Radius Gallery Director Ann Hazels on Experiential Art, Courageous Artists, and First Friday at the Tannery

By: Molly Ressler

Photo by RR Jones

Ann Hazels, Director of Radius Gallery at the Tannery Arts Center, isn’t afraid to host shows that spill off the walls and onto the floor. She’s not afraid to display art that incites a visceral reaction, igniting passionate emotions and sparking heated conversation. In fact, these are the exhibits she now finds herself most drawn to after six years of curating shows at Radius.

“When I first started out I was hanging shows that were pretty straight forward in terms of how to exhibit them and how to experience them,” says Ann. “It was mostly art on the walls and sculptural pieces, but there’s been an evolution leading to the more experiential shows and installation pieces. I’ve had to coach people on how to use the space.” 

Bit by Bit, a show by artist Bean Finneran, required gallery visitors to cautiously step around a series of giant primary color rings composed of thousands of slender ceramic filaments. The effect was that of ripples across a lake or anemones the size of big-rig tires floating in space at your feet. The walls were a splash of bold yellow, orange, and red dots, but to fully engage in the exhibit, visitors had to keep their eyes mostly trained on the floor, creating something akin to a walking meditation through the space. 

The gallery’s recent show, titled Bend with artist Shay Church, also utilized the full space and invited the public to help with the creation and installation of the piece. Community members of all ages came to help Shay mold wet clay over the wood frame of a two-headed elk, its neck bent down for a drink along a river’s edge. As the clay dried, it began to crack, falling from the shore’s edge in crumbles and sheets, changing daily just like a wild river. The site-specific piece was part of the annual Ebb & Flow River Arts Festival, celebrating the San Lorenzo River and its role in our community.     

Inspired by space 

As an installation artist herself, it makes sense for Ann to move in the direction of experiential exhibits that fully transform the gallery. “The architecture of a space and where it’s going to go inspires my work,” says Ann. 

Ann grew up with a natural affinity for the arts. She describes art class as a place where she felt like her most natural self. “I was always a really quiet kid and working with materials and creating something was a way that I could express myself in a way I couldn’t do so easily with words,” she says. Ann works primarily with clay, usually creating pieces around a single word that she’s been mulling over for months. The word ‘spring’ for example inspired a piece featuring industrial shower heads with ceramic hearts flowing from the bulky spigots. As a gallery director, however, she’s spent the last six years focusing her talents on sharing the work of others. 

“Most of my creative energy has been put into the gallery, the curatorial piece. I think that does tie in with how I approach my own installations because it’s how you approach a whole space. When you walk through and see a show it should tell a story. I want someone to have some sort of feeling or response from it, even if it’s just that they want to stay longer or it made them mad.” 

The gallery’s beginnings 

Before it was Radius, the gallery space functioned as a semi-permanent location for the Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Art (SCICA), started by Chip and Kirby Scudder. Hazels met Scudder through her then side-gig fundraising for the Tannery and the two became friends. Together, they signed a lease on the space and ran it as SCICA for two years before Hazels took over the lease and re-opened as Radius Gallery. 

This was 2014, and at the time, Santa Cruz galleries had an average lifespan of 4.5 years. In fact, one of the only other commercial galleries in the area was the R. Blitzer Gallery in the Westside’s old Wrigley Building. Ann reached out to Robert Blitzer for support and then connected with the late Angelo Grova of Michelangelo Studios and Robby Schoen of Felix Kulpa Gallery. The four gallery directors formed an alliance, calling themselves ART 58, after the universal standard height from which you hang the center of an art piece. “We were trying to build a cohort with showcases that weren’t attached to nonprofits,” says Ann. “It’s really different when it’s a commercial enterprise.” 

An artist’s courage   

For Ann, making Radius Gallery work long-term as a commercial gallery has involved renting out the space for creative performances and curating shows with artists that attract new visitors from outside Santa Cruz County or that center around charged topics like I.M.A.G.I.N.E. Peace Now. Curated by Boris Bally, I.M.A.G.I.N.E. Peace Now featured over 70 decommissioned guns repurposed into artistic expressions of peace. To Ann, this show demonstrates the critical role artists play in shaping our society, especially during trying times. “Artists are the most courageous people right now because they’re talking about what’s happening in the world and how to create change,” says Ann. “They’re using their platform to better our world and that takes a lot of courage and a lot of investment and I think artists are really stepping up in that way.”

First Friday at Radius and the Tannery 

More often than not, the gallery has its doors open for First Fridays, as do the multiple artist studios within the Tannery Arts Center that surround Radius. “First Friday at the Tannery’s pretty special because it's the one day a month where real art studios are opened up,” says Ann. “For the most part artists are pretty private with how they work. The artists think of their studio as their sacred church; they’ve invested everything in it so when they open their doors it’s pretty special. You get to witness where the magic happens and artists are prepared to interact and talk about the work.”

Radius Gallery current exhibit, This Place is multimedia exhibition exploring the concept of place and how we position ourselves in that place. Artists Liz Crain, Kalie Granier, David Kinch, Todd LeJeune, and Margaret Niven interpret personal space, intimate locations, and global positions in painting, photography and ceramics. The exhibition is up until November 10.  Gallery hours are Wednesday through Sunday 12:00-5:00pm and by appointment.

UPNEXT : Small Works (aka the shopping show!). In the spirit of giving, give art this season! SMALL WORKS features a dozen artists creating handmade gifts and art objects. As work sells, artists replenish with new inventory throughout the rest of 2019. Opening reception is November 22, 6:00-8:00pm. Exhibition run November 22-December 22. Check website for shopping days.

Stay up to date on the latest exhibitions and events through the  Radius Gallery Facebook page.  

Molly Ressler is a writer and content marketing consultant based in Santa Cruz. She lives with her husband and pup in Seabright and loves sharing her community’s vibrant culture through her writing.