Photos by Molly Ressler
As the director of Radius Gallery, Ann Hazels has her finger on the pulse of Santa Cruz County’s art scene. Every few weeks, she fills the bright and airy gallery space with a new exhibition of selected works, curated by herself or a guest curator. The exhibits often combine multiple mediums, from acrylics and photography to metal, clay, and even rubber sculptures that create interactive, thought-provoking experiences.
Located in the Tannery Arts Center, home to dozens of artists, including Hazels, Radius Gallery represents endless opportunity and inspiration. It’s an opportunity for small-time artists to get discovered and launch their careers, and it’s an opportunity for art lovers to explore new perspectives, add to their personal collections, and inspire their own creative pursuits.
From her light-filled gallery space before opening hours, Hazels shared with us an inside look at Santa Cruz County’s art scene, life as an artist, and how to find local art that resonates with your particular taste and style.
What can people expect when they visit Radius Gallery?
It’s a professional art gallery showing contemporary work in all mediums. Anything from painting to mixed media to sculptural works but really with a focus on contemporary art. My curatorial eye leans towards process and landscapes. I’m really excited about how the art is made, and I think for Northern California the landscape is a big part of our story and is an incredible influence on a lot of our artists’ work.
I also hold 3-4 events for each exhibition. There’s the opening reception where artists can engage with the public and collectors get a first look and first opportunity to buy work from the show. The second event is First Friday, and for the third event I always book an artist talk on a Sunday afternoon.
What role do you think the Radius Gallery plays in the county's art scene?
Hopefully a big one! Right now I think it’s offering a dependable spot that’s showing important art. It’s a place with curatorial vision. When you come here you can count on having an experience that will charge you. It will make you think and broaden your perspective on a topic. Also, if you’re wanting to add to your art collection you can come to Radius and if you don’t see what you’re looking for in the show, I can help you find it.
I understand that you’re a ceramicist as well as the director of Radius Gallery. Can you describe some of your work? What do you most enjoy sculpting?
I do mostly site-specific installation work. A lot of my work is referring to a memory or an experience. The last piece I did was called For Father, For Father with the Ebb and Flow project. I sculpted all these bright orange ceramic poppies and installed them under the Highway 1 bridge by the San Lorenzo River.
Your most recent exhibit, In the Industry, showcased five artists who balance a studio art practice and a professional position in the service industry. Can you tell us about the inspiration for this exhibit?
For a lot of artists it’s hard for them to be upfront about, ‘yeah I’m shaking martinis four nights a week to make ends meet.’ It’s like we have this dirty little secret of how we pay our bills, but it’s the economics of being an artist. That’s why I wanted to shine a light on it.
My friends and I call it the side hustle—common jobs are nannying or working in the restaurant industry or construction or gardening. It’s industries that allow for a flexible schedule but also a dependable paycheck. The artists featured in In the Industry are people who can go to the art studio after working a 10-hour shift. It’s that serious drive and a real passion that you’ll do whatever it takes to get into your studio.
In the Industry artists Todd LeJeune, Margitta Dietrick Welsh, and Felicia Gilman with Ann Hazels. (Artists not pictured are Poppy de Garmo and Cameron Lacki.)
Do you have personal experience with that lifestyle?
Yes, but it took years for me to own that. I used to think, ‘what are people going to think if I’m not making money off my sculptures?’ When I first moved here I was working at Kelly’s Bakery because I didn’t know anyone in town and it was a good way to meet people. The first time I did Open Studios anyone who bought my work was someone I had met at Kelly’s.
Today I still have to keep some kind of ‘day job.’ I try to keep my day job aligned with the arts but it’s also good for me mentally to be totally outside of it. I work with nonprofits, I work at coffee shops, I work in hospitality. I’ve been working at the Dream Inn at the front desk because I wanted to work with other people and I wanted to learn about the tourism aspect of this town.
Not everybody’s coming here to surf. Not everyone’s coming here to birdwatch or look at the redwoods or go on hikes. There’s something else and I think that’s really the beauty of our town—it’s such a wild mix of visitors of all ages and all interests.
How has the Tannery Arts Center impacted your work both as a gallery director and as a ceramicist?
I’ve been involved in the Tannery Arts Center and had my art studio here since they opened the studios in 2012. For my art making, it’s been great. I have a beautifully well-lit studio that gets natural light and has a high ceiling. My work is pretty contemplative and quiet so I work in a quiet space. The Tannery has everything I want and need and the community is a great resource. I have neighbors that I can lean on and I feel really supported in that regard.
You're also on the board for the Santa Cruz Arts Council. What most excites you about the work that they're doing for the community?
The Santa Cruz Arts Council is really activating the Tannery. I’m also impressed with their continued efforts to grow in South County and work with artists of all ages and all demographics and all mediums. It aligns with what I am trying to do with Radius. Art should be accessible to all—culturally and economically. I want there to be a rise in younger audiences and collectors.
As someone intimately familiar with both First Friday and Open Studios, do you have any advice for fully engaging with the art and the artists at these events?
The Open Studios Art Tour is huge—there are over 300 artists!—so picking up the Open Studios Artist Guide that the Santa Cruz Arts Council produces is the best way to start. I actually flip through it year round. It’s a great tool if you’re looking for artists. You can pick out what you like, what’s of interest to you, or just focus on a specific kind of medium.
Definitely hit the galleries too for both First Friday and Open Studios. Radius, Blitzer Gallery, and The Art League all have a person there that can help direct you. I also recommend visiting the Tannery Arts Center and 17th Ave Studios because you’ll see a lot all in one place. And ask the artists or gallery directors questions. The best part of our day is being able to give a little bit of insight into why and how the artist made a specific piece.
What’s on the horizon for Radius Gallery?
The Tannery Arts Center has restarted a free lecture series called Tannery Talks which will be hosted at Radius Gallery and the Colligan Theater. We also have a new show coming to Radius that has traveled to five other cities and will feature work by 55 different artists. It’s called Imagine Peace Now and features decommissioned firearms that have been turned into objects of art. This is such a hard time in the world right now and I want to showcase artists who are using their voice for good and change and to better the world.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)