An artist’s life celebrated at Oceanside Museum of Art

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

Dennis Batt (1952-2012) would have loved being at his memorial, a celebration of his life at Oceanside Museum of Art that brought together hundreds of artists, art-lovers, and FODs (Friends Of Dennis) on Feb. 25, nearly a month after his unexpected death from a heart attack in his Carlsbad home.

The event featured many of the things the gregarious artist/arts coordinator enjoyed: DIY art-making, fashion, street theater, belly-dancing, food, drink, music, a virtual art show, and most of all, a sense of community.

There was plenty of laughter, and some tears, as people recalled what Dennis had meant to them.

“I just don’t know what to do without him,” said Ian Ashley. “He’s been such a big part of what I do.” Her grand-scale events at the House of the Future were collaborations with Dennis, and she wore a bracelet she had made as a tribute to him.

John Koehler’s metal “Stairway to Heaven” was another tribute to Dennis, with Koehler inviting everyone to engrave their names on its base. And there was an art table that enabled guests to make their own “Dennis-related” collages.

La Jolla artist Mark Jesinoski, whose workweek includes counseling students while pursuing a post-doctoral degree in psychology at UCSD, created a confessional booth for guests to record their own private eulogies. There were also public eulogies, by Jesinoski; Patricia Frischer, founding member of San Diego Visual Arts Network, where Dennis was a tireless volunteer; Naomi Nussbaum, Executive Director of Synergy Art Foundation, where Dennis was a board member and webmaster; Dennis’ sisters, Laurie Aker and Valerie Batt; Conrad Grundke, his mentor in stone artwork; and Patty Rangel, his colleague on Second Life, a simulated online world for which Dennis built a virtual art museum containing over 20,000 images.

“Dennis’ orbits were so large,” Rangel said. “So many people around the world were a part of them.”

Patricia Frischer, Naomi Nussbaum, and Sandra Chanis, past president of OMA’s Board of Directors, were the chief organizers of the event, which included a team of 55 volunteers.

“It was a very special evening of celebration and honoring our good friend,” Nussbaum said. “And we’ll do our very best to ensure that the magical energy Dennis sprinkled throughout the arts community continues.”

Among the legacy projects planned to honor him are a special smart phone app, the Batt App, to access events on the SDVAN calendar, and a San Diego Artists’ Film Festival, sponsored by Synergy Art Foundation.