This summer, young dancers auditioned for the 2022 Monterey Peninsula Ballet Theatre (MPBT) presentation of “The Nutcracker.” Before their show opens to the public in December, participants will share a special Friday morning performance with hundreds of Monterey County students who might not otherwise have a chance to attend. In addition to watching the story on stage, audience members will hear how set designers, lighting technicians, theater managers and other professionals collaborate to make each performance happen.
“We want to foster a greater appreciation for the arts and help students realize that they have an avenue. They don’t have to play a musical instrument, be a dancer, be an actor or even step forward on a stage. The arts are inclusive for everyone,” says MPBT Founder and Artist Director Tia Brown Rosenblum.
Inclusivity involves welcoming both accomplished ballerinas and youngsters who have never performed to participate in “The Nutcracker” and the MPBT programs presented through organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County, Community Partnership for Youth and Rancho Cielo. On September 9th, the Pointe of Art auction will raise funds to help expand access to MPBT initiatives.
“Everybody gets to be a part of ‘The Nutcracker.’ They don’t turn anyone away. And there are lots of families on the peninsula who really can’t afford the gas money, costumes or tuition,” says Ashley Bennett-Stoddard, who helped launch Pointe of Art in 2019. “We have so many amazing artists here, and I saw an incredible opportunity for a fundraiser.”
The Carmel Sunset Rotary Club works with Bennett Sculpture Carmel and other partners to present Pointe of Art events. Preparation starts in the spring, when MPBT dancers are paired with an experienced local artist. During a gathering known as the shoe exchange, the dancers perform short pieces, discuss why they love ballet and present a pair of pointe shoes to their artist partner.
From those interactions, artists draw inspiration for sculptures, paintings, photographs and other works of fine art that are auctioned off at a September reception.
“We, as artists, meet our dancer and see what we have in common. We talk about what inspires them and what inspires us. And then, we have three months to create something,” says Bennett-Stoddard, who also participates in Pointe of Art as an artist. “The personal relationships we build with these dancers is one of the best things about this event.The girls are really connected with their passions, and it’s very inspiring. I think we all need to be reminded of why we do the things we choose to do in our life.”
As someone who grew up surrounded by artists, Bennett-Stoddard understands just how those passions and personal connections can shape someone’s path. Her father, Bob Bennett, owned a Placerville foundry with his twin, Tom Bennett, for 25 years. They also operated galleries in Honolulu, Scottsdale, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Beverly Hills and beyond.
“They designed their life to have galleries in all these great places that they loved to visit,” says Bennett-Stoddard, who has especially fond memories of one of the family’s early Carmel spaces on San Carlos between Fifth and Sixth.
To her, the community’s artistic scene always felt “larger than life.”
“People come here from all over the world to collect and celebrate art. A lot of artists come here to be inspired. As a kid, being in Carmel and being around art was just pure magic,” she says.
Bennett-Stoddard managed the family’s Carmel gallery early in her own career, and brushed up on her painting skills while building relationships with neighboring artists.
“Several artists had small spaces within that courtyard. That community was like a family,” she says.
The Bennett family let go of their foundry and galleries in the late 1990s, and Ashley Bennett-Stoddard eventually relocated to Utah. When her mother, Debi Bennett-Stephens, decided to reopen a Carmel space 10 years ago, Bennett-Stoddard began splitting her time between the Utah mountains and the California coast, where she worked on paintings and helped manage the new gallery. She and her family made a full-time move back to Carmel in 2018.
Once she got settled, Bennett-Stoddard got involved with local nonprofits like Carmel Sunset Rotary, which works to empower youth through the arts. The club’s first Pointe of Art auction raised more than $18,000 for scholarships. After pausing for the pandemic, this year’s events have attracted more than two dozen participating artists.
“Artists get asked all the time to donate for fundraisers, but we don’t always see the impact. From meeting the dancers, to creating something, to seeing what it means for these kids to have opportunities, I think that feels good for all of us,” Bennett-Stoddard says.
“I’m always eager to support organizations that encourage local artists. But also, as somebody who was very fortunate to take art lessons at a young age from an instructor in my community, I know how much mentorship means,” says Paul Richmond, who works out of Open Ground Studios and is creating a painting for the Pointe of Art auction. “It’s a win-win situation. It’s about supporting the arts. It’s about supporting mentorship and art opportunities for these students. And it’s about the actual art that they share with our community.”
While talking with the dancer who inspired his painting, Richmond discovered parallels between what dance means for her and what painting means for him.
“I really want to channel that into the piece I’m creating, the way that the visual arts and performing arts overlap. It’s all about self-expression,” Richmond says. “I love interdisciplinary projects like this. I think it’s important for artists in all genres to look beyond what we do and appreciate other art forms. It can inspire so much.”
This year’s Pointe of Art Auction takes place on Friday, September 9, 2022, at Bennett Sculpture Carmel and the Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery. A VIP reception for dancers, artists and special guests takes place from 5 to 6 PM. The public is invited to view and bid on artwork from 6 to 8 PM. For more information, visit www.carmelsunsetrotaryclub.org.