Connecting Through Creativity
The Backfence Society was founded in late 2011 as a way to bring more art activity to Vista. Today the organization takes pride in connecting artists, encouraging community engagement, and fighting to ensure that art is accessible for everyone. Through interactive art exhibitions, monthly meetups, and other community campaigns, the Backfence Society is making Vista a better, and more colorful, place to live. Read along as we chat with President Sarah Spinks.
Q&A with The Backfence Society President Sarah Spinks
Can you tell us a bit about the history of The Backfence Society? When was it founded and why?
Seeing a need for more art activity in North County and Vista specifically, the Backfence Society began in November of 2011 with its first pop-up group art exhibiton. We started as an autonomous group of North County San Diego artists working collaboratively to produce interactive art events. We became an official nonprofit 501(c)(3) in December of 2016. Recognizing a lack of proper venues and resources for artists to showcase their work, the society established itself with intentions to foster relationships that mutually benefit the community and the artists living within. The industrious nature of creativity leads to positive change in our community and the Backfence Society advocates lifting one another up by embracing the connection we experience through art and its different forms.
What is the mission of the society? How does it go about achieving this mission?
Our mission is community engagement through art. We produce and host group art events, encouraging and inclusive to artists of all levels. These art-driven events bring the community together as they are open to all. When we connect more as a community, we exchange ideas, share stories, get to know the people we live around. There are economic opportunities for artists here in North County, especially as it grows and people want their investments to stand out. But where do you find artists if you need one and aren’t connected to them? Well, we can help with that.
AT – A – GLANCE
Name: Sarah Spinks
Profession: Tattoo Artist
Hobbies & Interests: Gardening, art, travel, food, beer
Favorite Spots in Vista: Mother Earth, Wavelength, The Flying Pig, Milk Organics
Also, we have our social media following where we are able to disseminate information. For instance, the Public Arts Commission for the City of Vista holds monthly public meetings, and most recently the direction things were going was not really indicative of the desire from the community, so I put it out there to the community to attend those meetings. People listened and have been attending meetings, learning about the relationship the City of Vista has with public art and how they can join the conversation. It’s about helping artists find each other and helping them become aware of collective power. It always comes back to the idea that a lot of hands can lift a heavy load.
What sort of programs and events does the society offer the community?
Some of the programs that help sustain our vision and mission:
• Only Losers Litter: a monthly litter clean up campaign where we invite participants to become community crusaders by wearing capes and dressing up, creating a spectacle while picking up trash.
• Drink and Doodle: a monthly meetup where all materials are provided. We only ask people to bring their creativity and connect with us through doodling together.
• Pop-Up Art Group Art Shows: inclusive and interactive, these thematic group art exhibitions are open to all levels. We also team up with local businesses (and have even used abandoned buildings) and produce approachable displays of art. We also have group art shows at Milk Organics in downtown Vista. Art events and spaces provide positive community engagement because people love art. People are mystified by art because art is magical. Most people say things like, “I can’t draw” or “I’m not an artist,” because either they or someone in their life didn’t foster that relationship with art. Most people don’t have the time to make art or they were told art wasn’t that important whether through actions by individuals, actions by institutions, or both. Art isn’t viewed as a need to the people, it is viewed as a want. We need to shift institutionalized mindsets to understand just how much of a need art is for community. It is an investment in our own future as a community.
What is your role in the society? What are some of your duties or responsibilities?
I am the Backfence Society’s president. I manage the website, social media, schedule events, attend meetings (our own as well as other organizations’ – I am also Chair of the Public Arts Commission for the City of Vista), network as much as I can, and lend support to people who ask for it. I also purchase supplies to implement programs and events, connect artists with opportunities, and create and maintain a communal space for artists and art enthusiasts in Vista.
We are always working on growing our tribe. We’re figuring out a membership program and what that means, figuring out everyone’s interests, strengths, and the areas they want to lead. Part of joining the Backfence Society is that you want to be active in your community through art, and we can help provide that platform through collective activism.
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
Everything and nothing at the same time. The challenges are welcomed because it means work is getting done. I think of my work with the Backfence Society as the best hobby ever. It satisfies a desire in me to make an impact on the place where I live and where my kid is growing up. At the same time, I gain skills and am constantly learning about art and leadership and about people. Some people take karate classes or join book clubs; I am building a tribe of artists, being civically engaged, and hopefully making a difference and inspiring others to do the same.
And the most enjoyable aspect?
All of the people I meet and figuring out my values and connecting with people who share my values. People tell me I inspire them to get more involved which is the most rewarding thing I could ever hear! Imagine what the world would be like if even more people put aside the fear of not knowing how to get involved, and just remembered how much of life really is just showing up and then figuring it out after that.
AT – A – GLANCE
Address: 110 S. Citrus Ave, Ste. F
Description: A nonprofit art organization dedicated to community engagement through art.
Can you tell us a bit about the other members of the society?
Alexis Panchevre is the secretary and director of the Only Losers Litter program. Alexis is a proactive, politically active, engaged artist and perfect person to lead the trash-cleaning charge. She just finished our 2018 Trashwalk calendar, which you can find on the Only Losers Litter Facebook, and is working to create some public art projects. Sam Phillips, an artist, the owner of American Tattoo, and a lifelong Vista resident, is our vice president. Morgan Feirich, the owner of Milk Organics, is a big supporter and volunteer. Jonathan Cuyno, parlimentarian, former Vista Village Business Association Executive Director, is our consultant and volunteer, and helps us with grant writing. Chad Spinks helps with graphic design. Amanda Oswald, a local artist, is our communications director.
Tell us about the society’s involvement with organizations like Friends of Vista Skate Parks. What makes this kind of community work so meaningful and important to you and the society?
Friends of the Skate Park started from a need to get people together interested in making the skate parks more welcoming. What we saw in November on an Only Losers Litter trashwalk was savage. What we saw needs to change. So we need to find the people who really love the skate park, the ones who love it so much they are willing to do something about it. We had a meeting in early December and started to brainstorm things we can do to make it better. Our next meeting is Jan. 21 at 12 p.m. at House Skate Shop in Vista. Together we can bring people together and listen to what the community thinks we can all do to solve our issues together.
How can the community support the society? How can interested readers get involved?
Come to events. Buy local art. Come to a Trashwalk. Apply to create a public art project. Come to a Public Arts Commission meeting. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram @backfencesociety or @onlyloserslitter.
If you had to describe The Backfence Society in five words, what would you say?
Community engagement through art.
Are there any other upcoming events that you’d like our readers to know about, or any other details you’d like to share?
On Jan. 27 we’re having Kittypalooza, a cat-themed group art show, from 5 to 11 p.m.
Interested in submitting your cat-themed art? Visit backfencesociety.com for more information. Kids are also welcome to submit artwork.