January 9, 2003

Some art with your Chow?

Filed under: Art and About Art — admin @ 3:13 pm

My mom asked me the other day if my son and I wanted to try out the new Chow restaurant in Lafayette’s La Fiesta Square. I didn’t realize that the space which formerly housed a produce market finally had a new inhabitant. Mom explained to me that Chow was a San Francisco restaurant that purportedly wanted to become a neighborhood restaurant for the folks in Lamorinda.

I admit, I immediately had a preconceived notion of what to expect. With San Francisco predecessors Chow and Park Chow, Lafayette’s Chow probably had tasty food, but could a restaurant with San Francisco roots actually achieve the atmosphere of a neighborhood restaurant out here? I had my doubts.

We picked a table where my toddler could study the physics of a fire crackling in the fireplace, which left me staring at a wall with a piece of artwork on it. It wasn’t until my entrée arrived that I realized the art was done by Lamorinda’s own Marcy Wheeler. I scanned the room and saw that the restaurant was full of Wheeler’s artwork. This new restaurant had immediately entrenched itself as a full-fledged participating member of the community by sharing its walls with an artist in our community. Well, welcome to the neighborhood, Chow!

I have since learned that Chow is more than just a neighborhood restaurant — it’s also a good neighbor. Owner Tony Gulisano is a Lafayette resident who truly values the importance of community as more than just a buzzword. It turns out that Wheeler’s exhibit during these inaugural weeks of the restaurant is the first in a collaborative effort between the Lafayette Arts Gallery and Chow. The gallery, housed in the quaint cottage across the street from Chow, missed the foot traffic that the produce market used to bring. Gallery co-founder Cathy DeForest approached Gulisano about an ongoing relationship between the gallery and the restaurant and she will now be curating the exhibits that will be up on Chow’s walls. So if you stop in periodically to this neighborhood restaurant, you can take a peek at some of the artwork your very own neighbors are producing.

Now that’s the real spirit of community, if you ask me. What I continue to find surprising is how few of our local business owners take advantage of the wealth of visual artists living in Lamorinda. There are some outstanding business owners in our three cities who are in Gulisano’s league when it comes to integrating the many facets of this community into their businesses. I’m not going to name any because I’ll surely forget some, but I can say that I know some of these businesses owners don’t necessarily live within city limits, but they chose to set up their business establishments here because they wanted the spirit of Lamorinda to be part of their business plan.

I have trained myself to be particularly keyed into what is hanging on the walls when I enter just about any structure. Practically every business has walls with something hanging on them. Retail establishments, doctors’ offices, lawyers, accountants, dry cleaners, coffee shops — you name it, they all have the public traipsing through their doors on a daily basis. I sigh when I see a print of the Bed, Bath and Beyond variety on a wall when it is almost as easy to call, say, the Lamorinda Arts Alliance (284-2788) and ask if they can help with finding original artwork to enhance a space. I can understand if you may not want your walls to be an informal gallery, but then consider purchasing a few pieces you like from a Lamorinda artist and essentially donate the free publicity for them. You never know when someone might be coming into your office for a root canal and find themselves connecting with a piece of art from an artist whose work expresses a shared life philosophy. The use of local art on local business walls is one of the simplest symbiotic relationships I can imagine to keep the definition of community alive and well.