Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - April 5, 2013

Wide-open spaces

New art-center curator envisions a world of exhibits in the revamped galleries

by Rebecca Wallace

In her new job as curator at the Palo Alto Art Center, Lisa Ellsworth has a future of wide-open spaces. The freshly renovated galleries must be an inviting blank canvas for all the exhibitions she's imagining.

Ellsworth doesn't yet have specifics on shows far into the future, which is understandable since she just started last week. But she does say that she's interested in artists who connect with the community, like San Francisco illustrator Wendy MacNaughton, who draws the people, places and things around her. And Berkeley ceramicist and veteran Ehren Tool, who aims to raise awareness about war with his clay cups adorned with press molds of military insignia.

She's also a fan of artists who combine art and science, like the geometry-minded Stanford design lecturer John Edmark.

"I'm most interested in art that begs questions art that implores us to consider the physical, virtual, intellectual and psychic spaces we inhabit and traverse as individuals and groups, the spaces wherein we come together and meet as a community," Ellsworth said.

A Palo Alto native who grew up in Los Altos, Ellsworth comes to the art center from the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose, where she was project manager for the building of the Art Loft space. She then focused on developing a visual-arts program where kids got to take part in interactive exhibits. Sometimes artists would test out works in progress by doing demos with children.

Ellsworth has also worked at New Langton Arts, a now-closed San Francisco organization with gallery and performance space. She studied visual arts and media at the University of California at San Diego.

Palo Alto Art Center director Karen Kienzle said it was a "daunting process" to replace Signe Mayfield, who retired in 2011 after 21 years as the center's curator. Since the center has a major focus on children's programs, she said she's delighted to have found someone with a background in both education and visual art.

"We're excited to have a fresh perspective," Kienzle said. "It's clear that she can work with artists, and on big huge ambitious projects."

The center was closed for more than a year for renovation, with programs spread to temporary locations, but now it's back showing quarterly exhibits at its home base. The multi-artist "Community Creates" show closes April 14, to be replaced by the annual "Youth Art" and "Cultural Kaleidoscope" exhibitions of art by local kids.

Starting in June, an assemblage by Shenny Cruces called the "Community Heirloom Project" will be on exhibit. Residents have donated meaningful objects to be incorporated into Cruces' porcelain sculptures.

Also on display will be the ornate art of painter Julie Heffernan. "It tends toward the Baroque," Ellsworth said, flipping through a book of images. Many are of women in enormous skirts fashioned from colorful riches: fruit, bubbles, animals and flowers.

Info: The Palo Alto Art Center is at 1313 Newell Road. For more about events and exhibits, go to cityofpaloalto.org/artcenter or call 650-329-2366.

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