MALIBU, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Founder Wendy Miller, Kathie Lee Gifford, Kimberly Cowan and Artist Award Recipient Anne Neilson arrive at The COTA Awards (Celebration of the Arts) on September 15, 2018 in Malibu, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for COTA)

What’s The Small Buzzy Performing Arts Group in Malibu That Has The Today Show Gushing?

What is it about the small, revolutionary non-profit that Jack Hayford has called “one of the most innovative worship ministries of today,” and has Kathie Lee Gifford gushing on The Today Show? SCENES Media sat down with the Cantinas Arts Foundation leadership to hear what has got the arts, faith and entertainment world talking.

SCENES: Good morning, Cantinas Arts Foundation team! Thanks for being here with SCENES. Will you introduce yourselves and what you do?

WENDY: My name is Wendy Miller and I’m the Founder and the Executive Director of The Cantinas Arts Foundation.

KIMBERLY: I’m Kimberly Cowan, I’m COO of The Cantinas Arts Foundation…I’ve been doing [this job] for about 4 years now, and love it. It’s kind of the meeting of my two passions, I love the arts and I love non-profit work, and so it’s really been a dream come true for me to be able to do this…

WENDY: Yes, she’s a gift.

SCENES: Can you share your definition of what The Cantinas Arts Foundation is? And where your artistic focus lies?

KIMBERLY:We really like to focus on performing arts, but we do have workshops that cover creative writing and fine art, but for the most part, we do spoken word, dance and music.

WENDY: We’ve done orchestra and also drama.

KIMBERLY: And filmmaking.

WENDY: And I would say that at the very core, Cantinas is wanting to redeem the arts, so we want to be light in the darkness, we want to bring change and hope to the culture, we want to provide an antidote for the chaos out there, and part of that is equipping our leaders…

KIMBERLY: We desire to develop Christian leaders in the arts and entertainment industry…that’s who we are, and we invest in them so that they can invest in the next generation, to sum it up, that’s what we do, but for the most part, we are creating a community of artists, and a network of artists, that can collaborate together, serve together, and just be there for each other…

WENDY: Our family scripture has always been, “To whom much is given, much is expected,” and so, always trying to give back… The Cantinas Foundation was birthed out of living in Malibu, my children, my nieces and nephews and all of our friends [being part of this] artist community, and I saw the ability to get talented youth … the mentorship they need in order to succeed in the arts. The second portion of it is, helping them to have a scaffolding around them, so if they do get launch, with the traps of fame and fortune, they don’t self implode, we wanted to create a safe community with support and inspiration and opportunities, in order to change the culture, actually, we want to bring beauty into the world of entertainment and art that glorifies GOD.

KIMBERLY: I love when you say that we’re a launching pad, it’s one of my favorite ways of describing what we do, we want to take these artists as investments so they can be launched, and have all the tools that they need.

SCENES: You have built a one-of-a-kind, world-class organization. What has the journey been like, in building Cantinas Arts Foundation, really as something that is a first of its kind?

WENDY: God has not changed the vision, I don’t think, from the initial throwing down the gauntlet, in starting the foundation. Sometimes it’s very hard to walk by faith and say, is this making economic sense? Or people aren’t receiving us, but [we have been committed to] hold the line … outsiders are looking at us, …can we trust you? and you have to earn that trust, so I think we’ve been exceedingly consistent, in just being loving and genuine and authentic, high integrity from the foundation, and good for our word, all of it.

Wendy Miller, Cantinas Arts Foundation Founder and Executive Director with Kimberly Cowan, Chief Operating Officer. Photography and Film by Chris Koehl.

KIMBERLY: And you can see it in the artists, too, I feel like they reflect that same heart and mission, and that’s kind of like the idea that when you hire a Cantinas artist, or they are teaching a workshop, there is just something different about them… because we do a lot of secular stuff, we do a lot of city work, and there’s just something different about [the Cantinas artists.]

WENDY: It’s been an incredible journey, we did a lot of priming the pump in order to get here, and our workshops …how we were impacting the community was very much hands on….our workshops [in the very beginning] might have [only had] seven, five, nine people showing up, but we had the best master teachers, I feel often that it was sort of the test of the Lord too, if you are willing to serve the least of these, then I will bring, you know, the ones that I really want you to pour into… I wanted to have this legacy of artists, that “Oh, you are part of the Cantinas mentorship program…” “Oh, you are part of the Cantinas family…” That’s what’s been really exciting… the sad part is that our artists aren’t with us forever, that’s what we’re doing is we’re launching them into the culture in order to make an impact, and we have just seen some of our artists sky-rocket, and it’s hard to let go sometimes…

KIMBERLY: They always come back.

