Over the past couple of weeks, you may have noticed dirt-caked SUVs plying Bay Area roadways. The matte-brown coating is a clear cultural signifier in Silicon Valley: the Burners are back, returning from their annual sojourn to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
If you weren’t able to make it to the party on the playa, your chance for a big art party is just on the horizon and not nearly so far away—or as dusty.
To be sure, there’s fire and there are dancers, and sometimes there are fire-dancers, at Anne & Mark’s Art Party, which arrives at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose Sept. 20 to Sept. 25. Certainly the party is replete with art exhibits, art cars, live music and other performing arts. It is intended to be a destination for local art tribalists who may enjoy entertaining funky ideas but not needing to rough it and get personally funky in the process.
This “occasional & irrational San Jose Arts Fest” is the brainchild of art patrons Anne Sconberg and Mark Henderson. (Their parodies of pompous art statements are online at artpartysj.com.) The spirited downtown residents organized the first party seven years ago out of their home, and have persevered—at times despite their better judgment—mounting events in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and now, after a three-year hiatus, 2014.
Henderson, a native of England, casts ceramics and renovates homes from time to time. Sconberg grew up on a ranch in Salinas. Her family grew “broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, sugar beets” and became “subdivision builders” specializing in three-bedroom, two-bath homes “because marriages work better that way.”
Sconberg began taking photographs in middle-school. She spent five years on and off in Paris learning the black-and-white photographic arts during her 20s, then spent time in London, New York, Madrid.
Motherhood and Silicon Valley employment brought her to San Jose, where a real estate agent showed her newly-constructed condos on downtown’s low numbered streets. She spotted “a crumbling Victorian” and thought “that’s what I want.” A psychic had told her she’d live in a white house with a lot of windows. In 2006, Mark and Ann bought a large white 1920s vintage neocolonial Naglee Park home and began the renovation.
The next year, the couple moved the furniture out, covered the windows with painted plywood, installed track lights and invited neighbors and friends over for a gallery experience. About 25 artists showed at that first art party. If it was meant to be a one-off the event, Sconberg and Henderson quickly realized their party had to go on when, as she says, “when everybody kept telling us we had to do it again.”
The party outgrew their house and moved for a few years to a warehouse south of downtown San Jose, near Spartan Stadium, in the days when commercial space languished without tenants. In its latest incarnation, the Art Party moves this year to its biggest facility yet: the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.
Sconberg took a real estate class at San Jose State University in which the class project was creating a proposal to redevelop the 150-acre fairgrounds. Though the arts weren’t, she notes, apparently popular enough to become the focus of a class proposal, the project inspired Sconberg to consider the fairgrounds as a venue. The sheer vastness of the space seemed a good fit for the ever-expanding art event, as did the possibility of helping ensconce the arts in a venue that showcased prize hogs during the valley’ agricultural days.
“The more art stuff that happens there now, the more likely it is that the arts will be integrated there later,” Sconberg says, pointing out that often, in other cities, artists have paved the way for development.
The couple raised $42,000 on Kickstarter—nearly doubling their goal of $25,000 with the help of 304 donations. They are using that money to fill the entire 30,000-square-foot expanse of the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds with the work of more than 300 hand-picked artists and performers, which together comprise a panoply of Bay Area creativity.
The Art Party shows San Jose at its most “hip, edgy and cool,” says San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo. JoAnne S. Northrup, formerly of the San Jose Museum of Art, and now with the Nevada Museum of Art, calls Art Party a “large, pop-up Kunsthalle.”
“It was like walking into a circus, so many things going on,” says artist Sam Price, who has shown at one party and is returning show his collages a second time this year. “It’s a huge art event, fire dancers and people doing spoken word. It’s like being in Vegas or being at a fair. You never know what to expect.”
Price creates collaged images of dogs out of small squares cut from magazines and other periodicals, supplemented with art papers. He came to take part in the event through a friendship with Sconberg’s sister.
In addition to the event’s playful, circus atmosphere, Price marvels at the organizational structure of the Art Party—a large-scale event without the massive staff to match. “Anne and Mark are the ones driving this thing,” he says. “They raise funds and find the venue.”
Sconberg and Henderson also select the artists for the event, an honor for which they must be nominated. Artists who participate at a party are then invited to nominate other artists for subsequent parties. Sconberg likens the growth of the Art Party’s talent pool to something like a family tree—one that burgeons after every party, with some artists nominating 10 or more of their fellow artists for the next event. And art runs in families, too, Sconberg says—a brother and sister and the sister’s daughter have all shown at the party; one of the youngest artists participating in the event is Sconberg’s daughter.
“When I was originally doing it, it was things I would like to have—if I were to have my own art collection, what would I pick if I could pick anything and have it in my house,” Sconberg says. “It was also to support my friends and family [who are artists.]”
The nominating friends-of-friends approach likely offers one of the ways in which the party brings heretofore “undiscovered” talents to a broader audience. Cathy Kimball of the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art considers Sconberg and Henderson to be “like the hound-dog, gum-shoe investigative art researchers of the Bay AreaÉ(who) find some of the most hidden, extraordinary talent that I have ever seen.”
And in the interest of gaining exposure for more emerging artists, Sconberg and Henderson sought a grant from the Knight Foundation, which will have a juried gallery at the Art Party. San Jose’s Empire 7 Studios is also curating a gallery, teaming up with the Oakland-based LeQuiVive gallery for an exhibition that will feature 25 artists from around the Bay Area painting live during the party.
Artist and educator Tessie Barrera-Schrager, a four-time Art Party alumna, praises Sconberg and Henderson’s “generosity and their dream of making San Jose an art mecca. “They manage to introduce to the public more artists, musicians, and performers than any other art organization or venue in the area,” Barrera-Schrager says. “Anne and Mark take pleasure in curating every one of their events, and in the process, highlight the often forgotten fact that San Jose has a thriving local art community. In a city where artists, for the most part, function in obscurity for years on end, this is as close as you can get to art heaven!”
Look out for Jon Sarriugarte’s famous giant snail art car, a.k.a. The Golden Mean, an automotive gastropod equipped with eyestalks that shoot flames; Jamil Hellu’s sculptural project involving recycled materials and grocery carts; Evan Holm’s Submerged Turntable Sculpture, one of his hybrid-mutant sculptures made from “present day discards, leftovers, and forgotten flotsam,” recombined into new techno-organisms; the Nautilus Submarine Art Car by the Oakland-based art collective, Five Ton Crane, featuring air conditioning, GPS navigation, a night-vision periscope, and a harpoon gun water cannon, all within a steampunk Jules Verne exterior; along with fashion shows, retro nightclub chanteuses, and pyrotechnics.
“We need more randomness in life,” Sconberg says, noting that in the context of this party, at least, the chaos does have to be carefully orchestrated.
“There’s the appearance of randomness but the amount of organization that goes on behind the scenes is appalling,” she jokes.
For visitors experiencing the Art Party, she says, “I want them to walk away and think ‘what just happened?'”
with additional reporting by Heather Zimmerman
Anne & Mark’s Art Party