Art in Action Thrives Thanks to Bay Area Generosity and Passion for Art
Story and photos by Diane Andrews

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Art in Action Thrives Thanks to Bay Area Generosity and Passion for Art

It was either clever planning or unintended irony that the Art in Action 2017 fundraising gala took place in the heart of Silicon Valley at the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, on March 23. Art was added to STEM that night, creating STEAM at schools nationwide that subscribe to Art in Action programs for elementary through eighth grade students.

"This area is so focused on STEM [science, technology, engineering and math], we forget about the arts and what that means to life," said Lori Rhodes, Board of Directors co-chair. "California cut the heart out of arts. Our mission is to bring visual arts to every child and make people more aware of art."

"In this country, it seems that some Americans think art is only for the elite, but everybody needs art. Art is what makes you human. Art in Action is really art appreciation and being able to create," said Judy Sleeth, who founded Art in Action in the Bay Area in 1982. On May 21, Sleeth will receive a life-time achievement award from the nonprofit service organization Avenidas.

Art Visionary Award

It was an exciting night for the 400 generous art lovers who attended the Object: Art gala. World-renowned Lego brick artist Nathan Sawaya flew up from Los Angeles to receive the 2017 Art Visionary Award. Formerly a corporate lawyer in New York City, Sawaya is the first artist to elevate Lego bricks to a fine art form (www.brickartist.com).

"I'd come home from work and need a creative outlet," said Sawaya. "I'd paint and sculpt. Then one day I just thought about Legos from my childhood and started experimenting."

Once Sawaya began getting commissions for his creations it gave him the courage, in 2007, to quit his job. Today, the full-time brick artist has an inventory of six million bricks sorted by shape and color. He has exhibited on every continent but Antarctic and now has six exhibits on tour from Moscow to London to Portland.

"People can relate to this artwork because it's made out of a toy they have at home," said Sawaya.

Students Creating Art

Silent and live auction bidding on original artwork and experiences such as weekend retreats grossed $225,000 at the gala. Two Kandinsky-inspired watercolors painted collaboratively–outdoors on the premises that very evening–by seven young Art in Action students from Nativity Catholic School, Menlo Park, raised $2,000 at live auction.

The students are among the 70,000 children in 500 schools and organizations nationwide that participate in the nonprofit Art in Action programs, which are accessed online for a fee. Lessons are grade-level appropriate and sequenced. The goal is to bring art education to 250,000 students by 2021.

"Art is important for creativity and psychological development. It's about people finding their own voice, whether it's in visual arts or writing," said Foothill College English instructor Lesley Dauer, attending the gala with her mom, Anne Dauer. "[As a child] my art classes helped me figure out who I was."

There is an 80 percent retention rate once Art in Action (www.artinaction.org) is in a school. In Santa Clara, retired Briarwood Elementary School principal Anne McDermott returned to Briarwood as a volunteer to lead the Art in Action program.

"I knew that the students responded well to the program, and it gave them confidence and widened their own world view, so I decided this was the best way to give back," wrote McDermott in an email. "I wanted to let you know what an excellent program this is."

"We're fortunate in the Bay Area that Art in Action can do this outside of the public school system. People are here who appreciate the arts and can give generously to the arts," said supporter Bob Bastida. "This is grassroots. It depends on the goodwill of the people of this region who understand the benefit of art for children and how they grow."