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.

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