The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium "ART/CITY" on March 16, 2012. Participants have been invited to respond to the prompt “in relation to the arts and civic life, the question I am wrestling with right now is…” in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Mary Lou Breiman, retired educator and Berkeley resident.
This effort you are spearheading is one that is very important and, as we see in Berkeley to date, a real change agent.
First: PARKING. PARKING. PARKING. I have taken classes at the Crucible, Albany Adult School, Richmond Art Center and exhibited at Richmond Art Center. All have ample free parking. On the rare occasions I decide to go to Zellerbach, PARKING is my first and main concern. It is easier for me to go to SF on BART than to the UCB art gallery on Bancroft. I only live at Spruce and Eunice (approximately), but am 70 and will not walk the distance and certainly not at night when I can't even see the sidewalk. I worry whether there will be spaces for me to park in the Zellerbach parking structure. I took two classes at the Student Union - very poor classes - and paid $7 - $10 each time.
I get a parking ticket whenever I park in downtown Berkeley unless I park in a neighborhood, walk, and be very sure I'm back at my car in well before two hours. This is not conducive to spending much time losing myself in admiration and enjoyment of art, or in taking classes. I don't think I am alone. Therefore, let us consider expanding the arts into the neighborhoods where parking is free; and public transportation can't be much scantier than it is in Berkeley's hills. As far as I know, having taken classes at the Crucible and Richmond Art Center (RAC), attended exhibits and shows in North Oakland, read about the art going on in the old Oakland Veterans building for years, these out-of-downtown venues work. As far as I'm concerned, it is because of the availability of parking (I am 70 and distance and expense are considerations. Perhaps young people also have this problem.)
Let's agree that we cannot identify the great artists in their tender years; but they must at some time feel called, begin to learn their craft and refine their ideas. We can concur, also, as to how much and in how many ways regular art experience, whether instruction or appreciation (not just in classic art but in the current scene) helps children and young adults. If there is not agreement with this assumption, Google can provide references to studies that will be helpful in coming to a conclusion. No need to argue.
Naturally, obstacles to implementation will be encountered: you know that. This is not to be considered when planning. Obstacles are there to be overcome, and usually are, or ameliorated with persistence.
My specific proposal is that art centers be many and located in neighborhoods near schools - the more, the better - for after school or evening attendance. Three- or -more -room spaces can be found and "paid" for (perhaps with a tax deduction or grant or just permission) to offer visual art, music, dance, and exhibit spaces for the immediate community, staffed by volunteers with or without credentials (with someone trusted/bonded to open, supervise, and lock up the facility). Please don't think "Oh, we don't have appropriate spaces like this. We don't have the money. Once we say, "WE CAN'T, WE CAN'T." These spaces might be in somebody's house....change the regulations.
Try reaching out to the artists in Berkeley for volunteers in introducing aesthetics, techniques in painting, sculpture, origami, acting, dance, and exhibit the works of the students along with works of the teachers. As a student at RAC I have learned quite a bit from seeing my work in the same gallery as that of my teachers. It gives me a measuring stick, a standard. Even if a student copies the master, that is what must happen to develop technique while the ability to conceive and recognize a "form" develops over time with a little blessing. Children don't need constant upbeat comments. These are best in measured doses along with generous doses of generous role-models (think of baby ducks) and practice of their passion.
Each of these small, neighborhood places can be done one, a few, then many in sequence. Cheap once we've gotten through the legal hurdles.
Hoping everyone is feeling adventurous!