Unveiling the Power of Art and Activism

A History of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival's Art Exhibition

The intersection between art and activism has always been a place of power, one naturally flowing into the other, building always towards societal change. Since 2010, the South Yuba River Citizens League’s Wild & Scenic Film Festival, in partnership with the Nevada County Arts Council, has been producing an Art Exhibition that runs simultaneously throughout its flagship film festival in Nevada City and Grass Valley. This Exhibition capitalizes on the idea that both cinema and fine art are forms of visual storytelling that can inspire action in an audience to make the world a better place.  

“Prior to 2010,” says Barbara Getz, a long-time member of the Festival Art Committee, “SYRCL encouraged Nevada City and Grass Valley shop owners to contact artists and display river/environmentally themed artwork in their shop windows to create interest in the film festival.”  

According to Roseanne Burke, who is also a long-time member of the Festival Art Committee, “Nevada County Arts Council became involved with the Wild & Scenic Film Festival art exhibit in 2011 when Nancy Nelson (who was Membership and Fund Development chair for the Arts Council) gave the film festival a grant of $250 and Nancy and I agreed to volunteer to help with the art exhibit for the 2012 Festival. Nancy and I worked with Shana Maziarz and Beverly LaFae to collect entries, jury them into the exhibit, and assign venues. At that time, almost every storefront in Grass Valley and Nevada City was a venue. Nancy and I also solicited gift certificates, donations, wine, etc. – and these items were given as awards to the winners of the art competition. The first art awards ceremony was held in the Alpha Building in Nevada City, and Brian Buckley handed out the awards. The next year, the art awards and film awards were given at the same ceremony.” 

Art Exhibition

Former SYRCL Executive Director and one of the creators of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, Janet Cohen, adds more to the history of the event. “As far as I remember, we started the art show to drive people into more local stores and to involve more of the community – both artists and store owners. We had serious opposition from the Wise Use movement when we started the festival. We had a five-year plan when we started WSFF with a goal of “taking over” the whole town for the duration of the festival – with events happening everywhere and economic benefits being generated and recognized by everyone in Nevada City. I wanted the whole town to stand up and support us if we were ever attacked again and the art show was just one of many initiatives we started (parties, lectures, activist center, etc.) to fill every space in town with WSFF attendees and to illustrate how the environment and environmental organizations were spearheading economic growth. I think we’ve achieved the support we were looking for!” 

Kathy Datson, who was also instrumental in creating the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, adds, “We also knew that we had such a community of artists in the county, and we wanted to add their talents into the mix. And using environmental art show themes further moved the messaging and objectives of the festival.” 

For the current iteration of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival Art Exhibition, juried art is displayed throughout the Festival at specific Grass Valley and Nevada City venues located within the Grass Valley-Nevada City Cultural District. Designated by the California Arts Council as one of 14 cultural districts for its thriving cultural diversity and unique artistic identity within California, the Grass Valley-Nevada City Cultural District is located in Western Nevada County and is home to more than 100 arts-related organizations producing upwards of a thousand events a year – including scores of annual festivals, street fairs, art walks, and studio tours — and contains an outsized base of artists and makers.  

As part of SYRCL’s Wild & Scenic Film Festival’s Art Exhibition, artists are encouraged to submit pieces that inspire environmental activism and highlight the beauty of the natural world. The exhibition is geared towards artists that are passionate about the environment and serves as an opportunity for these artists to showcase their best work, sharing their messaging through their unique artistic visions.  

The aim is to feature artwork that functions as a call to action, inviting audiences to learn about the most pressing environmental problems and initiatives anyone can take to improve the natural world and lives around the globe. Both the Film Festival and the Art Exhibition revolve around a shared thematic idea. Selected artists exhibit their work during the annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival in front of thousands of filmmakers, celebrities, social activists, and attendees. 

Eliza Tudor, the Executive Director of the Nevada County Arts Council, says, “Never before has the mission of Wild & Scenic Film Festival been more critical. Globally we stand at a crossroads in terms of our relationship to nature and the future of our planet. The festival engages us as active participants in a giant adventure through film and discourse, and it offers filmmakers, naturalists, scientists, artists, and ordinary people the opportunity to lend our voice to this critical conversation. Through the festival’s accompanying art exhibition each year we challenge visual artists to share personal perceptions of the wild, whether intimate habitats close to home or wild tracts of nature untouched…”   

Wild & Scenic Film Festival Director Lívia Campos de Menezes adds, “We are thrilled to continue bringing this incredible Art Exhibition to our community. Nevada City and Grass Valley are full of amazing artists, and we always look forward to showcasing many of them and introducing non-locals to the art scene here.” 

The art showcased during the Art Exhibition falls into three distinct categories: 

  • 2-D: This includes paintings, prints, collages, mixed media, and panels with 1.5 inches or less of depth variation 
  • 3-D: This includes sculpture and pieces with depth variations greater than 1.5 inches 
  • Photography: This includes all photography, including digital and film, color, black and white 

The final deadline for artists to submit their work to be considered for the 2024 Exhibition is November 28th. Artists can submit their work at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival website HERE

SYRCL’s annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival is held mid-February during President’s Day Weekend. Awards are given to the top submission in each category, as well as a Best of Theme award and a Judges’ Awards. Award-winners are recognized and presented with certificates at an Artists Opening Reception and Awards Ceremony. 

Piper Johnson, a judge of the Art Exhibition, understands the role of the exhibition in the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, “The art exhibition expands the ability to be inclusive of the greater arts community. Film is a visual art, so it makes sense to capitalize on the traffic for the local artists to get exposure. And it’s a great venue for the arts community to come together as a whole.” 

Jennifer Rugge, a Nevada City artist who has been attending the film festival and entering art for the exhibition over the last decade, feels the experience has helped her as an artist, “During the festival, the art in the exhibition is shown on the screen before the films are played. This lets the audience know a sample of the Art along with the artist’s name and where it can be viewed in person. I think this, along with an award reception for artists and film goers, has allowed Art to be seen and noticed. It is a great opportunity for artists.  I have been given opportunities to show Art in galleries and other exhibitions as a result of my participation in the film festival.”   

The entire Film Festival event is a fundraising driver of the South Yuba River Citizens League, a non-profit organization whose mission is to unite the community to protect and restore the Yuba River watershed. 

In reference to Art Exhibit and Film Festival, SYRCL Executive Director Aaron Zettler-Mann said “Art can be such a powerful way of conveying a message with the power to touch people in a deeper way. Including the Art Exhibition as part of the Film Festival provides another venue for artists to share their message and vision. The Wild & Scenic Film Festival is not only SYRCL’s largest fundraiser of the year, it, and the Art Exhibition, are manifestations of all of our values, uniting the community for a better world.”