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Bridging Arts Academia and State Parks History through “Public History to Public Art” Workshop Series

A woman with long dark hair and glasses is presenting to a crowd of people on a wooden porch fronting on a gravel courtyard. She is wearing a denim jacket, skirt, and flowered leggings and is smiling as she gestures with her hands. In the background is a brick building, and on the porch in the foreground is a black sandwich board with “Arts in California Parks” Workshop Here” written in chalk.
State Parks staff guided local arts faculty through some of State Historical Parks in Sacramento. Photo by Blythe Wilson.

This March and April, the CA State Parks Capital District team convened a two-part “Public History to Public Art” workshop series to cultivate connection and collaboration between State Parks staff and nearly thirty faculty members from Arts Departments at local institutions of higher learning. The goal of the workshops was to build relationships between Sacramento’s academic art scene and the rich history of its State Parks, inviting arts academics to consider how they can empower students and the local arts community to engage with Capital District Parks in ways that both draw the parks into the local arts community and draw diverse visitors into the parks.

The workshops featured inspiring presentations by California State Parks’ Director Armando Quintero and Kate Bickert from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, as well as specialized tours of Capital District Park Units, an interactive art installation by local printmaker Peter Foucault, and facilitated discussions. Over the two workshop days, nearly thirty professors from California State University, Sacramento and the Los Rios Community Colleges were familiarized with the history, resources, and staff at Capital District State Parks, paving the way for myriad outcomes: field trips, assignments, coursework, student art exhibitions and performances, collaborative projects, and so on.

A group of about 10 people stand around a man who is presenting in front of a museum exhibit of a full-size Southern Pacific train car, inside a high-ceilinged museum gallery. The presenter is wearing a brown suit and a nametag, and is gesturing with his hands.
State Parks staff guided local arts faculty through some of State Historical Parks in Sacramento. Photo by Blythe Wilson.

Since most faculty are also practicing professionals themselves, participants included the former Poet Laureate of Sacramento, the Director of the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival, a decorated ballet dancer, a sculptor, a folk musician, art critics, and more. Many of these individuals reported rarely, if ever, having visited State Parks. As a result, the workshops successfully connected with over two dozen active members of the local arts scene who are likely to incorporate State Parks into their future creative work.

Several prospective partnerships emerged from the workshops. Two professors are planning to teach courses next year that focus on Capital District Parks, and numerous other proposals for student-generated artistic engagement are also expected soon. In addition, Parks job opportunities shared at the workshops were distributed by faculty to their students. CSU Sacramento and the Los Rios Community Colleges have racially diverse, minority-majority student bodies. In addition, more than a third of students at CSU Sacramento are the first in their family to earn a university degree while nearly half of students at the Los Rios Colleges are low-income. Therefore, through these workshops Capital District State Parks created new opportunities for artistic engagement and career development for underrepresented groups.

A crowd of people stand in a fancy room with a billiard table in the foreground. The people are facing away from the camera listening to a woman with short hair speak. The walls of the room are yellow with dark wood window trim and wainscoting. There are several paintings in simple gilded frames on the walls. And then there's a huge mirror in an elaborate gilded frame reaching from shoulder height to the ceiling casting imposing shadows on the picture rail and crown molding.
State Parks staff guided local arts faculty through some of State Historical Parks in Sacramento. Photo by Blythe Wilson.