Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - May 2, 2014

The Big Draw

Pianos on Main, chalk murals on Division: Downtown becomes an arts scene

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

The Big Draw arts festival is returning to downtown Pleasanton for the second year, beginning tomorrow when four colorful pianos are placed at spots up and down Main Street.

Don't be shy: Take a seat and tickle those ivories.

"Nobody can pass those babies by without playing," said Big Draw organizer Jill Vellinger with a laugh. "Those pianos were played from morning until night by people of all ages. Men in suits sitting down and playing. Little kids, parents, singles, everybody; you just can't pass a painted piano and not play it."

Two of the pianos were creatively painted last year by students at Hart and Pleasanton middle schools. The two others are newly decorated this year, one painted by Courtney Jacobs, a featured artist at Studio 7 Arts, and the other by students of Rekha Joshi, a private art teacher in Pleasanton.

A new feature this year at the Big Draw are 12 Poetry Chairs, which will be clustered around the pianos. Each chair features verse by a local poet, including the adult and teen poet laureates. The poems were interpreted by artists and painted onto the chairs.

"I'm excited about that because the Big Draw in a way is an evolution of the Poetry, Prose and Arts Festival," Vellinger said. "It's very hard to find ways for people to interact with poetry and literature, other than having them go off and read a book. We wanted to find ways people could come face to face with poetry and experience the emotions it generates."

Then from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 10, the Big Draw will take place in front of the Firehouse Arts Center and up Division Street to Main when chalk artists, professional and amateur, take to the asphalt to create their temporary masterpieces. The event is a fundraiser for Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council's Arts in the Schools Grants Program.

"Seeing it unfold, you're part of it," Vellinger said. "I think all the ways that the event was successful last year were the ways people got to participate in one way or another."

Vellinger said she was impressed last year not only by the chalk art done by the professionals but by how generous they were with their time.

"Cecilia Linayao would have little kids come into her area, and she'd be explaining what she was doing," Vellinger said. "Mark Wagner, who was doing a dragon, took time to help a girl who was an aspiring artist, and he recognized this in her. Another one near him was having trouble executing an idea and he helped her."

Besides the professional artists from out of town, businesses have sponsored local artists to create chalk art. On the day of the event, 2-foot-by-2-foot squares will be for sale for anyone to try their hand.

"Last year several people created a Mother's Day square and brought their mother by the next day to see it," Vellinger said. "We found that tons of people came and walked it on Sunday."

They sold all 22 squares at last year's event, she said, noting, "The nice thing about the street is you can add on."

Since there are no matinee performances scheduled at the Firehouse Arts Center that day, its doors will be thrown open for the public to enjoy the distinctive building, designed around Pleasanton's 1929 Fire Station No. 1, and its Harrington Art Gallery.

The gallery will have another new feature of this year's Big Draw, called Artful Bouquets, which is based on a popular fundraiser at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. Four local floral artists are going to create arrangements interpreting art works in the current exhibit, Fresh Works IV; gallery director Julie Finegan chose the works of art, and Vellinger assigned the designers.

"One picture — 'Squirrels Like to Sleep' — is hysterical," Vellinger said, adding that organizers hope the Artful Bouquets will help bring people into the gallery. "One of our objectives is to have people be more aware of the Firehouse and to use it and realize what a great find it is."

The Artful Bouquets will be on display at the gallery May 9-10.

Instead of repeating last year's tag sale in front of the Firehouse Arts Center, the shady area will be a place where people can relax a bit, Vellinger said. They can also keep an eye on the community chalk mural as it unfolds.

"Anybody can grab a piece of chalk," Vellinger said. "Of course there is a risk — even if you really feel you are creating a work of art, someone can create right on top of it."

Booths will provide what Vellinger called "Etsy on the street," referring to the popular website selling handmade items.

"Instead of having to look at a photo, you can see it and make sure it's what you want," she said. "Artists and artisans, fine arts and jewelry and different crafts. Nothing is going to break the bank. It's perfect to pick up gifts for Mother's Day."

There will be something for everyone at the Big Draw, Vellinger said, including live musical performances on Railroad Avenue.

"With some of performing arts, you can sing along or dance or whatever," Vellinger said.

She was also excited about two eighth-grade girls, Reya Shah and Mehda Prakesh, who are working on their silver badge for Girl Scouts and asked to set up an Indian cultural booth.

"It's going to be interactive," Vellinger explained. "They will have art work people can do, and they will be showing art from the different states of India. They will also be doing classical dance and Bollywood-style dance that everyone can join in."

The booth will feature henna painting for a charge, with profits going to the Big Draw.

Artist Debbie Wardrope will do a guided pastel project for children ages 8 and up from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Division Street. Participants will learn to color, create dimension and layer pastels to create shell paintings. The cost is $15, benefiting the Big Draw. Space is limited to 12.

Last year's Big Draw raised $6,000 for the schools, to enable students to experience professional demonstrations, performances and field trips that otherwise would not be possible. Vellinger hopes to raise the same amount, although she pointed out that this year's event will cost more because they were not able to receive the same grants, due to timing.

"PCAC is fronting the money," she said, "and the city is a huge supporter — it wouldn't happen without the city."

The success of last year's Big Draw, even with temperatures that climbed to 103 degrees, sparked PCAC's enthusiasm for this year, Vellinger said.

"It's very experiential, which leads to the success of the event. I always want to create more ways and opportunities to do things like that," she continued.

"As you go through the event, we will have lots of vendors also providing art activities or the opportunity to do things. There is always something to do or engage in."

They also found a way to include Pleasanton nonprofit groups, such as the Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation and the Valley Humane Society, by inviting them to work on the poetry chairs to express their mission.

"We will silent auction off the chairs and the money goes to Arts in Schools, but we will split it if they did it with another nonprofit," Vellinger said. "This is a great way to have people be aware of all these other organizations and a way for them to get involved and use art to communicate that."

The Big Draw is about art, temporary art and creating just for the joy of it, Vellinger said.

"The idea is providing ways for people who want to paint or want to draw but don't feel they are good enough for a gallery," she said. "This is a chance for them to create art and be seen by others."

The pianos painted by the middle schoolers, for example, will be repainted every other year.

"The thought is that rather than have them repainted now, we let the art get to have exposure two years in a row," Vellinger said. "The whole idea of temporary art is a unique idea and a hard one."

To learn more or to reserve a spot for the pastel art class, visit www.the-big-draw.com. And be sure to mark your calendars.

"We want to show that art is not a passive experience — the art will be seen, felt, touched, enjoyed," Vellinger said.

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