Preaching the Gospel of Art

Peter Tyas of Studio Channel Islands discusses art, community and the power of creativity.

By Mark Storer

Photo by Michael Moore

TURNING A CORNER: Executive Director Peter Tyas aims to bring a new, community-based angle to the programming offered at Studio Channel Islands.


eter Tyas is remarkably calm for a man on an energetic mission. He is thoughtful, focused, serious and quite aware that his mission is to help people appreciate life through a different lens.

The executive director of Studio Channel Islands Art Center for a year now, Tyas, 39, came to California from his home in England after falling in love with a Camarillo woman at St. Andrews University in Scotland, where they both served on the faculty of Museum and Gallery Studies. Tyas was intimately involved with the 2012 Olympic celebrations, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and other events that led him to examine how art improves people’s lives.

As the studio prepares to celebrate its 20th birthday next year, Tyas is making sure that the word gets out and that artwork and creativity act as an invitation to the whole community. Mark Storer sat down to talk with him about the future and the past of Studio Channel Islands and how his unique experiences make him the leader it needs.

Your career seems to be about preaching the gospel of art. Is that a fair equation?

After university, I started work for the Yorkshire Museums Council and with how those various organizations measure their success. So I spent time looking at what the arts do for communities and how we use the power of the arts for social good, beyond just personal aesthetic pleasure. Things like working in education settings, how the arts help people find their voice, how they help in the healing and growing process, recovery from trauma and how to use the arts for social purpose were my main concerns.

What did that look like on a daily basis?

I worked with libraries, hospitals and schools at the local level and it was really fascinating work. 2012 was a huge year in Great Britain with the Olympics, and we did projects where communities celebrated the Olympic torch coming through. We did a fire garden at Stonehenge, for example, where we set fire to a World Heritage site; it was quite interesting. There are laws about what you can’t do at a U.N. World Heritage site. We broke at least six of them.

What did you find at Studio Channel Islands when you arrived? What did you see as the opportunity?

Studio Channel Islands is quite focused on doing specific things. What I’m trying to bring to it is a plurality, to do multiple things at the same time. 

So we’re working, for example, with Rancho Campana High School, with young people and their capacity to do the day-to-day things we do. They get real-world experience of working in the cultural sector with working artists. They get to work in a number of areas, not just painting, for example, but also film and photography and many other things. 

We’re also working with students from Cal State, Channel Islands, with their nonprofit course, and they’re helping us develop programs and they reach a whole different group of people.

We cherish these kids and we try to make spaces for them in multiple studios so they can move around and learn in multiple experiences. They’re at the beginning of a long education path, and our mission is to encourage and connect with them. 

Studio Channel Islands has always had an open-door philosophy. Can you tell us about First Saturdays?

The first Saturday of each month, we open for everyone to come in and see work in the gallery and then go to the studios and meet the artists. There’s a conversation to be had and learning to be picked up. We’re determined to increase the number of opportunities we offer for people to come in and experience this. People should know they can come here, spend the afternoon, have a picnic on the grounds and see, learn and hear the voice of the artists who work here.

Engaging the community is important to you.

Oh, yes. It was immediately about reaching out into the community here. We worked with Camarillo Hospice and St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital and did a number of things like bringing in different artists to do creative task classes for people in grief groups and patients. We had people from three different health-care districts come in, have lunch and then have a talk from an artist and work on projects that help create memory function, for example. We know that working with your hands, fingers and toes, talking to people and doing mental arithmetic stimulate parts of the brain that help memory. One of the biggest problems elderly people face is loneliness and we know that after the age of 60, loneliness is more dangerous to your health than smoking. So these activities help prevent that.

What other ways do you get the word out to the community about the opportunities, the art and artists here?

Well, I’m talking with the Chamber of Commerce saying, “Look, we need to set up a network for the creative sector. That sector is all microbusinesses and they need to be able to facilitate a network that allows them to develop products while showcasing our local creative industries.” These people are all here, they live here, and we want to connect these artists and an audience for them. We can amplify the voice of that sector, and everyone from dance tutors to DJs to sculptors can connect to a creative network. There’s no reason that artists here should have to go to Los Angeles to show their work. The audience is right here.

How will the Studio’s 20th anniversary look through this particular focus you have?

From September this year to September next year, we’re going to talk to the community about how to celebrate our birthday — what we’ve been in the past, to what we should be in the future. We’ll do a huge party that goes from Friday to Sunday. We’re going to shape the party so that we have a Friday cocktail formal, a funky evening gig for Saturday with live music and beer, and Sunday will be a family picnic; and all of it will be a celebration of creativity in our lives — something for everyone on each day.

It really is a wide-ranging discussion, isn’t it? It’s about the power of art and creativity?

I’m hoping that it [Studio Channel Islands] will transform the way this community sees itself. As we grow and reach out, we’ll celebrate the creative endeavours of our neighbors and we’ll recognize that the arts aren’t a luxury, they’re a part of what makes life worth living and it transform lives. A community which values its creative sector is a smart community. 

Studio Channel Islands
2222 E. Ventura Blvd., Camarillo

INTERIOR LANDSCAPING: Part of the LA/LAndscapes, Real and Imagined exhibit, an exploration of Latino and Latin American landscape art on display at the Blackboard Gallery through Nov. 18.

HERE BE ART: Creative uses of outdoor spaces (sculptures at the entrance to the Blackboard Gallery, or the Red Chair Installation along the fence) beckon to the community to come in and explore the creative treasures waiting inside.




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