Reader Opinion by Tyler Meloan
For Sonoma, the surreal existential rollercoaster ride of reality that has become the new normal feels particularly unrelenting and crippling. Amidst a global pandemic, unprecedented political division, and years of historically devastating wildfires, Sonomans are no strangers these days to making do under less-than-ideal circumstances. Many local businesses that thrive off of providing mainly in-person services have been forced to find alternate ways to continue functioning.
Unfortunately, many of these businesses are also long-time Sonoma mainstays and contribute greatly to the uniquely rich artistic culture and character of the town. And while the Plaza continues to bustle with tourists indulging in wine tasting and sometimes questionable definitions of “socially distant” outdoor dining, a gradual but consistent trend of changing values, perceptions, and demographics has led to the demise of many of these beloved artistically-geared businesses, and an increased struggle to stay afloat for those that remain operational.
In a time of constant change and unpredictability, these businesses ground us, providing us with the inexpressible aspects of life that make it worth living, and worth enduring. They are what have always separated Sonoma from cookie-cutter small towns. But without sufficient community support, and with a local economy increasingly reliant on and catering to tourists, that gap of separation could be slowly closing.
We, as locals, if we have ever benefited from experiences that these businesses have gifted us, have an obligation now more than ever to actively support them. There are a plethora of ways to do this aside from just donating. The Sebastiani Theatre is offering movies and camp classes online via its website and is open for take-out concessions on Friday evenings. Sonoma Valley Museum of Art’s website now offers online exhibitions and auctions, in addition to online art education in the form of classes, clubs, and camps. Reader’s Books remains open for both in-person visits, as well as contact-less pickup of orders in the store’s backyard garden for those who want to be especially cautious. Art Escape is hosting free communal art projects via their mobile art studio (check their website for dates and details), and is giving away free art kits to people of all ages until December 18, as well as accepting donations for them. And the Sonoma Community Center is hosting free virtual events, and a wide variety of pay-what-you-can virtual classes on their site.
Without societal value placed on arts and the businesses that facilitate exploration of it for locals, and during a time of already daunting economic circumstances, Sonoma is in imminent danger of losing its creative establishments and artists, and with them, missing out on enriching the lives of new generations, and thereby ceasing to produce much needed inventive, curious, and self-aware individuals.
Tyler Meloan, 22, is a native Sonoman.