Yuma Art Symposium Board of Directors
Artistic Director – Peter Jagoda
Executive Director – Neely Tomkins
Assistant Director – Patty Haberman
Chairperson – Michael Woodley
Vice-Chairperson – Jane Gregorius
Treasurer – Mary Hu
Secretary – Autumn Brow
Member at Large – Tom Ferguson
Member at Large – Doug McDonald
The Yuma symposium has delivered quality art discussion and presentation for 40years along with a sense of camaraderie and fun for its annual 250 or so attendees. It’s big on learning and sharing and laughing and drinking a little beer with a best friend, an admired artist or a perfect stranger, soon to be a friend. I wouldn’t, I couldn’t, I won’t miss a single year. I’ve been attending for over half of my life! It was inspired by the early Summervail Workshop and has soared high in the art world thanks to Neely Tomkins’ endless imagination and hard work, and tons of devoted volunteers, and presenters and attendees developed over those great 40 years.Jane Gregorius, Santa Cruz
During the mid-seventies, George Tomkins and Pete Jagoda, both professors at Arizona Western College, began to bring in guest artists to work with their students. These artists were friends of theirs from graduate school, mostly in the fields of metals and clay. The workshops were held at the college. Four or five workshops a year proved to be very popular and after several years and an exhausted supply of friends, it was decided to take this idea one step further. George took charge of the next year and invited three clay artists, Jiggs Pierson, Les Lawrence and Joe Soldate. This weekend workshop was held at the artists-in-residence studio, then housed in the Gandolfo Annex. This was also coordinated with an exhibition at the Yuma Art Center, then in the Depot. Evening pit barbecue and potluck kept everyone together for some more informal social togetherness. The next year Peter hosted a papermaking workshop, with Don Farnesworth from San Francisco, Jules Heller from Arizona State and one of his leading graduate students. Again, there was an exceptional exhibition at the Depot and a great meal on the desert at sunset, bonfire and all. Neely hosted a leather workshop the next year, again with chuck wagon fare, camp coffee and a brangus cow from the Dees brother’s ranch staked out on the front yard of the Depot. The three presenters had work in the exhibition, but there was also work by seven other leather artists from around the country. The next year we started counting.
For Symposium #1, Pete volunteered to do a mostly metal workshop. This is when we started pulling in an out of town audience. Past presenters who were professors brought their students in vans, the local people continued to come, chickens and turkeys wrapped in clay and fired were replaced with ribs and the learning/fun continued to grow. Pete continued coordinating things for years to come. The artists-in-residence studios were used, which later included a fourth fiber artist, Patty Jones from UCLA. Then we started bringing in really big people.
About 1982, Pete started to go to Vail, Colorado during the summer, having heard about the Summervail Workshops. These were a series of weeklong workshops in 12 different areas that stretched out over a ten-week period. Every week there was a new faculty, a new student group, literally hundreds of new artists to meet, to get to know and to learn from. At Pete’s urging, George and I started to go for three or four weeks at a time and began to see what Pete was talking about. The workshops took place in an old deserted elementary school outside Minturn, in the woods, by a roaring river, surrounded by mountains and hiking trials. Everyone stayed in tents, ate together in the school cafeteria, had lots of projects going for entertainment…..floats for the 4th of July parade in Vail and The Rainbow Ball for the entire community of Minturn and Vail, just to name a few. The point is that every event threw groups of professionals, educators and students together. Pete swore more was learned outside the classroom in this concentrated frenzy of creativity and free exchange of new ideas. Everyone was forced together with no distractions. All we had to do was live and breathe art. All of these aspects that worked so well at Summervail have contributed to Pete’s concept of the educational atmosphere for the symposium and the reason people love to come.
Back to Yuma. Time moved on and before we knew it there were 350-400 artists showing up for this thing. Time to rethink! It was getting too big and too impersonal. We were losing control of the atmosphere we had worked to create. The delicate balance was being upset.
Then Pete got married and moved to Spokane. He continued to do most of the work as Director, which worked out for awhile. But things were not like they used to be. Enrollment dropped, due to late or no publicity. A large group of concerned supporters began to have meetings during the symposium to discuss how to reorganize and distribute the workload among themselves. About this time, Arizona Western College also decided it was time for us to become less dependent on their financial assistance. A fundraising effort was initiated. I collected $700.00 within 20 minutes of that decision, just from board members. That’s commitment. Summervail ran into some political and facility problems and is now history, but many of the same people who taught at and organized Summervail, moved their talents to the symposium. It took several years and alot of phone calls and E-mail to create a working long distance Advisory Board, but I must say, you will never find more committed, professional, hard working people than this group. Our advisory Board knows and understands why this symposium works and why it is so unique. Most of them are university or college professors and professional artists. Presently, our priorities are to get enrollment back up and increase student participation. Students get registration fee discounts. There is also a student show for the weekend of the symposium and a limited number of student scholarships are available.
Over the years support has come from a number of different sources. Arizona Western College has been with us all along. In the beginning The Arizona Commission on the Arts provided grant money. The Yuma Art Center has always hosted the exhibition of presenter’s work, except for the two years they had no facility. During those years we realized how important this show is. The symposium is just not as valid without being able to see first hand what the presentations are about.. In turn the art center gets one of it’s strongest exhibitions, for a fraction of the cost of having to originate it themselves. The Cultural Council of Yuma lent administrative assistance and use of the Yuma Theatre to us before the city took it over. Lutes Casino lets us do registration, which sets the mood for the first timers. Other sites change every year depending on the circumstances. The Eagles Hall, the Armory, City Council Chambers, Yuma Project Artists Workshop studios and the Territorial Mall have all been used at some point. Facilities are not always the best, but it adds to the funkiness and everyone just has to loosen up, get creative and flow with it. Everyone likes this end of town because it lends itself to the non-academic atmosphere, where defenses can be let down and sharing can begin.
We have the support of professionals all over the country that is witnessed especially during symposium. The largest segment of our enrollment is metals artists. The reason is because they work very hard at audience/enrollment development. Dawn Nakanishi from Sacramento has volunteered to coordinate a pin auction. It is held during the reception at the art center on Friday evening and has raised over $4000 for Friends of Yuma Symposium. She has a waiting list of artists who want to help us by donating pins. Lynda Watson from Santa Cruz has been doing the Saw, File and Solder Sprints. These are only two among many examples of how participants have shown us they want this to continue.
Many teachers put this event on their academic leave calendar first thing every year. For many it is the only thing they attend. The reason could be our presenters. The presenters are chosen with several criteria in mind, the most important being the quality of work, plus…
1- easy to approach and get along with, must be a sharer.
2- should be an experienced speaker
3- proposals for demonstrations are a high priority
Needless to say most of the presenters are not only people well known for quality work, but they are also usually from academia, professors at major Universities. We also have a sprinkling of talented emerging artists that usually turn out to be very interesting and entertaining at the same time. Over 250 top-notch presenters have been to Yuma over the years. They leave as ambassadors for Yuma, Arizona Western College and its arts event.