April 10 2013 01:01 PM

The Hill Street Country Club is building the city's creative community

Dinah Poellnitz (left) and Margaret Hernandez
Photo by J-Hon Poellnitz

    Oceanside isn't exactly world famous for its art scene. Driving the main strip of South Coast Highway, it's not hard to see why. Shaggy-haired teenagers skateboard down the sidewalk to nary a complaint from an elder. Looking west, you catch a glimpse and maybe the scent of the ocean. Men and women in military uniforms emerge from coffee shops, raising their sunglasses to their eyes before the bright sunlight hits them. It's not the typical incubator for artistic creativity.

    The Hill Street Country Club wants to change that. Launched last September by Dinah Poellnitz and Margaret Hernandez, the nonprofit organization is helping build an arts community in Oceanside. Its main mission is to spotlight emerging artists through monthly pop-up art events held at different local venues and businesses.

    In doing so, Poellnitz says, artists, museums, galleries and local businesses will inevitably support one another, and that will lead to a more vibrant and cohesive arts community.

    "That way, we can build a community where art has a presence and you can feel it when you walk down the street," Poellnitz says as she patches holes in the walls of Linksoul Lab, a space where The Hill Street Country Club just opened the show Landline Horton. "You should be able to do that in Oceanside. If you create opportunities, people will come."

    Poellnitz identifies a lack of three important cultural factors needed in Oceanside: arts events in general, communication and support within the creative community.

    "There's a total disconnect," she says. "There are artists here, but their audience only comes to their shows, but they don't go to anyone else's shows."

    "In Oceanside, we have the community, but we lack the connection or relationship we, as a community, have to the arts," Hernandez adds. "The HSCC is here to reunite this relationship. To me, Oceanside is, for sure, a diamond in the rough. We, as a community, have so much local raw talent just waiting to be discovered, and that is where the HSCC comes into play."

    The group's roots began to grow when Poellnitz and Hernandez volunteered in the education department at the Oceanside Museum of Art (OMA), working specifically for the museum's ArtQuest program. Together, they led fifth graders, many of them from low-income families, in art lessons and discussions and took them on museum tours.

    Students would often ask the women how anyone could make money as an artist. They would also ask if they could take crayons home. It was the desire to create art, coupled with the worry of the financial viability of such a career path in children so young, that resonated with Poellnitz and Hernandez.

    Julie Fister, director of education at OMA, believes that Oceanside's limited arts scene is also a product of a lack of arts education in elementary schools—people aren't trained early in life in art appreciation.

    Walk through most neighborhoods in the city of San Diego and you're greeted by paintings on utility boxes, graffiti art in alleyways and murals spanning entire walls. Those pops of color are missing from the main drag of Oceanside.

    "We kind of have a culture here that art is not important," Fister laments. "That bled out to the community, that no one cares about art. The impact it has on kids goes up to the community of Oceanside. The arts culture has kind of faltered. But I also think people are begging for there to be more art in the city."

    Poellnitz and Hernandez decided to hold their first major art show as The Hill Street Country Club as a way to tackle the myriad issues facing the art scene. They used the proceeds to buy art supplies for OMA, which allowed the museum to give the students in ArtQuest some supplies to keep.

    The organization continues to combat Oceanside's cultural issues by putting on regular events, exhibiting artists from different demographics and varying genres in order to expose people to as much diversity as possible at one time. They also curate with an eye toward edgier, more thought-provoking art. Beach-sunset scenes and happy dolphins don't do it for these ladies.

    And you know what? The organization has begun to chip away at the apathy and has seen a real change. Fister notes the growing number of attendees at each show and is seeing new faces. That leads all involved to believe that the hunger for art was out there—it just wasn't being fed.

    "Really, Dinah and Margaret are some of first people on the community level to bring art to the community with their pop-up art shows," Fister says. "It's the beginning of a groundswell where we can start to say there is art in the community and that it's worth coming to Oceanside to see it."

    "I definitely feel a low-key change in Oceanside," Hernandez agrees. "Everyone we have met so far, whether it is an art patron or local business, has been super-down for our mission. Oftentimes, it seems as though people are telling Dinah and myself, ‘We've been trying to do something like that for a while now but haven't had the time or opportunity to.' We are the bridge between the community and the arts district."

    The Hill Street Country Club is still in its infancy, but the drive and enthusiasm is there to make the city a more vibrant place.

    "You want to know that you live in a beautiful town," Poellnitz says. "The change is happening right now."

    The Hill Street Country Club's current show is '"Landline" and features new works by Ben Horton, on view through May 12, at Linksoul Lab, 530 S. Coast Hwy. in Oceanside 

    Write to alexz@sdcitybeat.com. You can also bug her on Twitter.


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