When you invite the world to your door, expect traffic

Amgen 2015, courtesy of up and coming media star Austin Dave of Signal Multimedia
Amgen 2015, courtesy of up and coming media star Austin Dave of Signal Multimedia

I live in a pretty cool place in California. I have everything I need, a constantly-changing variety of new things to experience and opportunities to expand my horizons. Until my beach house becomes a reality, this is where I’m going to work on the butt grooves of my writing chair.

When my sweetheart first talked me into visiting this little berg, there were hitching posts in the downtown area. Seriously. For horses. They became central to my argument against settling here, but lucky for me, my sweetie was more persuasive. The hitching posts were removed shortly after we bought our house and I began to appreciate my new surroundings.

In a move dripping with irony, a couple of decades after putting down roots here, I served on a civic committee that worked to put hitching posts back into the downtown area, this time to attract tourists. Not that we tie them up there, but to make people remember when we had them for horses.

Our area attracts a lot of different people, activities and special events. We host a generous visitation of singing cowboys and cowgirls every spring, our aquatic center accommodates Olympic-style competitions, there is an annual PowWow that teaches us about Native Americans and our Fourth of July parade is passionately patriotic. We have a performing arts center that attracts some amazing entertainers and I can guarantee that you’ve seen our city in commercials, TV shows and movies.

My lovely daughter, Casey, writing a tribute to our dear friend Shirley Joyce. This was when Lance was still Live Strong...
My lovely daughter, Casey, writing a tribute to our dear friend Shirley Joyce. This was when Lance was still Live Strong…

One of the events we hold here is the Amgen Tour of California. It’s a world-class cycling event that attracts a following of visitors eager to watch the colorful blur go by and drink in some of the excitement that accompanies the race. I’m the kind of cycling fan you could classify as “curious” – I’ve seen the race several times and covered it as a reporter a few times as well. It’s not my cup of tea, but variety is the spice of life and I appreciate that my city officials invite the cyclists to zip through town for those who do enjoy the sport.

In other words, it’s not all about me.

Cycling is a sport with incredible health benefits. Their cardio is off the charts, spandex sales are expanding and it’s a great way to get outdoors and enjoy the scenery. Coming out of their cubicles or homes to watch the riders might be the only time some people get out for some fresh air. And it is awe-inspiring to see how these riders are disciplined and dedicated to their sport. Today, they rode in the rain, a special event in and of itself in this parched state of California.

Why would anyone complain about this world-class, put-us-on-the-map, exercise-inspiring event coming to town?

Sadly, social media – and in the past, letters to the editors of various media outlets – have been flooded with people who were slightly inconvenienced by traffic because roads were temporarily blocked to accommodate the race. You would think we were forcing them to sit naked in a puddle of toxic waste the way some of them bitched and moaned. Some claimed to have been delayed HOURS (I call bullshit on that one), their children scarred for life because they failed to plan an alternate route. Some people were mystified as to the reason for the snarled traffic – despite the city’s extensive efforts to publicize the closures (seriously, I’ve seen it everywhere).

In other words, some people truly believe it is all about them.

I am convinced blinders have been handed out at every Starbucks (the only place or event that is universally known) that keeps people from being aware of their surroundings. The phrase “I never knew” seems to be the mantra. Ignorance seems to be epidemic, but most of the victims are Teflon. I know we’re a busy community, but seriously?

Think of how boring life would be if our routines were never disrupted, the ennui of daily life a never-changing horizon. Do people really want that? And I suspect that some – if not most – of the complainers have been part of a traffic problem themselves at a different time. (School drop-off, or Target parking lot during the holidays, anyone?) Some people just love to be miserable or as my mom used to say “you’d complain if someone hung you with a new rope.”

Don’t worry, it didn’t make sense then either, but it does offer perspective.

All these complainers seem to forget that they enjoy the benefits of what our municipal agencies provide. Sadly, a sense of entitlement oozes out of doorways and comprises the exhaust of their vehicles that fight over parking spaces at the mall, clouding their ability to see that what pays for our more than adequate public safety, professional city staff, abundance of parks and well-maintained roads might just be those “events” that are such an inconvenience.

Did anyone notice that those cyclists attracted hundreds of spectators? Are they all locals? No. Many of them – including some of the competitors who are sleeping here overnight – are visitors who are spending money on hotels, restaurants, souvenirs and other ways of investing in OUR local economy. We benefit from that, every complainer and fan alike.

That investment comes back to our city in its ability to finance a better quality of life that everyone takes for granted and –perhaps to a greater measure – enriches the cultural atmosphere that we all enjoy. Anyone like sports? Performing arts? History? Youth activities? Supporting worthy charities? (Heads up, people, the second largest Relay for Life in the state will take place at Central Park this weekend. It might affect traffic, but I’ll take the delay if it offers hope and help in the fight against cancer). It’s the circle of life (Amgen pun intended) on a fiscal plain.

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The two people on the left have attended every Amgen Tour; Parks Commissioner Duane Harte who is a real man of the people and cares about every event the city sponsors and Cathy Martin, who has actually traveled to FRANCE and invested in their economy to ride along with and watch the Tour de France. They’re hanging out with some itinerant reporter and alleged VIP

 

And for those of you who notice that I have not named my beloved city, it was on purpose. These blinders are typical in many communities. I’m encouraging people all over the country to get out and appreciate the beauty around us every day. Even if we’re sitting in stopped traffic, we can notice birds or flowers, or people on the street, new businesses opening or restaurants we’d like to try. It’s much healthier to set an example of gratitude than entitlement.

