When I learned that Craig Watson worked with Christo's team on the Running Fence soon after graduating from Occidental College with a fine arts degree, I became an instant fan. In 1976, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, quintessential international public artists, mounted a 24.5-mile "fence" composed of heavy cloth panels that snaked across the pastures of Sonoma County straight into the Pacific Ocean.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Running Fence
Photo: Wolfgang Volz (c) 1976 Christo
In addition to his outsized visual poetry, Christo is also known for his tenacity in convincing government agencies and private landowners that the final result -- the art -- is good for their communities. After helping with the installation, Craig served as a tour guide for the Running Fence. Drawn to the site, which was mounted only two weeks, I, too, got to know the bucolic landscape of Sonoma as it was transformed by Christo's magical weaving. Later, when the steel posts and billowing nylon sheets were removed, Craig was part of the crew that walked through the rolling hills, reseeding trampled grasses.
After that assignment, his arts administration career was jumpstarted with a CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) funded job at the Arts Council of Sonoma County. Making good use of his training as a carpenter's assistant, he was in charge of converting a vacant school to an arts center (think: auditorium to theatre; classrooms to art studios).
If Christo is in Craig Watson's administrative DNA, that's a good sign for the arts sector as he takes on the challenge of directing the California Arts Council. Craig will be the first director appointed by the Council since it was started in 1975 by Governor Jerry Brown. Previous directors were selected by the Governor. For more information about Craig's appointment, read the CAC press release.
A Los Angeles native, Craig has served as Executive Director of the Arts Council for Long Beach (also known as Public Corporation for the Arts) for the past 2+ years. His diverse resume also includes an NEA fellowship in the office of state programs, where he created a resource guide to rural arts programs around the country, and an appointment as Co-Director of Santa Barbara Arts Services, which provided technical assistance for artists and arts organizations through the county Office of Education. During his 25-year telecommunications career with several companies, he gained management as well as production and lobbying experience while volunteering as the founding board chair of the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena.
We'll need all those skills in Sacramento, as he leads the charge to restore meaningful funding for the arts through public and private support. Referring to the CAC's "Million Plates" campaign, he said, "the Council and staff expect...to raise $40 million for the arts and arts education in California."
Let's get behind him as he reseeds the trampled shoots and withered grasses of our degraded arts infrastructure. He's going to need the vision, persistence and entrepreneurial savvy of Christo, as well as the support of a large crew of believers and advocates. For all of our sakes, we wish him well.
Alma Robinson, Executive Director
California Lawyers for the Arts