Art of protest
Four local artist/activists launch the Decimation of the Public Education System art show
Amy Hines’ canvases for Sol Collective’s new art show feature illustrations of children, literally painted over a school district’s budget. “Artists have historically been the conscience of society,” said Hines about her newly created work. “Now is our time to be that conscience for California’s budgetary priorities.”
Hines’ creation is part of the Decimation of the Public Education System art show that opened at the Sacramento art center on Mother’s Day to raise awareness about state government budget cuts to public schools. Four local women, Cathy Hackett, Deena Karagaines, Hines and Jenny Berg organized the artist/activist exhibition.
Indeed, the situation is grim for the state’s public schools.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell reports that 22,000 classroom teachers and support staff throughout the state have received layoff notices due to budget cuts in 2010. These notices came after more than 16,000 teachers lost their jobs last year. Further, about 10,000 classified schoolworkers were laid off in the past few budget years.
Back at the Sol Collective, the 22 pieces of art, framed and mounted, spoke of local people’s lives at public schools.
Deena Karagaines is an artist and mother of an infant and toddler. Her black-and-white and color photos show scenes at Garfield Elementary School in Carmichael. “What struck me was that this is a great elementary school, full of life, with children playing,” she said. However, Garfield, in the San Juan Unified School District, is slated for closure next month.
Hackett created “Save Publication Education,” made of acrylic, ink tissue paper and watercolor. “I believe working people should protest so our voice is heard,” she said.
Berg’s medium is newsprint and pencils for her “Barriers.” According to Berg, “Children need opportunities and resources that will allow them to flourish and grow.”
Kenya Michelle, a student at the Regency Park Elementary School in Sacramento, agrees. Her “Help Us Grow Our Public Education System; Help Us Continue to Grow” features oil pastel on poster board. Emma Thompson, a student at the Chavez Elementary School in Davis, titled her art in marker on poster board: “Even If the State’s Funding Is Having a Rainy Day, My School Should Be the Rainbow.”
On Friday, May 14, at 8 p.m., the art exhibition will serve as a backdrop to a global music deejay set at the Sol Collective. Bistro 33 and Logos Books in Davis will co-host the exhibition on May 25.
The exhibition is ongoing, with new art arriving continually. On June 16, Hines and others will enter the state Capitol with selected art to share with lawmakers, even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“This will not be the traditional high-level lobbying,” Hines said. She and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, vice chair, Region 2, of the Chicano Latino Caucus of the California Democratic Party, have singled out lawmakers to share the public art with to stress the human impacts of more education cutbacks.
By then, things will be heating up under the Capitol dome to balance the California budget, which the state constitution requires.
The idea of gathering and sharing people’s art with California’s elected officials to convey the urgency of fully funding public schools dawned on Hines in February as she listened to a National Public Radio report on the dismal budget picture for education. Later, she, Hackett and Karagaines, who know each other from working in public-sector labor unions, tapped Berg, a friend, to join the public-art effort.
Still, the gap between California’s expenditures and tax revenues grew in April, according to California State Controller John Chiang. So no one doubts that the artists’ cause faces an uphill battle.