“... [We are] specifically focusing on the diverse communities outside of the Peninsula … to meet and work together in order to strengthen the diversity in the arts sector.”
With decaying buildings and overgrown native shrubbery, one may easily overlook the sprawling former United States Army base, Fort Ord. Positioned at the forefront of Marina, many of the Fort Ord historical building designations remain a cultural pillar commemorating the vast beauty of the coastal town and the patriotism of its past.
Today, lying within the once bustling barracks of the Fort Ord military post is the promising future of the very first inclusive, live-in artist community in East Garrison.
for community building
Spearheaded by local arts organization Arts Habitat, the East Garrison project foreshadows what’s to come for the Monterey County arts sector. Let’s take a look at past projects developed and executed by The Habitat team’s cross-community collaborations that have paved the way for their most recent endeavors.
Arts Habitat has been holding space for creating art since their founding in 1991. Through collaborations with artists and other arts organizations across Monterey County, they foster the advancement of all mediums of art, artists collectives and public art education. Their passion amplifies the importance of artistic expression.
Various organizations around the county threw in their hat hoping for the opportunity to snag the dilapidated military base for their own use, ultimately being beaten out by Habitat. They approached the city with project plans including sixty-five affordable live-work units for qualifying artists, and a Town Center featuring day-use units for artists of all disciplines.
Collaboration between developers, local artists and residents is vital to the execution of this massive endeavor, but the possible termination of the project had once been a growing concern–the developments at East Garrison have yet to begin thirty years after winning over the city’s support.
“We had to articulate our mission and really understand if we should disband or if we could function and serve the community in other ways,” says Fohrman.
In comes their first community project, The Houses Art Program. Monterey High School and Monterey Peninsula College students met every Saturday to paint their interpretations of what home means to them–-starting with a blank canvas fashioned into the shape of a house.
The interpretive house paintings showcased the necessity for artistic expression, how art builds community and connected these sentiments back to the efforts made by Arts Habitat’s East Garrison project. While this project created much needed cross-community building blocks, there still hadn’t been a solution to the slow progress made at Fort Ord. The perpetual question regarding their place in the community remained, until the recession in 2008.
The economic downturn brought with it a silver lining–-a forgiving rental market. In 2009, Habitat produced a scaled-down version of what is to come in East Garrison. With the swift investment in retail spaces in both Seaside and Marina, these spaces were transformed into affordable rental studios for artists around the county.
These newly purchased units inspired the Arts in Progress program curated by Fohrman, who has extensive experience as a gallery curator, art activist and educator. Artists shared their work, inspiration and background with art lovers from around the county and beyond.
Arts Habitat continued with the preservation of the annual Artist’s Studio Tour program. Once operated by the former Monterey nonprofit Art Equity, Arts Habitat took over the program and focused on making it more accessible to all parts of the community, from South County to Salinas, the Peninsula and North County. This effort was made to reach historically left out communities. Promoted by Monterey’s Museum of Modern Art and Weston Collective, The Habitat included community gems like Sol Treasures, Hijos del Sol, Greenfield Art Center, Alisal Center for Fine Arts, Carl Cherry Center for the Arts and the Hidden Valley Music Seminars.
Former local arts and culture writer Walter Ryce brought the issue of racial and cultural exclusion to the attention of the Habitat Board at their annual Arts in Progress meeting in 2022. Ryce’s personal stock brought about a conversation not yet had within the Arts Habitat's Board of Directors.
Jones recalls the point of his statement, “[He said] I love what you’re saying about collectives and how we have to collaborate as an arts community, but I don’t see ‘me’ represented in your panel.” Ryce’s observation points out the diversification of Board members being the gateway to program diversity.
Inclusion and diverse representation has since become a growing concern, a significant
factor that centers Arts Habitat’s ethos, prompting the creation of the Alliance for Inclusion and Equity in the Arts (AIEFA). Its goal was to diversify the artists, educators and activists represented. The program's mission aims to strengthen the bond between artists, art leaders and advocates across diverse cultural communities.
AIEFA has since transformed into JEDI, Arts Habitat’s “Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Panel.” JEDI invites artists countywide for quarterly meetings at Hartnell College in Salinas to explore opportunities to display their work, participate in arts events, teach and partake in various trainings.
“... [We are] specifically focusing on the diverse communities outside of the Peninsula … to meet and work together in order to strengthen the diversity in the arts sector,” notes Jones.
The focus of each of these projects drives the deeper social meaning for the cross-culturalism of the Monterey County art scene. With the integration of AIEFA, the developments at East Garrison have the potential to provide a platform for underserved artists around the county; a space to create, a space to tell their stories, a space to reclaim their culture and the opportunity to exemplify the beauty of cross-community alliances.
Arts Habitat is gearing up for a new year of inspiring events and opportunities, including their annual Artist Studio Tour! While you anxiously await for 2024 tour dates, be sure to check out the digital catalog of 2023 featuring eight pages of works from artists countywide! And be sure to give their Instagram and Facebook a follow for more!