Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Christina Stafford knew people were hungry. As a regular volunteer for Your Tiny Farm, she had a vision to raise money for this local nonprofit whose mission is to turn vacant, plantable city spaces and backyards into vibrant fruit and vegetable gardens. Creativity is second nature to Stafford, who owns Stafford Gallery on the Healdsburg Plaza. She and her collaborators, Doralice Handal and Nicole Rubio, wanted something other than your run-of-the-mill fundraiser — something that would combine farming, harvest and Halloween. So, a “make your own” scarecrow contest seemed like the perfect event.
“We decided to call it ‘out-standing in your field’ and thought it was a really original idea until we found out that people all over the world have scarecrow festivals,” Stafford said with a laugh.
After creating a Facebook page and a Scarecrow 2020 website the contest opened just after Labor Day. Stafford crossed her fingers and wondered if people even be interested. The answer was an immediate and resounding “yes.” People jumped at the opportunity to get involved, and this contest definitely tapped into a deep need for people to express themselves. Keeping the emphasis on community involvement, Linus Lancaster even engaged all 150 of his Healdsburg High art students to participate in the event in various ways. Each of the 21 entries paid a nominal $10 fee so families and friends could enjoy a low cost creative activity. This pandemic has been so stressful in so many ways that providing a tangible outlet proved to be irresistible. And the results? Incredible.
Holly Hoods, executive director of the Healdsburg Museum, was an early supporter. She jumped at the chance to not only display all the scarecrows at the museum, but to create with her staff several entries that focused on a historical perspective. With the museum temporarily closed, this was an ideal way to curate an outside installation that everyone could enjoy. After all the scarecrows were finished and installed, the next challenge was how to best judge the contest. That was a decision much too smart for anyone except a fifth grader, so Stafford enlisted Ann Weber’s fifth grade class at The Healdsburg School to make the final choices. Awards were given for Scariest, Cutest, Best-in-Show, etc. “They ended up awarding nine trophies because of the quality and diversity,” said Stafford, “and then Ann turned the whole exercise into a lesson on the importance of voting for the students, which was just amazing.” After the awards were given out each scarecrow was auctioned off and over $2,600 were raised to benefit Your Tiny Farm.
This month, the city of Healdsburg’s Cultural Leadership Team (of which I am a member) will distribute a community survey and sponsor a series of outreach sessions. This will help us understand how the arts are woven into our culture and our daily lives. We will use this information to create our plan for the future. This Arts & Culture Master Plan is a direct goal of our city council, and it reflects guidance from the 2018 SDAT report describing the opportunity to connect Healdsburg's many communities using arts and culture.
What are your ideas? How do you think we can fully support the arts as a community, and what is important to you? How does art give meaning and enjoyment to your life? I think we have all rediscovered how important artists are during this pandemic (try thinking about how many artists it takes to make the movies and television shows you’ve been bingeing on Netflix to give you an even greater appreciation). Live theater, concerts, museums, sculpture, poetry and dance are only a few of the pleasures we have been missing. Let’s work together to make a stronger more inclusive artistic vision for Healdsburg, while creating a lasting legacy. Please take the Arts & Culture Master Plan Survey (link below) before March 31.
When asked if she also had a garden plot, Stafford gave a sheepish look. “I tried,” she responded, “but it turns out I’m not really good at gardening.”
That’s okay, you have shown us all how we can make things grow.
Click here to see replays of the community participation events:
Please click here to take the Arts & Culture Master Plan Community Survey, in English or Spanish:
Survey closes March 31.
Marcy Bethel Frank is a costume designer for stage and screen. She is a member of the Healdsburg Cultural Leadership Team, and currently teaches at Academy of Art University.