By Natalie Eastman
There are no phones in sight. As the music grows louder, those dancing in a sweaty mob edge closer to the performers. Outside, the atmosphere is quiet and relaxed. A handful of booths lining the courtyard display various photographs and paintings. Both inside where the air trembles with noise and motion and outside in the dim lights and low conversations, the focus is on art and community.
Organized by Full Safari, a student band, the show was coordinated by and for youth. Most of the artists are students at COC, but the invitations were extended to anyone of any age with a passion for art. Santa Clarita doesn’t have a reputation for much culture, let alone a creative one, but the small festival was a testament to the powerful and seemingly pervasive community of art that has found its own niche in the city. Capitalizing on the creative environment cultivated by COC administration, students are seeking out outlets for creative expression both individually and corporately.
Since COC’s founding, art was always intended to be a main focus in the college’s curriculum. In fulfillment of this vision, an art community has emerged on campus, and the school now boasts a wide variety of outlets for both creativity and performance. From the Art Club to the Performing Arts Center, which hosts student performers and Grammy award winners alike, COC has managed to hold its own despite its proximity to prestigious institutions like CalArts and the allure of Los Angeles. While there must ultimately be support on an administrative level, the effort to engage both those on campus and the broader society begins with the students themselves.
One student who has filled a particularly unique demand in the local art scene is 20-year-old musician Ric Astiazaran. A lead singer and keyboardist, Astiazaran lends his name to his funk cover band, Ric’s Phunk Bus. The band, made up of five, college-aged friends, takes on songs ranging from Parliament’s 1975 classic “Give up the Funk” to Childish Gambino’s chart-topping hit “Redbone.” Astiazaran has been pursuing music seriously since he was 10 years old and joined the orchestra and marching band while at Saugus High School. Though the idea of a cover band, let alone a funk one, may be bemusing or even aversive to some, Ric’s Phunk Bus was a fan-favorite at the student-run art show.
Many students have probably passed Astiazaran on campus as each week he and a handful of fellow artists would stand on the Honor Grove trying to pass out flyers advertising their upcoming show to students. Ironically, the vast majority would pass them wordlessly, the music pumping through their earbuds more important than the live music being promoted. The misconception that Santa Clarita lacks a strong art culture reflects, to Astiazaran, a problem with student interest and not with student artistry. “I don’t doubt that there are talented students everywhere,” he said. “It’s not that people aren’t interested in art, it’s that they’re lazy nowadays. People would rather stay at home on their phone than go to a show.”
On the visual arts side, communications major Candice Chavez is quietly honing her own talent. Chavez, 20, also attended Saugus High School and took art classes at the AP level. Working mostly with watercolors and ink, she, too, comes from an artistic family. Neither she nor Astiazaran necessarily view their art as a viable career, but this doesn’t discourage them from pursuing their respective passions now. Chavez was pleasantly surprised by the turnout to the student-run art show, where she actually sold her favorite print for $30. “It was a lot of people who I feel like wanted that here. The same kind of people wanted to see art and wanted to hear that music,” she said. “I hope a lot more things like that can come out.”
Happy with the art community she has found at COC, Chavez believes that students just need a platform on which they may creatively express themselves. “I think everyone should get into their creative side,” she said earnestly. “It’s just that Santa Clarita doesn’t really have a place to go show art. I think places like galleries, student-run galleries, would be really cool to have.”
One COC faculty member in particular hopes to use his position to help build that platform. Bill Macpherson became a full-time professor about a year and a half ago and is now the faculty advisor for Hipified Records, a campus club doubling as a “student-run record label.” Having played guitar and bass professionally for 37 years, he now teaches classes like Pop Songwriting, Pop and Jazz Music Theory and Jazz History. At its core, Hipified Records’ mission is to enable students who are passionate about art to promote others who are similarly passionate. Their approach is multifaceted, focusing simultaneously on student education, record production and concert promotion. “We really focus on how to survive independently,” said Macpherson. Between performing, promoting, fundraising and manufacturing, the twenty-something members keep quite busy.
Booking any band with at least one COC student in its lineup, the club arranges monthly shows for local artists. Its current goal is to produce one collaborative CD in the next few months, but its long-term dream is to manufacture two every year. In this semester alone the members have heard from eight guest speakers, including an attorney, a small business advisor, studio owners, a composer and a studio musician. Because the club is pursuing a wide range of goals, it invites students of all majors to contribute their personal talents to the collaborative art effort.
While the members themselves fundraise to support the club’s financial needs, the students also take advantage of the facilities provided by the school. Macpherson has been an enthusiastic voice in administration advocating for the installation of a recording studio on campus, and the hope is that COC will soon begin offering classes in recording and producing music. This dream is expected to be realized in a just a few years time. Because the Canyon Country campus has “put in the budget a performing arts center,” the school plans to construct the studio there. “There’s more room to grow there,” said Macpherson, visibly excited by the college’s support of the project.
To Macpherson, Santa Clarita’s proximity to LA can be viewed as either a “talent drain” or a “launching board.” Though intimidating at times, the culture for which LA is so famous often serves as inspiration to those nearby. “Sometimes it’s good to be a bigger fish in a small pond,” he said. “Santa Clarita has an environment where there’s less industry presence, you can be maybe more your own person.”
The school itself also sponsors an on-campus professional gallery and a K–12 community outreach program. While those in management positions do their part, the students work eagerly and fervently to influence their own change. “I think there’s more here than we realize,” urged Macpherson. “And I think what is here needs a voice.”