August 25, 2003

Have some local art with your wine

Filed under: Art and About Changing the World — admin @ 3:31 pm

I had the good fortune to be in the workroom of FastFrame in Lafayette one Saturday when owner Anthony Ruiz gave young Sean an impromptu tour of the mechanics that comprise the art of framing. At the end, Sean went and got his mom and immediately started giving her the same tour. With a gleeful grin, Anthony said, “I love it when kids make themselves at home. It means they feel safe.”

What a wonderful gift to give a child — the feeling of safety in a creative environment. Anthony admits he has a soft spot for “kids, the elderly and animals. If you’re at all viable, you’re on your own,” he chuckles.

It’s not unusual for Anthony to donate free framing to children in local schools to underscore the importance of artistic expression in their lives. He has seen the “Wow!” in their faces when they see their sponge paintings, line drawings and watercolors custom-framed and displayed in the FastFrame window on Mt. Diablo Blvd.

Anthony is also a huge believer in supporting artists of all ages in our community. He is using his store as a platform for his beliefs during this year’s Lafayette Art and Wine Festival on September 20 and 21. He will host the opening of “Luck of the Draw,” showcasing the artwork of elementary school children throughout Lafayette. In conjunction with the Lafayette Arts and Science Foundation, Anthony custom-framed the artwork of one child in each grade level who was picked from a hat. After the two days at FastFrame, the artwork will travel around town on display in different venues for several weeks before returning to its proud creators.

Anthony’s views on using the Lafayette Art and Wine Festival to overtly support local artists struck a chord with me, and ignited my annual pondering of one of life’s great mysteries. I have never understood why more local art isn’t featured at the festival. I understand that the event isn’t about art or wine at all. It’s a fundraiser put on by the Chamber of Commerce for Lafayette-based organizations, and it’s about bringing people to the fair city of Lafayette. I understand this intellectually, but my gut can’t reconcile why this city, which has been an active force in a regional arts renaissance over the last few years, doesn’t make more of an effort to showcase its homegrown artists.

The event is eight years old, and for the last couple of years the Lamorinda Arts Alliance and local business which feature art have been fighting for space and pre-event publicity to say, “Hey, if out-of-towners are coming to Lafayette to see art, then they are going to see OUR art.” It always feels to me like they are swimming against the tide of gypsy artists who set up their booths on Mt. Diablo Blvd., having just arrived from the Anytown, California Art and Wine Festival and en route to the How-Many-Art-And-Wine-Festivals-Can-One-State-Have Festival next weekend. Most of the gypsy artists don’t offer anything we can’t find among our local artists, and none are any more talented than we can find here at home.

I want you all to go to the Lafayette Art and Wine Festival, and I want to send you on a mission to support our local artists. They’re not shy about identifying themselves, if you keep your eyes peeled for that sort of information. Talk to the artists in the white cottage across from La Fiesta Square. They represent the Lafayette Arts Gallery and The Art Room. Look around the perimeter of the festival at the businesses in La Fiesta Square and on Mt. Diablo Blvd. and if there’s art in the windows, give them equal time to those who have a booth. And most importantly, stop by FastFrame at 3571 Mt. Diablo Blvd. and give your emotional support to the young artists who are the future representatives of our local arts movement.

August 18, 2003

Putting a Higher Dollar Value on Children’s Artistic Interests

Filed under: Art and About Kids — admin @ 2:25 pm

I have just learned about The Wiggles. They’re an Australian band that appears on the Disney Channel and has been called “The Beatles for kids.” Apparently, the rock we live under at our house is quite massive because to be the parent of a toddler and not know about The Wiggles recently elicited some stunned looks from our friends.

The Wiggles make TV shows, record CDs, do videos, have an interactive Web site, and tour the world giving live concerts. Apparently, a gripe from many parents is the high prices of the tickets for these concerts. Everyone over one-year-old is charged full boat and, according to our scoffing friends, “Parents will pay this to bring their two-year-olds to the concert.”

Initially, I scoffed, too. I believe I have a cultural reflex to scoff at parents who materially “overindulge” their children. But then it occurred to me that I’m being an arts hypocrite. I wouldn’t blink at an adult paying some exorbitant price for a concert they really wanted to see. Why do I put less value on something that makes a child’s heart go pitter-pat?

I can think of a few arguments. The Wiggles are just a fad. Well, maybe so, but they are a musical fad, which makes them important in my book. (Believe it or not, I will even heatedly defend Barney the purple dinosaur because of the show’s commitment to using music to teach important concepts.) And no doubt the fads that were important to me helped shape a small part of the person I am today. For better or for worse, they are part of my experiential make up and it isn’t for me to impose criteria on anyone else as to which fads they should follow.

Another argument is that a two-year-old won’t remember the concert. I believe he may not be able to remember it in his conscious mind, but no doubt a love of music, maybe even of music played live, will live on in his heart perpetuating the arts into the next generation.

One argument that I sincerely hope is not the root of any scoffing is that a toddler’s artistic interests are not as important as the parent’s and therefore should not be supported financially. This would probably be one of those repressed, psychological issues that Dr. Phil would have to dig pretty deep to discover for us because perhaps our parents sent the message when we were young that our artistic interests weren’t worthy of their hard-earned cash. If perchance this is an issue for some parents, then maybe by bringing it into the light it can be overcome.

This subject of people having a different scale for money they spend on art for themselves as opposed to art that interests their children came up in my family last March when my parents returned from a trip to the Pacific Rim countries. They focused on buying hand-crafted souvenirs for my kids made by artisans from each country — puzzles, toys, games, wall-hangings, and even embroidered T-shirts whenever possible. They told the story of a chat they had with a person in India about the beautiful embroidery on shirts in that country. My mom had noticed there were no children’s sizes available, and the artisan said that although children’s embroidered garments take as much effort for them to make, tourists are not willing to pay a high price for a child’s shirt. So the message I’m getting here from those tourists is that children are not important enough to be given wearable art, probably because they’ll only wear it for a short time before it’s outgrown. So what? And, choosing to support art created by the talents of another individual is something only for the realm of the adult world. Hmmm……

I know there is nothing on earth worth as much to me as my children. Don’t you feel the same? We should make sure we underscore that worth by supporting their personal connections to the arts.