Sunday, May 29, 2011

Artist’s Statement

It’s been about two years since the nonprofit that I started, Arts in Education Aid Council, was punched in the face by the recession. I felt it at work before I felt it at home……. a very big grant that we were counting on came in at 80% less than we expected, which forced us to put on the brakes for our expansion plans. Eighteen months prior to this, the little nonprofit that I started in our family den had grown so much that we had opened an office, hired internal staff to take care of the daily operations, and paid outside consultants to help with fundraising and board development. I had risen within the arts education and nonprofit sectors as a leader in both fields. I felt like Queen of the World, woo-hooing on top of my little mountain, looking forward to growing and adopting more schools so we could turn more kids on to the arts. And then POW!, through no fault of my own, I was sucker punched in the face and knocked off my little mountain, by forces completely outside of my control, all thanks to a heartless, greedy, elite few.

Heartbroken and very pissed off at those who caused the economic collapse, I turned to the one thing that has always sustained me through the dark times of my life: my own art.

For the past eleven years, most of my creative energy and time has gone into kids – raising my own and providing the children of my community with an arts education at no cost to them or their schools. During this time, I painted some, wrote quite a bit, and cartooned a little. Faced with one of the most difficult crises of my life, I knew that the only thing that would get me through it was to get busy and get creative.

My family and I set a goal to visit as many national parks as possible within one year, as cheaply as possible, and I would paint at least one painting from each park. Most of our plans were built around a planned trip to Colorado for my 30 year high school reunion. We had a blast living out of our car as we toured 14 national parks. I did more than paint one painting of each park (I have about 60 canvases total!), and had a wonderful time escaping in my studio to paint subjects that I truly loved, creating lasting memories for myself and my family, while healing myself by relying on my innate talent – the gift of creativity.

Everything that I have been teaching kids for the past 11 years I applied to myself. I can’t go wrong in my studio. This is the only place where I am truly free, where I don’t think about how angry I am at what has happened to education, Los Angeles, the state of California, or our nation. Yes, in my own little funky art studio in my back yard, I am free, relaxed and happy. And now I have a nice body of work to show for all of my released tension. That’s not just good for my artist’s soul, that’s good for my health and state of mind.

And then there is cartooning……my first art love. I started cartooning as a little kid, drawing characters in situations that were totally inappropriate for my age, but made some adults laugh until they cried. This was the ultimate buzz for me as a kid – smart ass validation! I’ve created many different strips over the years. Some of them published and popular, some not. But I’ve always enjoyed doing it, no matter what. I started cartooning our camping and travel adventures, and then I felt compelled to pick up with a strip idea that came to me two years ago, while attending a dry, redundant, long conference for arts leaders. A few of my colleagues are very smart and funny, and I always try and sit with them at these things so we can keep each other entertained with our silly zingers. I have been to a lot of these meetings, but this one gave me a headache. I grew weary of listening to one person after another talk about the same old thing, using “insider language” that the average person doesn’t use. We sounded like a bunch of artsy-fartsy snobs. We finished up with a break out session where we were all given an assignment to think about our purpose as arts leaders. When our facilitator was done pontificating, one of my funny, smart colleagues (who will remain nameless so I don’t incriminate him with my smart ass synopsis at the end of this), said, “Well, I guess we can see now why people don’t think we are any fun”. I busted out laughing, but I was alone. No one else laughed! Everybody at our table was the stuck up museum type (over educated with no sense of humor). And they all spoke Art Speak.

I haven’t gone to many more of those types of gatherings since then. I can’t take it. Things are just way too bad in California to pretend like they are not, and I refuse to show up to any of these things so I can wag my tail and hope that someone will throw me a bone. No, from that moment on, the notes that I take about the art world don’t have anything to do with spin, strategic planning, branding or bragging rights. I’m not going to show up to any more meetings and compliment the Emperor on his new clothes. I’m afraid I’ll jump up on top of a table and scream, “LISTEN UP EVERYBODY! The Emperor is NAKED!” I can’t afford to shoot myself in the foot over principle these days, so I hide out in my studio as I wait for the recession to blow over, making whimsical observations about the art world, in every day language, with my cartoons instead.

