Plein Air paints for education
JULIO GURIERREZ, 12, left, rolls out some clay under the watchful eye of teacher Lisa Conner while Emily Stephens, 14, works on her art project.
Lisa Conner's classroom at Adele Harrison Middle School is stocked with colored markers, a variety of paints, brushes and plenty of drawing paper - all the things an art teacher would need. But she said none of those items would be available to her students without the support of the Plein Air Foundation.
"There's no money for supplies," she said, "Every single thing in my classroom comes from Plein Air."
The ninth annual Plein Air event kicks off on Monday, May 23, when 45 artists hand-selected by a panel of experts come to Sonoma for a week of painting and events in support of arts education. Thus far, the organization has raised nearly $500,000, which has been used for everything from bringing colorful murals to El Verano Elementary School to providing Valley youth free or affordable access to art classes at the Sonoma Community Center and the Arts Guild of Sonoma.
"We make sure everyone has access to arts," said Keith Wicks, one of the founders of the all-volunteer organization. "Whether they become artists or not, it's important they have access to it."
The teachers are charged with developing art programming they'd like to implement in the classroom. They submit a proposal to the foundation on what they'd like to do and how much they anticipate it costing, empowering the teachers to create interesting art opportunities that tie into their curriculum.
"(The teachers) decide how they want to implement that fund," said Louann Carlomagno, superintendent of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District. "There's definitely a lot of flexibility for them."
The program has been specifically beneficial in the elementary schools, where the district does not have the money to fund any regular art education. Plein Air has brought visiting artists, funded murals and done other art offerings at five of the public elementary schools.
"Especially at the elementary level, the Plein Air funding has been a critical element for art education," Carlomagno said.
The organization has also been integral in providing materials at the middle and high school levels, including Creekside and Gateway school. Conner said at the high school level, the district can only afford around $2 a student in art education, so the added support is necessary for a thriving program.
"The district is very supportive of paying salaries (for art teachers)," Conner said, "For some of these kids, this is their only exposure to art."
More than 300 artists applied for the chance to come paint Sonoma during Plein Air this week. The painters are each given ample time to explore the county, capturing rolling hills of vineyards, small-town life or the crashing waves of the coast as quickly as possible before the light changes.
Each artist produces between 10 and 15 works during the week, which are all put on sale, with 60 percent of the proceeds retained by the artist and 40 percent given to the foundation for art education.
Other highlights of the week include the Quick Draw planned for Tuesday, May 24. During this event, all of the artists descend on the Plaza and pick a place to paint from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., as community members look on during the Tuesday night farmers market. At 7:30 p.m., the pieces are all taken to Charles Creek Winery where they will be on sale for the community.
"You can practically buy it right off the easel," Wick said.
The most luxurious event of the week comes during the gala on Friday. The sold-out event takes place at Cline Cellars, where a unique art-themed auction includes lunch and a tour at Pixar Animation Studios with Art Director Bill Cone or a piece of commissioned art by the artist of the buyer's choice. Art lovers such as Les and Judy Vadasz and John and Nancy Lasseter come out each year to add to their collections and give back to arts education.
"They're some of our biggest collectors. They know every piece they buy is supporting art in schools," Wicks said.
All of the work created during the week can be seen and purchased during the Art Exhibition and Sale on Saturday, May 28, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the Plaza. During the daylong event, attendees can meet the artists, watch painting demonstrations and see the wide variety of work. Live music and art activities for kids round out the day.
"Every single piece they see on Saturday, didn't exist on Monday," Wicks said.
For more information on Plein Air, visit www.sonomapleinair.com.