WENDY: They always come back.

KIMBERLY: And to kind of share what they learned with the next generation that we’ve got coming up… so it’s just a really cool life cycle that’s really beautiful…

WENDY: The dance community in Los Angeles down to Orange County can be very dark, and there can be a lot of compromise out there… when people go out on auditions, the dance moves, and the apparel…what we found is… when they came together they would spend time sharing their hearts, and also praying with one another, studying the scriptures. This became their touchstone… Cantinas was their plumb line back to remind them… their accountability, that I am not going out there and I’m not going to compromise, and if I trust God, he’s going to put me in the right place, and I’m going to make the right choices… and that’s what we’ve seen happen, these uncompromising dancers in the dance community, doors have opened to them… Remarkably, other people just go, “Wow,” and people put them on sound stages and they put them in films, where they are witnessing and sharing their hearts, with the top talent in Hollywood that have never even heard the Gospel before…so these divine appointments have got us very excited…

SCENES: Can you talk about some of the challenges you have faced in building Cantinas Arts Foundation into what it is today?

WENDY: Yeah, one of the challenges over the years that we’ve [had is when we] try to partner with churches or other non-profits or other organizations and we say, “We would like to bring you this gourmet meal in order to impact your youth,” and then they would [step back and say] “No wait a minute, who are you and what do you want?” No we really don’t want anything, we just want to pour out our resources.

And the same thing, when we meet artists, they come in [and think], “You know, what’s the angle? What do you want from me?” But truly, I can say, you know what? If you get blessed by being in relationship with us, if you are successful, you know, remember us, come back and give back.

It’s sort of like… a pot and we fill it with water, the Lord turns it into wine, and as it overflows it goes into another pot, which overflows into another pot, so, we’re really just pot fillers, so that’s what we’re trying to do…

KIMBERLY: That’s one of my favorite things about Wendy, is she’s very unity-driven, and I feel [that with] churches and non-profits, we treat everyone like a partner, and really wanting to create that unity, whereas a lot of times, there can be a little bit of a competitive nature, because everyone is trying to get people to come to their church, trying to get people to come to their activities, so sometimes they have been a bit resistant. Wendy has been very faithful, in uniting the pastors and uniting other non-profits, to do what they do best but to do it together, with the idea that we are better together, and that’s been something that has been a blessing for me, in the organization, is being able to partner with other non-profits who are doing some amazing work, and bring our artists to them, so, it’s pretty special…

 WENDY: Pastor Jack Hayford made a statement that “Cantinas is one of the most innovative worship ministries of today…” And that was 14 years ago! So that’s what it’s been like, how do you create a foundation where the foundation is worship, magnifying the Lord, and … impacting the community and the next generation?

SCENES: That’s an admirable question and goal. It seems like Cantinas Arts is answering that for us through your incredible work. What can SCENES readers and fans expect to see coming up from The Cantinas Arts Foundation through 2019?

WENDY: We have The Cantinas Ranch… in Central California, Paso Robles is the closest city, and it happens to be the home of the state’s largest fair, and we did a music festival for two years, and now at the festival we host, “The Cantinas Night of Faith” and we’ve been able to connect a dozen top artists to it, Mercy Me…

KIMBERLY: For King and Country…

WENDY: Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith…

KIMBERLY: David Crowder, Brandon Heath…. And this is the first year that we did a full 30 minute show, and it was a collaboration extravaganza… we had dancers, singers, full gospel choir, we brought together the three major worship pastors in the area…and they all entered our [worship song] contest…

And [for this upcoming 2019 Fair] they basically want us to be on the main stage, whereas usually we are on a side stage.

WENDY: In the main arena, which is for 15,000 people…

SCENES: That is amazing. We are definitely going to be on the scene to check it out. Thank you Wendy and Kimberly, for your time and what you are both bringing to the world through The Cantinas Arts Foundation. Any closing thoughts for our readers and followers about the future of Cantinas Arts?

WENDY: [Cantinas Arts Foundation] wants to bring impactful programming to as many venues as doors will open… it’s all about community… to share what we know with the world…

KIMBERLY: Absolutely. Just growth, I think we want to see each of the programs that we built grow and see more lives transformed.

Check out some footage from past years‘ State Fair, featuring Cantinas Arts performers, and stay tuned for next year’s California Mid-State Fair July 17-28, 2019, when you can see more of the amazing Cantinas artistry on the main stage. Bravo, Cantinas Arts Foundation!

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