 

Shaping the art and soul of my community

“Bit by bit, putting it together…
Piece by piece, only way to make a work of art.
Every moment makes a contribution, every little detail plays a part.
Having just a vision’s no solution, everything depends on execution:
Putting it together – that’s what counts!”

sculpture CCP Madeline WienerSondheim. What a wordsmith. And any actor who’s done a Sondheim piece knows the unique meter of his words – as I read the lyrics above (“Putting It Together” from “Sunday In the Park With George”), I did it note for note (Sondheim fans will get the joke).

OK, enough about writing for the micro-audience. I’m on a much bigger mission here.

I want you to think about art.

What does that word say to you? A picture on the wall? A sculpture? A song? A live stage drama? An interpretive dance? A humorous blog?

Now let’s take it a step further. What does art do for you? Inspire? Calm? Recharge? Provide an escape? Amuse?

Let’s all agree that art has an effect on every soul it touches. Books have saved lives, songs have captured moments and emotions, cartoons have expressed political rebellion, dance has given us grace, portraits have invited compliments. All have prompted thought and conversation.

Now let’s visit a much darker scene.

We could be living in a place devoid of art.

Mural Aquatic Bob HernandezTheaters could go dark. No stages would mean no dances or recitals. Roundabouts would be flat. Walls would be boring. And the only singing might be the occasional National Anthem, a beautiful song, but not to replace the wide variety of music we’re used to.

There are those among us who believe every penny of municipal money should be spent on public services they consider important, such as streets, housing, traffic, infrastructure and taking care of the poor. All noble services.

But what the blinder-wearing critics don’t see is that all of those services benefit from an art component.

When you’re driving down the freeway, do you notice the subtle patterns stamped into the concrete sound walls? You can tell where you are depending on the art. And housing? We paint buildings different colors, but a splash of something nontraditional really catches the eye and lifts spirits. Infrastructure? Doesn’t that mean a foundation for the best quality of life we can get? And stewardship for those less fortunate should be a given, from not just city sources but from our own pockets, to make sure everyone has a place to life and food to eat. Sometimes art is the only bright light for those struggling to get through life.

But an equal responsibility for all of us, and most of all, our leaders is to also support the aesthetics of our community. Sculptures at the trailheads. Murals in the downtown gathering places. Music at every assembly. Colors and sounds, emoting and creating is essential to human growth and nurturing everywhere.

Southern HotelWhat many fail to see is that in the tangled web of municipal finance, arts funding is very small, but traditionally spent to get the best benefit for all. It’s also funding that doesn’t impact other funding – money spent on art doesn’t deprive roads or food pantries or senior programs. And if the funds come from grants, they may be restricted only to arts and are not available for those other purposes.

Now you may not think that those voices can influence the decision makers, especially if they are small in number.

Wrong. They killed the art in the Newhall roundabout.

Short-sightedness like theirs makes arts administrators cringe when a creative, locally-sourced project is killed because of squeaky wheels and not the project’s merits.

Artists of all disciplines are not without fault. They did not fill the Council chambers to stand up for their fellow creatives.

Lucky for us, we have a second chance. The Santa Clarita City Council has brought a consultant aboard to assess the arts picture (pun intended) and listen to the people express what they want to see in our city. All of the people, squeaky wheels, starving artists, creative musicians, enlightened painters, singers, dancers, actors, comedians, poets and artistic types. Everyone.

“Small amounts, adding up to make a work of art.
First of all you need a good foundation, otherwise it’s risky from the start.
Takes a little cocktail conversation, but without the proper preparation,
Having just a vision’s no solution, everything depends on execution.
The art of making art – is putting it together
Bit by bit…”

There are two ways you can add your voice to support the arts – express your opinions by taking the survey online at this link: http://arts.santa-clarita.com/arts-master-plan/

It doesn’t take long and offers the opportunity to add ideas that may not be listed in the options. Most of all, it will give you a chance to say if you want more art, less art, where you want the art, how you want to experience it, and what art you appreciate now.

This would be a good time to remind you that there are several nonprofit arts groups in existence that give of their hearts and souls to make Santa Clarita an artistic place. A few that come to mind – the Canyon Theatre Guild, the Santa Clarita Master Chorale, the Santa Clarita Artists Association, the Santa Clarita Concert Band, ARTree, the Santa Clarita Symphony, the Santa Clarita Shakespeare Festival, the Repertory East Playhouse, the Santa Clarita Youth Orchestra……well, I promised a few, but there are many more, trust me. Many of them don’t get paid to create their art and do it out of passion and the desire to make their community a better place.

The other thing you can do is come to the Arts Summit (again, info at http://arts.santa-clarita.com/arts-master-plan/), it’s on Monday, April 6 at the Activities Center (above the Aquatics Center on Centre Pointe Parkway) from 6:30 to 8. There will be a panel discussion and breakout groups to narrow down what is important to all. It’s a one-night, short time commitment to improve the arts outlook for our future – and the future of our children, grandchildren and visitors.

Oh yeah, tourism helps pay for some of those essential services too – so let’s make sure there’s some culture for people passing through and stopping for a day or two.

Join me and do something to make sure we’re not living in boring beige concrete canyons, please?

And thank you for reading while I express myself artistically.

“The art of making art is putting it together” (jazz hands)

Above: art commissioned by the City of Santa Clarita. Girl and dog sculpture at Canyon Country Park by Madeline Wiener, Aquatics Center mural by Bob Hernandez, Old Town Newhall mural by Frank Rock