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Community Culture Embraced in the Antelope Valley

In partnership with Antelope Valley Art Outpost Managed by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Antelope Valley Art Outpost is a creative placemaking project that supports regional vitality through artist-driven projects in the unincorporated California communities of Littlerock and Sun Village.

Readers familiar with the Joshua trees and the tumbleweeds of the high desert might not know about the arts and artists that also characterize the Antelope Valley. This is true of people who live here too. Flying under the radar is practically a past-time for us, but the Lancaster-Palmdale area is quietly going about its business and some of that business is art.

Despite our low profile, we've got some things going on in the Antelope Valley, from a new art museum to a growing coffee shop scene. This probably comes as news to many people.

Certainly, not everyone has heard of a little coffee shop and art gallery called Sagebrush Café, which makes us a kind of microcosm of the art scene in the Antelope Valley. But when we put on an art event, people show up.

Playing host to an annual arts and crafts fair and regular gallery openings, our coffee shop has been filled inside and out with artists and art-lovers interested in showing and seeing locally produced art. A random traveler from L.A. might happen upon one of these events and feel like Dr. Frankenstein returning to his lab after the lightening storm.

Yes. It's alive. Maybe you didn't expect it, but, hey, life always finds a way, right?

"Community culture" has been our unofficial credo since the day we opened for business as a coffee and art house in 2009. As unofficial mottos go, this one probably applies to most independent coffee shops across the country, but for us it speaks to an idea that can easily go unnoticed in a place like the Antelope Valley -- close enough to Los Angeles to be under the sway of its cultural influence but far enough away to have a chance to do our own thing (though we are occasionally unsure of what that may be).

Half the challenge of championing local culture in an ex-urban situation is in convincing locals that they don't have to travel to the big city to see art, hear music and encounter ideas. But we have never had to convince local artists of that. Our history as a gallery space has definitely proven this point.

Since 2009 our little coffee and art house has hosted dozens of gallery shows featuring work by painters, charcoal artists, illustrators, digital artists, mixed-media artists, paper-cut artists, photographers and even the odd figurine-maker thrown in once in a while. Some of these artists have come from as far away as the Bay area and even Illinois, but they all have ties to the Antelope Valley in one way or another and most of them live, work and make art in our community.

If at first the variety of artwork seems surprising, once you reflect on the fact that half-a-million people call the Antelope Valley home the picture starts to make sense. Add in the idea that Edwards Air Force Base, NASA and the aerospace industry draw people from far and wide to come to Lancaster, Palmdale and Quartz Hill and the admixture of influence and output begins to feel downright exciting.

Besides being connected to the Antelope Valley, these artists all have something else in common -- they need a place to show their work. We have been honored and gratified to offer a space for artists to do that. And it has opened our eyes to some of the things that make our community culture what it is.

While artists working in the Antelope Valley are sometimes concerned with making a name for themselves and moving up in the world with their art, a greater number are making art because they love it. They want to share ideas. They want to create. Being discovered is not really part of the lexicon.

There is always going to be some amount of ambition and at least a dash of pretense in every artist bold enough to put on a gallery show, but it's worth pointing out that the gossip that goes on here is mostly devoid of animus. We talk about what's going on. About opportunities to get involved.

Of course, it's not roses and wine all the time -- no one would say it is -- but it is pretty sunny in the Antelope Valley. And it's hard to knock that.

What is it that makes the art scene here special? Over the years this question has come up again and again for us as we contemplate our community and the role our café plays in it. We don't presume to have a final answer. We do have an idea though which comes from our experience as artists and as a small business.

Living in the Antelope Valley, you feel an almost palpable sense that things can happen here. Projects can be launched. The field is not so crowded that you have to be deep pocketed to get people's attention. The flip-side of this is equally true.

You can't wait for things to happen or cross your fingers hoping for an art gallery to open up down the street. You have to open it yourself. That is what we did. Along with others, we are doing our part to play a role in a community culture that lives and breathes here in the desert air.

Our community offers an insight into the question of what happens when a sense of possibility meets a need for pro-active, self-starting spirit. Sometimes nothing. Sometimes, a lot.

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