Thursday, October 22, 2015

Art and Community

Dear Reader,

I'm going to share two recent art experiences with you, and ask you to support a third.  Ready?

First of all, I had the sublime pleasure of seeing the exhibition Someday is Now:  the art of Corita Kent at the Pasadena Museum of California Art earlier this month.  You can see some of the images here: and if you are anywhere near Pasadena in the next few weeks, please go.  The show is only up until November 1 and it is so well curated.  Corita strove to answer the questions about peace and violence we continue to struggle with today.  You will find heart and be inspired by her prints.  While I did scoop up many cherishable postcards at the Museum, I did wait to get home and order the big, beautiful, and heavy exhibition catalog since I was in Southern California for a short, carry-on luggage type of trip.  It is so fantastic, I had to also order the 2nd edition of Learning by Heart:  teaching to free the creative spirit.  Please go to your library or independent bookstore, because you are going to want them too.

The exhibition catalog, I ordered mine from my favorite online book provider, Powells, is a book that I know I will return to again and again.  To be dazzled by Corita's colors, her interpretations of culture, her use of typography, and her messages.

The 2nd book, Learning by Heart, again Powells is already opening up my heart and my eyes.  I am so eager to try Corita's assignments on looking, drawing, and experiencing.  And just as Parker Palmer's Courage to Teach has emboldened and supported my development as a practitioner of joyful exploration in education, even the first pages of Corita's text are expanding my capacities as I breathe in her words.

From page 4:  "To create means to relate.  The root meaning of the word art is to fit together and we all do this every day....Each time we fit things together we are creating--whether it is to make a loaf of bread, a child, a day."  

From page 90:  "How can we become bright, hardworking, imaginative people?  By learning how to use our connecting ability to make new relationships and by getting used to working very hard in ways that will develop our imagination."

Just reading that, I'm excited again about working hard.  I feel heartened and a little bit comforted that I need to prepare for struggle.  Let me tell you, where in SillyCon Valley, where everything is supposed to "in one tap" or "one swipe" or 140 characters or less and delivered the next day and where young people think it is a good idea to live in a truck next to your employer....reading Corita's words telling me to slow down, to notice, to note my responses, to learn different ways of looking, and the importance of community...I am emboldened.

Once I get some workflow undercontrol here in Bookcharmer land, I am tempted to host an online bookgroup with this book, first because I want more people to know about it, but also because I think it would be fun to share the experiences of the assignments.  And we can use the handy tools of SillyCon Valley to post our results and get some more art into the world.  More to come on that.

For now,  I must ask you to support art in community in a very specific way.  Here in this Valley, this peninsula, this state this nation, the tyranny of the zip code is profound.  Instead of getting on that pedestal, I'm going to direct your attention to this class project:

This project that will engage students in learning about art and culture is quite close to funding, maybe even by today it will be completed.  If it is, would you please type in your state in the Donors' Choose search box and see what art supplies are needed at a school near you?

Oh, I got out of order:  I still haven't told you about my 2nd recent artistic experience, which happened just this morning, and gives urgency to my request above.  I've been listening to Sonia Manzano reading her memoir, Becoming Maria, on my commute.  Some of you may know I'm an audiobook junkie.  This is why I'm still profoundly aggravated that Amazon.Greed bought Audible, because Audible is my go to dealer for audio books, and I just deeply resent any more money going to a company with a terrible reputation and if you raise your eyebrows at that please go read this:

Ok, back to the memoir.  I admit, I was having a hard time in the early chapters.  Ms. Manzano doesn't pull any punches about her childhood:  family violence, racism in her school, she doesn't sugarcoat her life experiences and just get to the Sesame Street part.  Being part of the original Sesame Street generation, when Cookie Monster could have all the cookies he wanted, I downloaded this title with giddy glee and then had to muster the courage to listen to the painful memories she shares.

I'm glad I did, and glad she has the courage to throw open her life path to listeners and readers, because the chapter when she describes her experience of going to see the movie West Side Story and how she felt herself coming alive to see her community celebrated on film...well, let's just say there was a little bit of ugly crying going on in a certain VW Passat once I found a parking place and could sit and listen to her describing how she felt seeing that movie, carrying home a treasured movie poster, and how the whole experience was a profound awakening.

It was a school teacher that took Sonia to see the movie, along with two other students.  And I have to hear more of the book to know how that awakening lead to Sonia Manzano becoming the beloved Maria, a person I watched as a child, and thought how amazing it would be to get to talk to all those wonderful puppets.  I wondered how Sesame Street choose the letter of the day, you know, at the end, when they say "this episode was brought to you by the letters" and then say the letters.  I'm content to let that mystery be, but I still love the idea of one or two letters picking out the skits, the songs, providing the narrative arc, as letters are completely capable of doing and then some.

But back to Sonia Manzano's story:  without the experience of seeing her reality reflected and celebrated in art, would we have had Maria on Sesame Street?

Let's throw down for the arts.  Here in California, there will have to be a legislative overhaul to get the anchor of Prop 13 off the pipeline to education funding, as well as other measures to break the tyranny of the zip code.  But what if your donation today to a classroom leads to an awakening for one child?

This blog entry brought to you by the letter C in honor of Corita Kent and M for Sesame Street's Maria.

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