September 22, 2004

Cruisin’ Down the Highway on a Mission

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 10:05 pm

This summer, both of our cars went belly up. They were both old, and both had been in hospice care for a long time so their deaths were not unexpected. What was unexpected was that they would go within three months of each other leaving us as a zero-car family.

Choosing a new automobile for our family of four was pretty easy. It’s choosing a license plate that is requiring long, late night conversations between my husband, Matthew, and me.

Years ago, I decided that when I got a new car, I would get one of the California arts license plates. I didn’t realize that you could turn in your old plates at any time and buy an arts plate, which helps fund the California Arts Council for statewide arts programming, arts education and local arts within communities. The plate is $30, with about half of the sales proceeds going to the Arts Council, and the entire $15 renewal fee each year goes to the Council.

Matthew knows I have wanted an arts plate for a long time, and he supports that. So we went online to the DMV Web site to see what the plate looks like. We both thought we had never actually seen one. Wrong. I see them all the time, which is good and bad.

The arts plate is the one with the palm trees on the left and the rising sun over the ocean on the right. It is a classic California scene, and it seems like everyone has it. In fact, I learned from the DMV Web site that the arts plate, designed by Northern California artist Wayne Thiebaud, is the most popular specialty plate in California, with over 120,000 plates sold since 1994, raising more then $6.6 million for the arts. I love that statistic. I don’t love the plate. Matthew really doesn’t love the plate.

For some reason, we thought the arts plate would be more overtly visually political in its support of the arts. A painter’s palette, a theater façade, ballet shoes or even the Hollywood sign. My husband particularly doesn’t like that the plate represents a more typical Southern California scene rather than incorporating a Northern California image, and as a Northern Californian, he’s offended. He also just plain doesn’t think the picture is art.

After lengthy discussion we realized that since the plate itself does not make a statement about arts support, we needed to customize the plate so that it does make a statement. Personalized arts plates are $70, and $41.91 of that is a tax deductible donation.

Matt deferred to my arts message over his own, since this car is primarily a Mommy-mobile. Because of those palm trees on the left, the arts plate only gave me six symbols to say everything I ever wanted to say about the arts. And I thought 600 words per column was limiting.

It forced me to focus on the essence of my political message. Originally, I thought I wanted to make a statement, with my wallet and my car, about supporting the arts. But instead, the most important message is the one that informs this column, and all the arts stories I’ve ever written for the newspaper, and any arts conversation I’ve ever had. I want people to celebrate the artistic in their daily lives, with every breath, in everything they do and everywhere they go. My statement is “Be Artsy,” or B ARTSY, in license plate speak. Actually, that plate is taken, so now I need to Be Artsy is discovering a creative combination of symbols to shout my message down the highways and byways of California.

September 12, 2004

Preschooler Bids an Artistic Farewell

Filed under: Art and About Me — admin @ 4:11 pm

Every kid has to endure at least one topic that his or her parent gets really heated over — a topic that causes great embarrassment to the child, the parent, all the family’s ancestors and every generation yet to come. For my kids, I suspect that topic is going to be the arts.

When the arts come up in conversation, a news article, from someone’s personal testimonial, or when I am simply touched through an artistic experience, it is not uncommon for me to cry, shriek, laugh loudly, jump up and down, get angry, whoop — whatever response is appropriate for the ultra-positive or ultra-negative nature of the moment. I can already envision my kids rolling their eyes, slinking out of the room and denying that they ever knew me.

Right now, however, my daughter is 18 months and my son is almost four. They get just as excited, if not more so, when the arts touch their lives. And no one is a harsher critic than a preschooler who doesn’t like a particular song, movie, story or painting. Young children seem to have an almost primal relationship with the arts, creating it and receiving it as a pure, unadulterated communication between human beings.

And even at their young ages, my kids have learned that they can make the most profound connection with their mom not through words, not through a hug, but through the arts.

The day after Labor Day was the first day of preschool for my son, Tyrian. It was a big day, but not the huge deal it might have been since Tyrian had participated in a summer program at the school he would be attending this fall. I wasn’t nervous about it, and Tyrian happily got up, got dressed, ate breakfast, grabbed his backpack and announced it was time to go.

When we arrived at school, the door wasn’t open yet and only one other mom and her daughter had arrived. That mom told me she had spent the entire weekend with her tummy in knots. I was grateful that I had been able to relax during my holiday weekend.

As kids started arriving, some were accompanied by both parents and grandparents. There was an excited buzz from most of the crowd. I hadn’t even thought to ask my husband if he wanted to come, or to invite the grandparents to be part of the entourage.

The teacher opened the door and the kids rushed to their cubbies to hang up their bags. Cameras were flashing as tots picked their first activity and dived right in. With the summer program under our belts, this was so old hat that I hadn’t even considered bringing a camera.

One or two moms started weeping a little when it was time to say goodbye. I can cry with the best of ‘em, but on this day, I was caught up in the fun and wonder of the bright and cheerful classroom.
Tyrian sat down at the art table, grabbed some colored pens and began drawing. He seemed settled to me, so I went over to kiss him goodbye.

“No, don’t leave yet,” he told me.

My stomach clenched. I thought, “Oh no, he’s more nervous than I thought.” In a millisecond I envisioned an ugly goodbye scene.

But Tyrian shoved the picture he was working on out of the way, got himself three fresh pieces of paper and whipped off three drawings. He gave them to me saying one was for me, one was for Daddy and one was for his sister. Having given me a bit of himself to tide me over until we were reunited in three hours, he off to play.

So it was I, the cucumber-cool Mommy, who went home weeping.