Activism through art | Artists form Tahoe Activist Artists

Shelley Zentner in her studio. | Kayla Anderson

South Lake Tahoe artist Shelley Zentner recently helped form a community of activists to talk through issues and promote compassion, inclusion and change with fellow artists, as a response to the political and social climate of current times. Called the Tahoe Activist Artists, Zentner and fellow member Anthony Capaiuolo of First Tracks Productions released a mini-documentary titled “Art & Science in an Age of Unreason” to get the word out about the group. It has also been used to promote its first organized event to be held Sept. 9 at the Tahoe Mountain Lab.

Lifelike portraits of great philosophers and scientists are propped up on easels and against the fireplace of Zentner’s studio of in a room bathed in natural light. Originally from England, Zentner’s artistic career began when she was a young girl in grade school. Prompted to sketch one of her classmates, the 11-year-old Zentner’s portrait turned out incredibly well. She continued to sketch and paint portraits, even running a successful art gallery for five years. However, Zentner found that as a business owner she was growing disconnected from her craft.

“Everyone comes from different backgrounds; it’s an interesting melting pot of ideas.’
-Shelley Zentner

“Something was not quite right about it. The business side took too much away from the work itself,” she says. “I wasn’t motivated, couldn’t paint. I felt like I was just a gallery owner, not an artist.”

Shortly after her 30th birthday, she bought a one-way ticket to Canada. Travelling around and painting, she met her husband and relocated to South Lake Tahoe in 2006.

“Albert Einstein” | Shelley Zentner

Zentner taught art at Lake Tahoe Community College and says that it encouraged new ideas. She started reading about philosophy and feminism, as well as becoming acutely aware of the drastic shift in the country’s political climate, which sparked her idea to paint renowned physicists, scientists and philosophers.

In early January, when President Donald Trump put a gag order on employees of the EPA and Department of Agriculture, Zentner felt like she had to take action.

“I felt like I needed to do something and respond in some fashion. So I started with painting [Albert] Einstein. I never attempted portraits this big before and I feel like it painted itself; it had an energy of its own,” she says.

READ MORE: Watch the mini-documentary “Art & Science in an Age of Unreason”

As she was responding to her thoughts about the political climate through her artwork, Zentner coincidently received a call-to-action flyer through the mail from her friend Kim Wyatt, publisher and editor of Bona Fide Books. The flyer asked people to donate to local organizations, join or start a resistance movement, create art and volunteer or run for office. Zentner made some phone calls and got her friends together to share ideas.

“Everyone comes from different backgrounds; it’s an interesting melting pot of ideas,” she says of current Tahoe Activist Artists members, which include photographers, authors, artists, videographers and others. “It’s become quite organized now considering we’re a bunch of artists.”

A work in progress at Shelley Zentner’s studio. | Kayla Anderson

Since January, the Tahoe Activist Artists has been meeting once a month to chat and welcomes anyone to join. Around the time of its inception, Zentner asked Capaiuolo if he could help her do a time lapse of a painting of distinguished Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, but Capaiuolo knew that Zentner had additional ideas she wanted to share. The “Art & Science in an Age of Unreason” video became the inaugural collaboration of the Tahoe Activist Artists.

It also became a call to action to invite guests to a Tahoe Activist Artists show to be held on Sept. 9 from 2 to 8 p.m. in South Lake Tahoe.

“The video is attracting new members from all different backgrounds and connecting people within the group,” she says.

The event, titled “We the People: Tahoe Artists Visualize a World of Conversation and Connection,” is open to everyone and meant to appeal to the commonalities that all humans share. There will be bands, food vendors, letterpress workshops, activities for kids, a black-light hand-painting room and more.

“We want people to feel like they can engage,” Zentner says.

The event includes a march in partnership with High Vibe Society Artisan Collective called “Express Yourself! March for Compassion.” Tahoe Activist Artists will also be auctioning art and donating the proceeds to causes they are passionate about. A Poster Party for the event will be held on Sept. 6 at High Vibe. All of the events are free and open to everyone. | facebook.com/tahoeactivistartists

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Kayla Anderson
Kayla Anderson is a freelance writer, marketer and action sports enthusiast who has spent the last 10 years in North Lake Tahoe snowboarding, hiking and wake surfing. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chico State University and loves being out on the lake as often as she can.