music provided by the Santa Monica High School String ensemble, along with the paintings, sculptures and photographs offered at both a silent and a live auction.

For The Arts chair Preston said the quality of works being shown should assure attendees of some phenomenal opportunities to bid on top-of-the-line artwork, as well as contribute to local school arts programs.

“The availability of a Julius Shulman print is a rarity,” she said. “All his negatives are now owned by The Getty.”

Evidently, other contributing artists were just as generous.

“Every artist we asked to participate said yes,” Preston said. “Nobody turned us down and most of the donations are 100 percent because they all support arts education.”

Preston, originally from Sweden and a painter who has been showing since the ’70s, has lived in the area since 1952 and went to school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“Art used to be a fully funded elective course,” she said. “Now, schools don’t have art materials in their budgets, let alone salaries for arts teachers; parents must buy the supplies. But arts education classes have such a proven track record. Kids who study art see their grades and skills increase, as well as their passion for education itself.”

Dill attended school in the SMMUSD, graduating from Santa Monica High, which he said offered “a great program… art was never an ‘alternative.’ It was something you just always did.”

A fixture in the Malibu arts scene for a long time, Dill works in mixed media such as glass, cement and oxides to create richly colored and textured pieces. He also worked for this newspaper in the ’50s as a teen.

“I folded newspapers and was the only one small enough to climb back and un-jam the linotype machine.”

Dill started painting as a youngster and his logo designed for the Malibu Surfing association in 1961 is still in use today. He taught at UCLA and the Otis College of Art and Design, as well as served on Gov. Pete Wilson’s task force for the arts in California.

“They started to cut funding for arts education back in the ’80s,” Dill said. “But it’s a mistake, because art teaches kids to think outside the mainstream.”

The For the Arts auction event takes place Thursday, 6 p.m.- 9 p.m., at the Track 16 Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue #c1 in Santa Monica. Tickets are $125 and can be purchased at the door. Off-sight bids can be made by calling 310.396 4557. Artists’ donations up for auction can be seen online at