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Creative connections

Local group brings together artists of all kinds

Calling all painters, poets and piano players: No matter what your artistic bent may be, Creative Crew has a spot for you.

Creative Crew is a Redwood City-based collective that seeks to bring together folks from all artistic backgrounds to network, collaborate, be inspired and share work in a supportive, encouraging environment.

Founded by filmmaker Tony Gapastione three years ago out of "just a real desire to get artists together," the crew's Facebook group boasts 365 members and holds monthly meetups at Backyard Coffee. At each monthly event, four to six artists present their work in front of the group and receive feedback and questions. Members hail mostly from the Peninsula but some come from San Francisco, San Jose, and beyond.

"Every month, you never know what you're going to get: a rapper, photographers, actors doing monologues, any kind of art," Gapastione said.

Ola Soler, a film student at San Francisco State University and Gapastione's co-producer, said Creative Crew gains members through social media, word of mouth and good old human interaction. She recounted meeting a woman while having her car's oil changed. The two got to talking and Soler mentioned Creative Crew.

"She thought it was so great because she always wanted to be an artist. She creates little jewelry pieces and things like that but never pursued it as a career," she said. The woman ended up attending the next meetup with examples of her jewelry and offered them as costume pieces for one of Soler and Gapastione's films.

"I thought, 'Thank you -- you get it,'" Gapastione said. "That's exactly our hope, that people come to this hub and meet each other and go, 'I am a set dresser, I am a makeup artist, let's work together." He recalled a choreographer who attended her first meetup on the same night as another filmmaker.

"Three months later I see on Facebook they're tagged in a photo. I said, 'Oh that's so cool, you're working together.' She said, 'We're working together because we met at Creative Crew! He hired me to choreograph something he was working on,' and I was like, 'Yes!'" Gapastione said, clapping his hands.

He and Soler are working on their second film and said there will be plenty of involvement from Crew members. Specializing in films with social-justice themes, the first was "1440 and Counting," about a burned-out teacher on the verge of retirement who has her life unexpectedly changed by the return of a former student. The short film has been accepted into a number of festivals, with more to come.

They're currently in pre-production on "Neighbor," about a homeless man who gets involved with trying to help a victim of sex trafficking in the Bay Area. Though the film is fictional, Gapastione (who's also a pastor at a local church) and Soler are partnering with anti-trafficking organizations and meeting with survivors.

"We really want to raise awareness of the fact that it's happening here in the Bay Area, not just in Third World countries," Soler said.

They're currently crowdfunding the project but have also received financial support from the Redwood City Parks and Arts Foundation, a fairly new nonprofit that advocates and raises funds for cultural activities, public art and recreational services. It's another connection they made through you guessed it -- Creative Crew.

"This guy said, 'I'm on a board in this city. We care about recreational events, we care about arts, we'd love to pioneer something with you,'" Gapastione said. "It's just been beautiful."

Erin Ashford, a photographer who moved to Redwood City about a year and a half ago, has presented her work twice at Creative Crew meetups. Before moving to the Peninsula, she'd been living in large cities with established art scenes -- San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle -- but is finding that she can have a direct hand in contributing to Redwood City's smaller, emerging art community.

"It's always been really important to me to find where art is at, wherever I'm living," she said. After moving to Redwood City when her wife took a job with the VA Health Care Center in Menlo Park, "I met Tony, I looked at all the things in my neighborhood and one of them was Creative Crew, and it was great."

She, too, is now working with a human-trafficking survivor to help document her story.

"You never know if someone's going to approach you and want to work with you," she said. "It's important to partner up with people doing good things."

Ashford, who's also active with a number of city associations and nonprofits and volunteers as a mentor at Sequoia High School, first shared a project with Creative Crew about a year ago -- a documentary on Queer burlesque performance in the South. She was unsure of the reception she'd receive.

"I didn't know who my audience was. I didn't really know who Creative Crew was. It felt like I was really exposing a big part of myself," she said. "When you show work, especially work that is vulnerable, even if you're not trying to be a certain way, your work will still say loads about you and you don't know how people will react."

Audiences vary at the meetups, she said. Sometimes the room is full of longtime members; sometimes first-time attendees, all with diverse artistic experiences and interests.

"I started to appreciate that about Creative Crew," she said. "It's interesting what you get when you show work and you're being genuine with who you are. You just can be approached by someone who could surprise you and you can totally learn something from them."

At January's meeting, she showed photos from a new work in progress, including many taken in her wife's hometown of Flint, Michigan.

"It doesn't matter where you are in your life: Getting up there, there's anxiety, putting yourself out there. That's why you need the community where people will be loving and kind to you," she said.

Creative Crew fills that role, "because the world is harsh, and you need that, too, but when you're in the incubation phase of your project you need nourishment and encouragement. "

"It's been a community in which it's safe to share your work -- whatever stage it's in -- and receive affirmation," Gapastione said. "That's the one rule we have, that artists will be affirmed for whatever their work is."

What: Creative Crew monthly meetup

Where: Backyard Coffee, 965 Brewster Ave., Redwood City

When: Every third Sunday of the month. The next meeting is Sunday, Feb. 21, at 7:15 p.m.

Cost: Free; donations accepted.

Info: Go to Creative Crew.

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