Unveiling 15 New Murals at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds
This year, the Santa Clara County Fair turns 75. To celebrate the big event, which starts today, the fairgrounds has commissioned fifteen local artists to create fifteen 20’ wide murals, each celebrating a town in Santa Clara County. I am honored to represent Los Altos! As a whole, we are retro folk, happy to retain our “small town” feel. Combined with top-notch schools, Los Altos is famous as “A great place to raise a family.” I wanted to capture the feeling of a carefree childhood in the mural. Our family is blessed to have an enormous pecan tree in our backyard. When we moved in 12 years ago, we attached a looooong rope swing. With a few strong pushes, the arc of the swing covers the entire width of the backyard. Since T.V. and junk food were banned in our house (I would have changed our last name to “Ingalls” to honor my ideal family from Little House on the Prairie if I could have), it was the big attraction of our house. Besides, what fun is a childhood that doesn’t involve risking life and limb for a thrill? I found a photo of Allie on the swing when she was about six years old. I layered that on top of a vintage “Lots for Sale” map of the city. When I showed my next-door neighbor, and longtime resident the design she said, “Where’s the apricots?” A Los Altos mural couldn’t completely represent our area without apricots!
The new fairground murals will become a permanent part of the space. The event runs through the weekend, and the daily schedule is here. Come for the animals, the music, and the murals. Tonight the entry fee is only 75¢. I will be hanging out in front of the mural tonight, Thursday 8/1, from 5:30-7 pm. Stop by and say hello!
My daughter Allie is now 15. The big smile persists but the rope swing has been replaced by a trampoline, which our danger bunny uses to perfect her gymnastics stunts. Allie and I recently spent a week together in Guatemala on a service trip organized through Dream Volunteers. During a video conference call shortly before we left, they let us know that on this trip volunteers would be working on laying the floor for a new classroom, so we would be shoveling dirt to level up the floor, and also mixing and spreading concrete. In a thinly veiled attempt to evade hard labor, I offered to paint a mural in the classroom. They were skeptical; I am probably not the first volunteer to make a fast calculation of the bugs, the heat and dirt in my lungs and offer myself up for an easier task. To help persuade them, I sent them to my website. They got back to me and said a classroom mural would be a wonderful addition to their new room.
In Vuelta Grande, a half hour drive from Antigua, nearly every female child stops going to school after sixth grade… if they make it that far. When girls stop going to school, they usually help with household chores, look after younger siblings or begin working as domestic servants, or are arranged to be married, starting families of their own at very young ages. We visited a typical home in Vuelta Grande and met Manuela, who gave us a “house tour”. Manuela didn’t receive and education and married young. She was warm and full of smiles, and a shy six-year-old daughter was wrapped around her leg, her fifth child. Her daughter stayed home alone when she went to work at a nearby orchard a few hours each morning, but Manuela said maybe next year she would send her daughter to school. Manuela’s kitchen was a windowless dirt floor hut with no running water, the air thick with smoke from the wood fire she tended all day long for cooking. The second structure had a mostly dirt floor and three mattresses for the family of 7. The new classroom Dream Volunteers built at the school sits in stark contrast to the primitive dwellings of the families that surround it. It is large and flooded with natural light, and features concrete floors, desks, schools supplies and now, the colorful mural. The physical environment can influence culture. In this case, to coax otherwise reticent parents to value education and send their kids to school. A beautiful, cared for space is a natural pull for children and parents alike.
Here is video footage of the classroom we worked on finishing during our time in Vuelta Grande. The artwork was inspired by a hand-stitched design on a traditional blouse. The Quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala. One of the two volcanoes featured in the mural is active, and the lava flows can be seen at night – from a distance.
Before Dream Volunteers became involved with education in the community, secondary education was not offered in the small hill town of Vuelta Grande. Paying for uniforms, books, tuition, and transportation for girls to go to secondary school in Antigua, a thirty minute drive, was a substantial hurdle for the families. Dream Volunteers provided scholarships for the school expenses, and arranged a bus to take the students there. They slowly recruited girls into the program. One graduate of the Young Dreamers School, Amarilis, went on a few afternoon outings with the volunteers, and I learned more about her story. She was raised in a primitive home to parents without formal education. She graduated from high school 2 years ago through a Dream Volunteers scholarship. She is now in the middle of her second year of law school, with a focus on women’s rights. Wow! What an accomplishment. But that’s not all: what Amarilis accomplishes is a singular data point for all the families who have girls younger than her, who are weighing whether to let their daughters receive an education or not. Her accomplishments inspire the other “young dreamers” to puruse their own dreams as well.
She is breaking new ground for her entire community. Her accomplishment, and similar stories of other young women I met, would not be possible without the efforts of Dream Volunteers.
Young Dreamers School in Antigua
We spent the last part of our trip at the Young Dreamers school in Antigua. They had a beautiful wall prepared for a mural. The Young Dreamers mural was completed by our five person crew in just seven hours!
Christian, the English teacher at the school, is a talented artist and wordsmith who came up with the words for the mural, “Tus sus suenos enriquezan a los míos…” which translates roughly as: “Your dreams enrich my own…”
If you are interested a service trip for your family or teenager, I highly recommend Dream Volunteers! They run trips in six different countries. Next summer Allie wants to go on the teen trip to Vietnam. My danger bunny is ready to travel without me. Sigh.
Educating Girls and Climate Change
A few months ago I watched a TED Talk by Greta Thunberg, a young climate change activist from Sweden. I was deeply moved by the urgency of her message. What I realized from her talk is that doing something (as opposed to occasional hand wringing followed by doing nothing) is a moral obligation, even if I am only selfishly motivated, because it will create a significant negative impact on the lives of my children and grandchildren. It is that immediate. Her talk was enough to transform me into a climate change activist. After a few weeks of panic, I have settled into a fired up soldier, ready to help the cause however I can.
I was surprised to learn in the book Drawdown, (edited by Paul Hawken, read it.) that out of 100 existing solutions to mitigate climate change, educating girls ranks as the sixth largest impact. If you combine educating girls with increased adoption of reproductive healthcare and family planning (they correlate closely), together they would create THE LARGEST potential carbon offset, by far. It turn outs that when girls receive a secondary education, it delays motherhood, lowers infant mortality, enables entire families to become more resilient to economic, medical and environmental calamity, and gives women more voice in family structure, including in number of children they will have. Educating girls in low and low-middle income countries should be a top priority if we want to slow climate change. It turns out it is also one of the least expensive solutions.
Back to the TED talk : I am so moved by this young activist’s urgent message, I would like to paint a Greta Thunberg mural somewhere in the Bay Area. I have found a sponsor, but have not yet found the right wall. If you know of a street-facing wall where I might be able to paint a mural of Greta, please let me know.
It’s been a big month of murals, of learning and teamwork. Thank you for reading this far, and letting me share everything I am excited about. I know it’s a lot! But wait, there is more…
In this interview I ask the San Jose Director of Public Art, Michael Ogilvie to ask, “How do you craft a successful public art program for one of the fastest growing cities in the country?” Listen and learn!
Juan Carlos Araujo, artist, owner of Empire Seven Studios, and coordinator of three Pow Wow mural festivals in San Jose, has the pulse on street art in San Jose. We dive into the complicated matter of making a living vs. art as community service, discuss all things Pow Wow, as well as the art of winning over mural skeptics.
I am super excited to share these interviews with you. Just like my murals, I feel like each effort, each episode gets better. These interviews are both honest and unpredictable. Let me know what you think!
See you at the fair tonight?