After my colleague blurted out the obvious and made me laugh that day in 2009, my notes stopped being about Art Speak, and were more about art for art's sake, artists, the business of art, and arts education, with a satirical slant – the way I see it. I endured the rest of that conference, thanks to the wise crack of a colleague. My headache went away and a new comic strip was born, “ART”. My goal with this strip, at this point in my life, is to make myself laugh out loud. And if I can make myself laugh until I cry, well then, that would make me feel like Queen of the World.

“ART” – that’s my statement.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Car Pool Lane Rules are for Suckers and Commoners

Every morning, at my daughter’s new school, I’m annoyed by the parents who drop their kids off. It’s not just this school. It’s the same story at every campus throughout L.A. This new school is a lot more efficient in getting kids dropped off in the morning than her former school, for a number of reasons. The first is that it is a magnet school so many of the kids are bused in, which cuts down on the car traffic. And since it’s a magnet school, the kids come with parents who are generally more conscious than the average LAUSD parent. If they’re concerned enough about their kids’ educations to get them into a magnet, then they’re generally going to be more concerned about their children’s safety in the mornings, and more considerate of other drivers, the car pool rules, and will read signs. Even so, though, there are always a handful of parents who could care less about other people, rules and signs. And one of them bugs me every single morning.

I get my daughter to school pretty early in the mornings. It’s a bit of a drive so I like to beat the school and work traffic by leaving before most people get on the road. I like to drop her off and get the heck out of there before the crazies show up. But one car in particular really bugs me. The red Jeep. She shows up every morning, right when the gates open, just ahead of the no parking zone, in front of the rest of us, who are all parked behind the no parking zone, to let her precious, “gifted” son out of the car. She never bothers waiting in line. She doesn’t cut in line. She brazenly passes the rest of us every morning and parks in front of the line. Like her son, she must be “gifted”; special, not like the rest of us, entitled to extra privileges not afforded to average people. I get it. All of us rule followers behind the No Parking Zone get it. We’re just a bunch of commoners and suckers.

She annoys me, not because she is dangerous and careless, like so many other drivers in the morning, but because she’s so selfish. Everybody behind the no parking zone is respectful of the carpool rules, and we teach our kids to wait their turn and not cut in front of anyone in line. The message she is giving all of us, and her son, is that they’re not like the rest of us, and are therefore more entitled. That’s why she bugs me.

After I send my daughter off to school, with a smile and good wishes for the day, I get out of there as fast and as safely as I can, so I can miss the idiots who double park, make three point turns in the middle of the busy street, block driveways, speed, honk, cut into the car pool lane (right in front of the “do not cut into the car pool lane” sign), jay walk (right in front of the “do not jay walk” sign), text, pick their nose in the middle of the street (it’s true – I watched a dad stop dead in the middle of the street to dig a big one out), talk on the phone, or let their kids off at the end of the block and then follow them at walking speed until they get into the gate, just to make sure they aren’t abducted in the three minutes that it takes to walk in to the playground. Sometimes they have volunteers who keep the traffic moving. When they’re there, people tend to be more civilized. I won’t volunteer to do that, though, because I don’t think I’d be too civilized about car pool duty. I’m apt to drag somebody out of their car some day, just to give them a what for because I’m still pissed off about my kid almost getting hit by a crazy mom who pulled up on the curb after making a three point turn in the street a year ago at my daughter’s other school.

To get home, I need to pass by another school - a middle school, and the parents are CRAZY. Many of them cut in line by speeding past the turn lane to make a U-turn to cut in line. I’ve seen three people do this at once, one of them from the far lane. Don’t honk at them, or you’ll get cussed out or flipped off. Parents who do this are bad enough. But with their kids in the car?

As I headed south on my route home today, I got stuck behind two women, in separate cars, who were first in line at a red light. They were BOTH putting on make up. The light turned green and neither one of them knew it because they were putting on mascara. At the same time! It might be funny later, as a cartoon, but this morning, it was just another frightening, stupid moment trying to get my kid to school.

The city of Los Angeles is broke. I don’t get why the cops aren’t at every school in the morning, busting people left and right. They’d bring in some decent revenue for the city while keeping our school zones safe. And they’d get that red Jeep, and everything that it symbolizes, out of my face.