Dear Montecito: Bella Venable

By Stella Haffner   |   March 18, 2021

If I know one fact about the Visual Arts and Design Academy at Santa Barbara High School, it’s that VADA is home to many talented students. If I know one fact about Santa Barbara in general, it’s that State Street has experienced a serious decline in quality since all the cool, independent shops have been priced out of the area. How are two things related? Today we’re publishing a letter from a junior student in the University of the Arts London and a future illustrator, Bella Venable, to find out. 

Dear Montecito,

University of the Arts London student and future illustrator Bella Venable

The question I’m always asked when I tell people I live in London is: Did you experience any culture shock? And it’s true. It’s different over here, but not as different as everyone seems to think. I spent a lot of time abroad when I was younger, so the culture shock wasn’t anything major. Actually, the biggest thing I had to deal with was some of the wording and slang over here. When I visit home on my breaks, I still find myself saying things like “toilet roll” instead of “toilet paper.” 

I guess the difference I notice the most is in the arts scene. I’m a junior at the university right now, studying illustration. There are just so many wonderful things about the arts scene here in London. That’s one of the main reasons I was so motivated to move away.

Santa Barbara is nice, but I just wanted to leave so badly. Everybody knew everybody. A trip to Vons grocery store was a 45-minute commitment. I just really wanted to experience the big city, something different. There was nothing to do back home. As they say, Santa Barbara is for the newly wed and nearly dead. My friends and I would always have to debate spending another day wandering on State Street or find something else to do. I think I’d feel differently about our bubble if we could revitalize the arts scene here. There were a couple of really cool venues opened when I was growing up, where young artists would play music or different pieces could be showcased. But most of those places have since closed. 

In high school, I got to be a part of the VADA program at Santa Barbara High School. I’ve known ever since I was small that I wanted to draw, so I loved the academy and found it was really helpful to me. But I didn’t really know what I was missing until I moved to London. In high school, the world was kind of small. If I knew another artist, they were also in the VADA program. But at university, I’m exposed to all these different people, artists from everywhere. I think it’s because there are just so many more spaces dedicated to art in London. Spaces for showcases and things, and more venues to hold events. We have this space in the neighborhood where I live that’s a DIY hub. Places in Santa Barbara tend to be exclusive, but this venue is always hosting events for students to which young people have access. Long story short, I’m really glad I ended up here.

Just like I’ve always known I’d be an artist, I think I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to be in London. For starters, I knew I wanted to leave the States. I had my sights on London, but it wasn’t until my high school counselor suggested University of the Arts London that I decided exactly where I wanted to be. 

I think my American friends expect a big culture shock, but it seems that moving away is the same everywhere. I mean that, no matter where you go, you still have to find new friends and learn the best route to the grocery store. The adjustment isn’t anything greater than that just because it’s farther away. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any things I miss about home. We’ve got a lot of parks and greenery here in London. But you can’t just go out and be in wild nature the way you can be in Santa Barbara.

The main difference is the spaces. If I had the power to change it, I’d make sure we had more art-centric venues in Santa Barbara. State Street is becoming emptier because all the cool stuff is being replaced. We need venues to showcase art that isn’t just up for auction at crazy prices. We need to allow more people to be exposed to a brighter arts scene. And I think that’s what I want to do when I graduate. I like the idea of teaching art or bringing art therapy to those who need it. I like the idea of enriching our culture and helping people use it to express what they’re feeling. I think that is what’s important.




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