Get to know your City Commissioners: Peter C. Jones — Malibu Arts Commission

Malibu Arts Commissioner Peter C. Jones and his wife Charlotte Frieze are shown at the opening of Michael Wilson’s exhibition Tableaux Vivants at Rose Gallery in Santa Monica on April 22. Photo by Stephanie Smith

Peter C. Jones has had his hand in all kinds of creative arts over the span of his career — he’s a fine arts collection consultant, publisher, author, photographer, documentary filmmaker, and expert in the dissemination and preservation of archives. 

Over the past 35 years, he’s organized more than 100 exhibits throughout the U.S. and Europe, and produced more than 70 books. He’s been on the Malibu Arts Commission since 2019, when City Councilmember Jefferson Wagner appointed him to fill a mid-term vacancy. He was reappointed in January 2021 by City Councilmember/Mayor Bruce Silverstein for a four-year term.

As president of the Josef & Yaye Breitenbach Foundation, Jones established the Josef Breitenbach Archive at The Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, organized 29 one-person Breitenbach exhibits in the U.S. and Europe, and published 11 Breitenbach books. He’s also a former consultant to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Aperture Foundation, and the Paul Strand Archive.

The Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York has mounted two solo exhibits of Jones’ photography, the first based on his photography book “Sweep Out Cottage.” KMR Arts has mounted three one-person exhibits of his work, most recently “Jungle Stories” in 2021. 

Jones wrote “The Changing Face of America” and co-authored three other books. His photographs, articles, and op-ed pieces have been published by The New York Times Magazine, Connoisseur, Smart Money, Town & Country, Aperture, The Providence Journal, and L’Oeil de la Photographie.

His first documentary film, “Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence,” premiered at the 2013 Aspen Film Festival and won the Audience Choice Award. The sequel, “From the Mind to the Heart (2019)” had a companion book featuring watercolor paintings by Charlotte M. Frieze (Jones’ wife). A third documentary is in production.

Jones has given numerous university lectures, most recently at Harvard, Pepperdine and MIT. He’s a former member of the Board of Fellows at The Center for Creative Photography; and a former consultant to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Aperture, and the Estate of Paul Strand. He’s an honors graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.

The Malibu Times held a Q&A with Peter Jones

Q. Why were you interested in being on the Malibu Arts Commission?

A. I’m acutely aware of the importance of experiencing works of art in person [considering the dozens of exhibits and books I’ve been involved in]. My goal was and is to raise the cultural dialogue beyond the magnificent 23 miles we all inhabit. 

[Our friend, the late] Carol Moss … impressed upon us the importance of community involvement. After the Woolsey Fire, the Arts Commission … brought community involvement to the forefront [with] two massive open exhibits of works by Malibu residents: “Radical Beauty, Malibu Rising,” made in response to the fire. 

A unifying goal of the commission is the creation of an Arts Center to provide a gathering place for our community that informs and inspires, encourages participation, and provides easy access for cultural education … The other unifying goal is … making art easily available to the public.

A recent success is the Pep Williams exhibit “Behind Bars,” organized by Commissioner Fireball Tim [Lawrence]. The gold standard of American prison photography used to be “Conversations with the Dead,” a book Danny Lyon shot in 1960s Texas. “Behind Bars” radically transforms our understanding of contemporary American prison life that now contains smiles, songs and skateboards — a compassionate look at who’s incarcerated and how they’re living it. Williams’ work struck a deep chord among those who attended his exhibit and inspired thoughtful dialogues that continue to this day.

Another great success has been the Malibu Poetry program led by Poet Laureate Ann Buxie with the strong support of Community Services Director Kristen Riesgo. The program encourages first-time poets through the expanded “Jubilations” program, “Caffeinated Verse,” and “The Right Time Workshops.” The poetry program even extends into the elementary schools, culminating with the excellent and well-attended Annual Poetry Summit at City Hall. The 2023 annual student anthology has been published and the adult anthology is in production.

I was asked to throw my hat in the ring and organize a reading from my book “Jungle Stories” at the June 2022 Jubilations poetry event at Bluffs Park. At a Jubilations gathering at the library, I read from my forthcoming book “Gratitude” about [my wife] Charlotte’s successful bone marrow transplant for multiple myeloma at UCLA. The unexpected, emotional response from the audience was for me, life-altering.

Q. What do you hope the Arts Commission accomplishes before your term is up?

A. When the Arts Commission began its current term, the gallery, located on the ground floor of Malibu City Hall, was on hard times and didn’t even have a name. Fireball suggested The Malibu City Gallery and it stuck. I facilitated the specifications and installation of professional lighting. Fireball engineered the removal of a large trophy case that dramatically increased and improved the exhibition space. Installing a modern gallery polished concrete floor proved to be a bridge too far — the wall-to-wall carpet, designed to obscure stains, remains. 

For security reasons, the gallery is only open during business hours when Malibu City Hall is open, [but these are not the] days and times when the public has the time and inclination to look at art. A central goal now is to open City Gallery to the public on weekends and holidays, and at least one evening a week. 

The good news is that the gallery has an existing vertical window that could be expanded into a door entrance with direct access to the gallery. This would make it possible to open the gallery with an attendant while the rest of City Hall is closed. 

Last fall, Caltrans approached the Arts Commission to commission a 138-foot mural for an underpass to the beach near Malibu Seafood. The commission identified the artist, solved logistics and developed a draft design for the lighting plan. Caltrans unexpectedly put the project on hold after the commission expended significant time and resources on it, but I’d really like to see this mural installed before my term expires.

Q. How long have you lived in Malibu? Why Malibu?

A. At Paris Photo, our friend Manfred said, “Do all the research you want, but you’re moving to Malibu. Malibu is the only place.” I did all that research — Sonoma, La Jolla, Santa Monica, even Miami — with three observations:

1. Waking up to the Pacific tops a brick wall. 

2. I will never have to look at another snowflake. 

3. Unlike Miami, one need not wear waterproof boots in the Whole Foods parking lot during a full moon tide.

We boarded a JetBlue flight to Burbank on Dec. 14, 2012, and watched the Sandy Hook Massacre on live television. It felt like we were on board the last plane out. The next day, we were graciously welcomed by our new neighbors. They told us that in Western Malibu, neighbors take care of each other: Never hesitate to call on any of us and we will never hesitate to call on you. In the ensuing 10 years, neighbors have dropped everything to help us and we have dropped everything to help them. We had come to the right place. And, our new home was walking distance to Manfred’s.

Q. Can you tell me what personal projects you’re working on now?

A. I’m finishing my next book, “Gratitude” (described above). Gratitude will be my fifth book of photographs, with my accompanying text written in narrative verse.