Expressing Through the Divide Meet Forge Ahead Arts, local non-profit
Picture living in a community where the arts are recognized beyond their decorative and entertainment functions — where artists can fulfill their fundamental need to create through art installments across the Santa Clarita Valley. Local non-profit Forge Ahead Arts is seeking to do just that and more.
“Our mission is to build community by furthering artistic expression, participation and appreciation for people across all kinds of divides. We’re trying to pose questions to instill dialogue between the artist and audience,” said Co-founder and Executive Director Stephanie O’Connor.
Inspired by the artistic talents of her three children, Stephanie set out to develop a place for artists of all ages to locally practice their craft. She joined forces with Santa Clarita Valley artist and longtime friend Moire Lendering to found Forge Ahead Arts in 2014.
“The name Forge Ahead is more than just forming metal; it represents art as hard work and shows the multigenerational aspect that drives art forward,” Stephanie explained.
Forge Ahead Arts offers site-specific projects conceived by an artist to then be implemented by the people, for the people. Last summer, Stephanie had an idea to construct art using chain-link fences in Newhall. The Barriers project featured artist Diana Kado, whose artistic vision opened up the fence directive, inviting people to identify the presence of obstacles in their lives. The participants wrote down their stories on red, yellow and green tape to indicate whether the barrier was current, in process or had been conquered, respectively.
“It turned into a very powerful and humbling experience as we bore witness to the struggles and strengths of our neighbors,” Stephanie said.
Forge Ahead Arts embodies social elements that come to life through contemporary art installments. These works are uniquely designed with local venues in mind to raise questions about relevant issues. For example, artist and co-founder Moire installed her compelling piece Specimens #1: Café in the vacated Red Robin patio of Westfield Valencia Town Center. This stylized arrangement focused on the journey food takes to reach the consumer’s plate, showcasing tables dressed in white cloth and abstract glassware that magnified the scarce cuisine. This dynamic display was intended to bring awareness to excess food waste, starvation and land usage.
These projects also explore the communal benefits of partaking in events that celebrate the arts. Forge Ahead Arts welcomes all forms of expression, from visual galleries to musical plays. It is not only working to recognize individual ability, but to provide opportunities in this valley to create and publish collective works.
“I love this idea of incorporating artists of different disciplines,” said Stephanie, who nurtures engaging art and performance exercises that promote improvisation to accomplish a shared task.
Presently, Forge Ahead Arts is partnering with the Santa Clarita Shakespeare Festival and the City of Santa Clarita to acquire a shared studio. This space would provide a creative atmosphere for poetry readings, art classes and theatrical productions for local musicians and dancers. In the meantime, Stephanie hopes to add more art installments and reprocess projects, such as River — an environmental piece purposed for sparking discussion about water conservation.
“We’re not trying to tell people what to think; we’re trying to further our common framework through intellectual stimulation,” Stephanie said.
Her passion for the arts took flight while studying theatre and spending time in New York. Stephanie and her husband then moved to Santa Clarita 28 years ago, to raise their three daughters. She loves how this community is very family-focused and believes art is important in all stages of life.
“There’s lots of creativity involved in being a parent, but growing older made it harder to feel creative,” she said as her eyes swelled with emotion.
Forge Ahead Arts has served as her place of practice in a society she feels is missing the desire to express freely. Through her volunteer efforts, Stephanie aspires to offer the arts for little to no cost to the community.
“The truth is that being artistically active, whether as audience or creator, is something very close to the core of what it means to be human,” Stephanie said. “The more opportunities we have for all our residents to participate in, the stronger we will be as a community.”