What is Santa Maria?

Images of tri-tip, ranching and rodeo may pop up in the minds of some. Others may look to the southeast and find the region's fertile vineyards, best known for grapes that produce pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay and pinot blanc. Delectable strawberries, a vibrant car and lowrider culture and a growing immigrant community are all prominently featured throughout Santa Barbara County's largest city.

Gathering at Hancock College on Friday morning, a group of artists, entrepreneurs and the city's budding maker community — inventors and groups who create new devices and tinker with existing ones — came together to try and answer that very question: How can makers and creatives help define the community of Santa Maria?

"It started with a pretty abstract idea, but everything is coming together," said Amiko Matsuo, a 3-D art and ceramics professor at Hancock who helped coordinate "Creative Entrepreneurship: Made in Santa Maria," a daylong symposium on "placemaking" and best practices in the emerging creative economy.

Joining the college faculty last August, Matsuo said she wanted the event to catalyze the conversation between people and across disciplines at both the college and in the community.

"This was my way of getting to know Santa Maria," she explained. "I wanted to find a way to meet the artisans, artists and craftspeople — the creative community — and learn about existing art. This event, if nothing else, has helped us make connections; that's all we're trying to do."

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Delivering the symposium's keynote speech, Oakland-based artist and Sarah Filley, co-founder and CEO of Popuphood, a business incubator that partners with cities to revitalize neighborhoods by connecting local artists and entrepreneurs with vacant retail spaces, told the crowd that makers provide more than just services or products to the local economy.

"[Being a maker] is not just about making things, it's about remaking systems," she said. "In that way, there's an opportunity to remake cities themselves. Tinkering, aspects of creativity and making work in a studio is perfecting a craft. You can apply those same skills, experimentation [and] risk to entrepreneurship."

Matsuo said tapping into community enthusiasm and engaging with individuals who don't consider themselves entrepreneurs or artists is central to the success of the maker movement.

"There's a lot of energy and various people doing all kinds of things," Matsuo said, pointing to Hancock's budding maker community and the school's established ceramics program. "There's also just people from the community. There are people making scarves, jewelry — all kinds of things — and we'd like to find a way to join together and tell a story about Santa Maria."

Hancock student Donna Olivera said she considers herself a maker and participated in Friday's symposium to engage with others in a conversation about her community. A native of Santa Maria, Olivera considers the meld of ranching and country music, car culture and a thriving Latino community to be her definition of community.

"I really want to represent the car culture we have here [through my work,]" she said, explaining that she grew up watching her brothers and cousins engage with the area's rich car culture. "That's what they drew — that's what we thought of when we said Santa Maria."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga


Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.

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