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Say Yes to Art 

Oil spills forth in Mexico's Gulf -- Happy Earth Day! -- less than a month after President Obama pitched more offshore oil drilling (Sarah Palin says, "Don't give up on drilling! It's akin to man's race to the moon!"). Oklahoma's new anti-abortion laws make Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale seem like a lark. In related bad news, Arcata High School's excellent Pepperbox reports on the proliferation of a video game simulating the rape of a schoolgirl and her family -- fun times! Meanwhile, Arizona thinks everyone who isn't clearly of Caucasian descent -- you know, obviously American! -- should carry papers confirming their legal existence on United States soil. Not that it's racist or anything. I'm sure they're keeping a sharp eye out for all those illegal Kiwis, too. And for some reason, Breast Cancer research proponents have teamed up with KFC in mind-blowingly oxymoronic fashion to push dyed-and-fried pink chicken parts as some sort of fundraising gimmick. Closer to home, several political races continue to bring out the worst in people, lowering the bar on just how far unsavory discourse can sink when unchecked by such trivialities as identity and fact.

With all this rampant environmental destruction, misogyny, racism and just plain stunningly poor form choices going on in the world, is focusing on art even ethical, much less worth the bother?

I'm going to take a deep breath and say, "Yes." Now more than ever, we must pay attention to art -- otherwise the terrorists have won! (If you consider promoting violence against women, Latinos and the environment "terrorism.") In any case, art remains important, if for no other reason than artists provide ways to make sense of the world, while often adding beauty to what seems a dark and ugly age.

Coming up, several chances to discover art and artists on a large scale.

First, the fourth annual Arcata Walks sculpture walk takes place Friday, May 14, at 4 p.m. with tour guides leading a walking tour of permanent art installations throughout the city. An informal group of Arcata residents, "The Arts Arbor Arcata Committee," have continued to place sculptures throughout areas heavily used by the public. The project began when Mary Gearheart and current Arcata Mayor Alex Stillman initiated landscaping improvements on the area's roundabouts and bulb-outs, along with cooperation from the City of Arcata and Caltrans.

By May 2007 three public sculptures were installed with the work of Sierra Pahl, Jimmy Nord and Vico (who would go on to kick-start the Humboldt Arts Project). Additional works by Chris Kieselhorst, Hollie Dilley and Toni Moss have been added, with a total of 11 sculptures installed throughout Arcata by 2010.

Each year artists have submitted designs to a volunteer panel of professional artists comprised of professors of art from College of the Redwoods or Humboldt State University, who in turn decide which work will enrich the lives of Arcata's guests and inhabitants. The project is meant to inspire and enrich the lives of residents, as well as visitors, said Vico, who is organizing this year's walk -- a reflection of his own philosophy on inspiring the masses with art. "I want to create art that not only resonates within me but that also connects with the community."

Arcata Walks sculpture walk will begin on the west side of the Arcata Transit Center. Maps will be provided there and can also be found at arcatawalks.com.

The following day and through the weekend, Arcata will further light up with music, dance and art, plus food and libations during the first Humboldt Arts Festival, sponsored in part by the Humboldt Arts Project and Arcata Main Street. The festival starts at noon Saturday, May 15, and continues Sunday at locations centered around 10th and I streets. Since many off-Plaza businesses often go unnoticed during popular Plaza events, they look forward to the spotlight, according to Arcata's mayor. "There are so many wonderful eateries and businesses within Arcata, many of them not directly on the Plaza," Stillman said.

The main stage and sculpture garden installation will be in the Ace Hardware parking lot. The five gallery venues involved include the newly opened Robert Goodman Good Taste wine tasting room on 10th and I streets, Ironside Gallery, The Scoop, Humboldt Brews and Jambalaya. Vendors include Namaste Glass, Amy Lou Handbags, Hands on Crafts and the North Coast Metal Arts Guild. Performers include DJ Dub Cowboy, Courtney Weaver, The Bucky Walters, Strix Vega, SambAmore, Samba Na' Chuva, and New World Ballet, with West African Dance, WoMama, St. John and the Sinners, fire spinners and Shea Freelove's "Something Different" providing the grand finale. Full details at humboldtartsfestival.com.

Continuing the celebration of all things Humboldt art, North Coast Open Studios takes place two Saturdays and Sundays, June 5 and 6 and 12 and 13. Most studios are open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. both days.

North Coast Open Studios was founded in 1998 by two local artists, Sasha Pepper and Susan Fox. (Personal aside: I had Sasha Pepper as an instructor at CR's general ed arts course. She helped me learn to use charcoal; I still cherish my drawing of a peach from those days. Making art is fun!) Pepper had been involved in open studios events in the big city and wanted to shine a similar spotlight on Humboldt County's artists -- who immediately signed on to make it happen. Since then, North Coast Open Studios has grown from 45 participants to more than 100 Humboldt County artists from Trinidad to Redway and most places in between.

The two best things about Open Studios are: 1) the chance to see real, live, working artists in their native habitats; and, 2) the opportunity to buy great art for less than you'd pay in a gallery.

It's a good time to support art. For what else suggests anything we do is of value? Certainly not the political climate. Definitely not the shrugging off of yet one more environmental catastrophe. Art offers catharsis in an era of sensory overload. Seek it.

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Jennifer Savage

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