Thursday, July 15, 2010

Time for the Arts

The wedding and our subsequent move into the home with Bob and his children took every bit of my energy last month. I saw several "good works" stories to write about, but could not seem to concentrate in these new surroundings. Ninety percent of our belongings are still in boxes in the garage, as we moved into a house that was already bursting at the seams with fifty years of family memories and love. As I try to sift through closets and drawers to make room, I realize how fast our lives go by and my priorities continue to shift. Though my first instinct normally would be to redecorate and nest, this time I want to gain understanding about Bob's parents who lived here all these years. Of course, I do need lots of breaks between unpacking and taking care of the family who has adopted me as their step-mom. If I didn't have a passion for fitness, I suppose it would be really tough to find myself again.

In a quest to find biking and running trails in this new community, I headed for the hills. Luckily the move brought me closer to my mother’s home, and to the heart of a beautiful lush neighborhood in the Saratoga foothills. Summertime is a little cooler at higher ground so I’ve made a habit of circling the tree-lined loop at Montalvo Arts Center at least once a week on my bike or when I’m doing a long run. I always thought of Montalvo as a jazz concert venue for artist's like Diana Krall, or a wedding venue for the wealthy. I've been there many times to enjoy the stunning Italian marble architecture, even to listen to a concert or two. The only reason for my visits this summer is to get back in shape! Montalvo Road is a steep grade to increase anyone's heart rate, and there is a little path next to the road so I can really push it with hill repeats--the most I've ever done is three in a row, enough to hopefully trim a pound. What I like about Montalvo's new image is the friendly "welcome" sign and air of accessibility. There are cars pulling in with families, coming up for a hike on the trails or checking kids into summer camps. The activities offered are affordable and high quality, the most appealing fare to me this summer is the "Starry, Starry Night" family stargazing slumber party on August 13--maybe we'll sign up for that.

Every ride or run up Montalvo Road I see artists working around the Don and Sally Lucas Artists Resident facility, so the other day I spoke to a gal in her mid-twenties as she climbed down from a tree. I could not imagine why an artist was climbing a ladder leaned against a giant Redwood, so I asked if she was a volunteer? "I'm a former artist fellow of the Lucas program, just installing the project proposal from my work here." She was embedding 1-inch round mirror tiles into the regularly-spaced knots on a very old tree, the light catching to create a sense of shimmer. She invited me to the Montalvo gala event next weekend, a free-to-the-public lawn party on July 23rd. Her work, and that of other Montalvo artists, will be on display outdoors in front of the center and indoors at the Carriage House. I asked the artist to send me some photos and video of her work to share, so stay tuned. Now she's moving on to find the next project--the artists continual search for stability. (After recently completing the book, "Girl in Hyacinth Blue," surmising Vermeer's struggle to provide for a family of thirteen, my passion for the Arts is renewed.)

Montalvo has become a nonprofit art mecca of the South Bay thanks to the generosity of Don and Sally Lucas, longtime Saratoga residents, philanthropists, and patrons of the arts, and others who have donated their time and money to keep this art center thriving. When James D. Phelan, San Francisco mayor and U.S. Senator, died in 1912 he generously gave 137 acres at Montalvo to Santa Clara County to be maintained as a public park. Regardless of the recent funding crises throughout towns, cities, and counties in this state, Montalvo continues to grow due to the well-managed and dedicated nonprofit staff and a steady volunteer workforce. What a gift Mr. Phelan gave to this community; the new Executive Director, Angela McConnell is determined to share it. She has a vision for Montalvo to make the Arts more accessible to all, and with her past success in fundraising and nonprofit management, my new favorite running and riding spot is bound to provide hours of workouts to escape among the Arts.

Do you have a passion for the Arts?

Try these cool good works ideas:

  • Offer to become a docent at a local art center or museum. This requires training and commitment, but perks usually include new friendships with like-minded people and possibly tickets to events.
  • Become an entry-level donor! You don't have to be a gazillionaire to be a philanthropist. Arts organizations are in dire need of our support in this economy, as overall donations have dropped. Small amounts by many donors work. My mom gives at basic levels to her favorite 5 or 6 institutions, and her entire family benefits. For instance, Bob and I attended a free outdoor jazz concert last night with yummy appetizers, thanks to Mom's gift to Los Gatos Arts and Music organization.
  • Become a dedicated patron, promote the Arts to your friends, skip the movies and attend a concert instead! For the same price of a substandard flick, you can see a chamber concert at Montalvo's Carriage House, or at Stanford Lively Arts venues. Remember Vermeer, Van Gogh, and other starving artists from history: It is the patrons who keep the artists in business.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Painting the Town Purple

My stepson Logan is a typical twelve-year-old boy with a good heart and sometimes with a tendency to get bored during the summer. Scout camp and hockey camp occupied his interests at the start of the break, but last week was more laid back with just one activity on his schedule. A dedicated sixth grade homeroom teacher has stayed in contact with her class via email to let them know about volunteer opportunities with the charity of their choice: the American Cancer Society. Early in the school year, each homeroom class at Redwood Middle School voted on a cause to support, with inspiration garnered from a school wide list of area charities. Logan's class narrowed their collective interests to three causes: Lucille Packard Children's Hospital, the local Humane Society chapter, and American Cancer Society. When the class took a vote, the Cancer Society won and Ms. Cornejo contacted their offices to find out what her class could do to help.

First, the students held a bake sale and made nearly $100 for the organization. Next, a cancer survivor from the community, Ms. Tomlin, visited the class with her real-life testimonial to promote understanding of the disease and to increase the students' desire to raise money and donate their good works
. According to Logan, this deeply affected him and his classmates and they became determined to do more, even if it took some time during the summer. Many children, like Logan, have a relative who has had cancer, so this is a cause close to their hearts.

When Ms. Cornejo sent out her group email a couple of weeks ago to come help "Paint the Town Purple," for Relay for Life, her students were engaged. Thirteen of them showed up with some parent chaperons to help tie ribbons on the trees along Big Basin Way for the upcoming Saratoga Relay for Life fundraising event at nearby Saint Andrews Episcopal Church July 24-25. The boys even did some "cold calling," walking into businesses to request a poster or brochure display and offering chocolates to express appreciation. Logan said it was a little scary going with his friends to approach business managers and owners, but a few of them were amenable and he felt a sense of accomplishment.

After dozens of purple ribbons were neatly tied, with Relay for Life posters and brochures distributed, the student teams with parents and dogs in tow headed to Yolatea for a frozen yogurt treat and some time to catch up and share vacation stories. Judging by these boys' smiles, the two-hour activity not only gave them an excuse to get together with friends over the summer; it gave them a sense of purpose and the knowledge that they too can make a difference!

Consider helping with publicity, attending the event, or sponsoring a walker.
  • Saratoga RFL is July 24-25 at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Saratoga, CA.
  • Palo Alto RFL is August 14-15 at Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, CA.
  • Check the website for details: