Lynn Susholtz has a citizen artist logo with a raised fist holding a paint brush. But for Susholtz, who embodies the term citizen artist, a superhero would also be an apt symbol.
For decades, the artist, educator and activist has been a fixture in North Park, a place she calls home, where she has her studio and runs a non-profit community space, which includes a gallery and sustainable urban garden. She also consults at schools, mentors artists and college students and is on the North Park Main Street board of directors.
For Susholtz, it’s all part of being an artist.
"I think being an artist is probably the most encompassing part of my work,” she says. “I employ educational and learning opportunities in my art. I see that as an art form. Community engagement work can also be considered an art form."
“A group of us got together and talked about what we envisioned for the neighborhood. We wanted to bring creative people to the neighborhood,” she says. “Lynn has an understanding of the process, a professionalism and an understanding of the art world,” says Angela Landsberg, executive director of North Park Main Street.
Artists, Susholtz says, are great community resources.
“I try to provide that to the community,” she says. “My involvement is as someone who can bring disparate ideas, cultural backgrounds and people together with creative engagement.
“I think of art more as a social enterprise.”
Place to gather
To that end, she opened Art Produce, a gallery, multipurpose space and garden that is connected to her Stone Paper Scissors studio. The building, formerly the North Park Produce market, had been sitting empty for a few years when she bought it in 1999. The gallery opened the week of 9/11, and the space immediately offered a place for the community to gather.
“For two weeks, people came in and made art,” she says. “It was an informal kind of collective grieving.”
She’s been bringing people together ever since, creating a safe and supportive atmosphere where it’s OK to have different opinions and open discussions. This summer, Susholtz helped facilitate a project that brought together seniors and teenagers from local refugee communities to work with artists and interns to create “Mapping Home: Land/Water/Place,” an art exhibit exploring the meaning of migration and home.
“It’s our stories that make us human, and the artwork is the medium to share our stories,” Susholtz says.
“Lynn comes at projects from multiple perspectives,” says Caren Holtzman, who worked with Susholtz on the “Mapping Home” project through UC San Diego’s Education Studies Department Partners at Learning Program, where she is director. Holtzman, who is also a faculty member of the Department of Education Studies and on the Art Produce board of directors, has known Susholtz for 30 years. The two, who have collaborated on the book “Object Lessons, Teaching Math Through the Visual Arts,” met while Susholtz was an artist in residence at an Oceanside school through the California Arts Council.
‘Neighborhood as a classroom’
Susholtz, a Houston native, came to San Diego in 1978, eventually earning a teaching credential from the United States International University. At Art Produce, which was turned into a non-profit organization three years ago, she takes on two to five interns a year while also consulting for the public school district art programs and the UCSD art department.
“I really use the neighborhood as a classroom,” Susholtz says. “My goal and mission is to help students recognize that artists are an incredible resource in a community to come up with solutions by taking a different route.”
At the same time, Susholtz has created numerous art projects this year at her studio. “You Are Home” is a multifaceted installation designed to celebrate community spirit, pride and culture at an affordable housing project for LGBTQ seniors on Texas Street. The project, which includes a 16-foot-tall aluminum obelisk-shaped light structure, sconces and a colorful sun dial, this year was nominated for an Orchid award, the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s annual competition, now in its 42nd year.
Susholtz has received Orchids from the San Diego Architectural Foundation starting in 1996 with a kinetic aluminum sculpture installation at the Escondido Medical Arts Center titled “Shadow Changes.” Her latest one was last year for “Cypress,” an aluminum and steel screen wall with silhouettes of cypress trees at a transitional housing project in East Village. Public art, Susholtz says, “can certainly make a living environment more human and livable.”
Over the years, she has studied sculpture, metallurgy and stone carving, but, Susholtz says, these days “the computer is the tool I use most.” She uses Adobe Illustrator to create the files for cutting metal.
She is collaborating with artist Bhavna Mehta for a temporary project made with aluminum and colorful acrylic on the fence at the North Park water tower. (Mehta has been an artist in residence at Art Produce and will return again in the spring.)
On a smaller scale, Susholtz worked with Anne Mudge on an installation at the Escondido’s California Center for the Arts exhibition “DesEscondido/No Longer Hidden: Public Address Art Exhibition,” which runs through Sunday, Nov. 18. The hanging and wall-mounted pieces use cardboard tubes from print shops to create tetrahedrons. Always aware of community connections, Susholtz has made part of the project interactive. The public is invited to work on a tetrahedron sculpture or build with the tubes. The duo cut notches out of a pile of tubes to create a form of Lincoln Logs, in recognition of John Lloyd Wright, Frank’s son, who was a local architect and inventor of the Lincoln Logs.
Susholtz is also working on new projects. She was recently selected for one of the Port of San Diego’s temporary art installations for the Port Spaces Curatorial Series. She’s also working with tree stumps and objects salvaged from her parent’s house in Houston, as well as revamping the tap room at Art Produce into a space for resident artists (dance artist Erica Buechner is the 2018 resident).
‘Advocate for artists’
And Susholtz’s community work isn’t done. She’s been reviewing proposals for an installation at the North Park parking garage.
“She is a true advocate for artists,” North Park Main Street’s Landsberg says. “She has her heart in the right place. She’s community focused and knows what’s happening on the ground.”
Now that North Park is listed among the hottest “hipster” neighborhoods in the country, she will be involved in keeping the area vital. The bars and breweries that now line the streets are not a sustainable environment, Susholtz says.
“Ecosystems need to have diversity,” she said. “Artists are the first to be concerned with gentrification and what it means. North Park is positioned to figure out what’s next for urban neighborhoods. … We have so many elements to make this a great place to live, work, shop and recreate.”
Helping with input is Susholtz’s wife, Laurie Bane, a graduate student at UCSD studying social innovation who “sees things on a global scale. I’m so local,” Susholtz says.
“My thing here is to always be responsive and flexible enough to see what’s going on in the community and be able to respond and not be rigid in formula.”
So far, that’s worked.
“I’m the luckiest person in the world to do this,” she says. “When everything is working well, it’s a fine thing. It’s what it means to be a creative, civic-minded artist.”
Schimitschek is a freelance writer.