In 2002, local artist Keith Wicks and philanthropist Judy Vadasz founded the Sonoma Plein Air Foundation to address the lack of public school funding in the visual arts. Fourteen years later, the Sonoma Plein Air Foundation has surpassed $1 million in funds raised for public schools and nonprofit arts organizations that serve the Sonoma Valley.
“I love what Sonoma Plein Air does for the community and the schools, for the children and educators of the Valley,” said Louann Carlomagno, superintendent of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District and Plein Air Foundation boardmember.
Each school in the district, which serves over 2,800 students, benefits from the work of the foundation. Every year, schools apply for specific grants to support art programs. For example, El Verano School has dedicated Sonoma Plein Air funds to art projects that support the educational and community goals of the 450-student elementary school, which serves a high percentage of English language learners.
“The vision and generosity of the Sonoma Valley community regarding art allows us to offer programs to students who would otherwise not be able to participate in art programs,” said Maite Itturi, principal of El Verano. “Art doesn’t require language to communicate. It offers the opportunity for students to express themselves a manner that doesn’t require a command of the English language, yet offers the chance to be heard.”
Among the projects at El Verano is the creation of a street mural in the school driveway. Itturi met with 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin and representatives from Safe Routes to School, Health and Human Services and Sonoma County Transportation to discuss ways to slow down traffic in the neighborhood and create a sense of community through the creation of public art.
“Our goal is to eventually paint murals on the intersections throughout the El Verano neighborhood. This project supports our transition to a community school model as we collaborate with more agencies and neighbors in our community,” said Itturi.
Another project at El Verano is an inspiring outdoor art installation using paint sticks. Each child in the school and many parents painted a stick and wrote a wish for the future. It is installed over the picnic tables where children eat their lunch.
For the 2015-16 school year, which ends in June, the Sonoma Plein Air Foundation provided $82,000 in regular grants and $13,000 in mini-grants to Sonoma Valley public schools.
The Sonoma Valley Community Center, Art Escape, the Arts Guild and the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art were awarded a total of $40,765 in grants in 2016.
The Sonoma Plein Air Foundation raises funds through the Sonoma Plein Air Festival, held each September. The 14th annual Plein Air Festival takes place this year Sept. 5 to 10. The festival includes five days of open-air painting throughout the Valley and beyond by 38 nationally-known artists; a Quick Draw demonstration and sale at the Tuesday Farmer’s Market in the Plaza (Sept. 6); a donor’s gala and auction (Sept. 9); and the grand finale – a Saturday community festival on the Plaza (Sept. 10), featuring the exhibition and sale of the artists work with 40 percent of the proceeds donated to support art education in Sonoma Valley public schools and community arts programs.