Arts Council well-received at Women's Conference
Minerva quilts from Alameda County Juvenile Justice detainees, photos from Venice Arts gain praise from Conference attendees, organizers
The California Arts Council participated in the Women's Conference in Long Beach at the end of October, and did something a little differently this year. Rather than simply talking about the good work the agency's grantees are doing in California, the Arts Council showed off work from Alameda County's Juvenile Justice Center's arts program and Venice Arts' youth photography, and last year's California Poetry Out Loud winner opened the program.
Over 15,000 people -- mostly women -- attended the conference this year at the Long Beach convention center. Organized and sponsored by First Lady Maria Shriver and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the conference featured a host of speakers who impact the world through their work: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, CNN's Christiane Amanpour, musician and Africa-supporter Bono, and dozens of others. The theme of the event is Minerva, the Roman goddess portrayed on the California State Seal, and a handful of women are granted Minerva Awards each year because of their contributions to society through service. The California Arts Council attends each year and Arts Council staff display materials and answer questions in the staff booth as the thousands of attendees stroll through the auditorium.
This year, under the guidance of California Arts Council members Bill Turner, Malissa Feruzzi Shriver and Karen Skelton, the Arts Council's outreach during the conference went a step further: the agency was able to show the work done by California Arts Council grantees. The Alameda County Arts Commission, in its work with the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center, utilized an ongoing arts program for youth detainees and created an arts project centered on the Minerva theme.
Alameda County Arts Commission director Rachel Osajima worked with artist Marion Coleman, a teaching artist who works with Justice Center's detainees on a regular basis, often with textile-art projects. Coleman led female detainees in a visual arts project that utilized both the qualities of Minerva -- courage, strength and wisdom -- and the image of Minerva.
The results were a series of 20 stunning "Minerva quilts" that gained the attention of Conference organizers and attendees alike. Eight were on display in the California Arts Council booth, and the remaining ones hung in "The Village," a social area of tables set up for attendees during break-time.
Also on display in the California Arts Council booth were photos taken by youth and others from Venice Arts, a community nonprofit in Los Angeles County that focuses on multi-media instruction and arts for under-served communities. The photos expressed not only the youths' particular moods and impressions of the world, but also their keen artistic viewpoint and talent.
Volunteers for the California Music Project -- a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to music education in California and currently under the guidance of former California Arts Council chair Barbara George -- were also on hand to explain the importance of music for children, ongoing instruction for music teachers, and the organization's mission in California.
The Minerva Quilts gained praise and interest in the craft. Like a traditional quilting bee, in which everyone works collaboratively, the girls completed their own designs and conducted the "piecing" (the attachment of the top layer of fabric) while Coleman completed the "quilting" (the sewing through of the top layer, the internal batting and the back panel). During the three weeks in which this project was conducted, over 40 girls participated. Over the course of the project, some girls worked in teams to embellish the artwork initially designed and pieced together by others in the program. Rachel Osajima, director of the Alameda County Arts Commission, also created a short video explaining the project.
The Minerva quilts -- and the story behind their creation by the Juvenile Justice detainees -- were incorporated into a running multi-media program that was presented on the massive overhead screens at the Conference between speakers, along with quotes from girls who participated in the project. Their presentation so impressed the Conference organizers that digital images of the quilts (sans quotes) were used as the artistic backdrop during the Minerva Awards for Betty Chinn (homeless advocate), Billy Jean King (women's tennis pioneer), Gloria Steinem (feminist activist), Ivelise Markovits (foster-child advocate) and Louise Hay (AIDS-support advocate).
Another California Arts Council program was highlighted at the conference: the Poetry Out Loud initiative, a recitation competition that encourages presentation and literary skills for high school students. The 2008 California Poetry Out Loud champion, Roshawnda Bettencourt, opened the conference on the evening of October 21. While students competing in Poetry Out Loud recite classical poetry, Roshawnda was asked to present some of her own poetry -- an appropriate opening, given that Minerva is also the goddess of poetry.
The impact of the Minerva quilts, the Venice Arts photography, the California Music project's mission, Roshawnda's moving poetry, and the California Arts Council in general were not lost on conference attendees. Hundreds of onlookers stopped by the California Arts Council booth to see the artwork up close and hear the story behind its creation, the work that the arts organizations do for youth and the community, and to discuss the arts and the California Arts Council with staff and council members.
In addition to Turner and Feruzzi Shriver, new Councilmember Susan Steinhauser worked for hours in the booth and provided information to dozens (if not hundreds) of conference attendees. Councilmember Charmaine Jefferson and artist Jillian Kogan (creator of the California Imagination image from this year's California Arts Day) also greeted the public.
Below are some of the quotes from the girls who participated in the Minerva project at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice facility.
This was my first experience creating this type of art. Before this project, I was never interested in art because I do not know how to draw, but I have learned that art is not always about drawing. It also has to do with sewing, stenciling and other things. I really enjoyed it. -- Brenda, Age 15
I liked the ideas. It was a cool experience. It helped me to learn how to be a strong woman. -- Precious, Age 17
I enjoyed everything because it keeps me occupied and brings some kind of joy into such an ugly situation. Thank you very much. -- Vanessa, Age 17
I loved the Minerva project. I have accomplished something. I have learned that art is important, whether one is experienced or inexperienced, everyone is capable of creating art. -- Jenaeya , Age 17
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For more information on the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center and other arts programs in Alameda County, contact executive director Rachel Osajima at 510-208-9646 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For Venice Arts, call 310.578.1745. And for any other information from this article, contact Mary Beth Barber, California Arts Council communications director, at 916-322-6588 or email@example.com.