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Your weekend: A big-hearted birthday bash

Submitted by on 1, May 27, 2010 – 4:50 am2 Comments

By Heather Lyn Wood

Memorial Day weekend in Alameda is always celebratory, but this year, it will be a little sweeter. On May 29, Rhythmix Cultural Works will host a night of live music, gourmet dessert and original art for the price of a movie ticket. Tara Evans, an Alameda resident and craftsperson, is throwing the “dessert fest” to raise money for the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland.

Evans had initially planned on a quiet dinner at Gaspare’s restaurant in San Francisco to celebrate her 40th birthday. Then she had a unique idea: throw a public “birthday” party, ask for a small donation at the door, and send the proceeds to her favorite worthy cause.

The Creative Growth Art Center (CGAC) is a learning center for local artists with developmental and physical disabilities. It provides instruction for over 120 students in drawing, painting, ceramics, wood, fiber arts, printmaking, photography and life skills. Pieces by Center artists can be found in private collections and museums worldwide, and some have garnered international media attention.

For almost twenty years, Judith Scott used the large, professional art studio to make cocoonlike sculptures by wrapping objects in layers of multicolored yarn. Scott, who was deaf and had Down syndrome, created a voluminous body of fiber art in the Center’s supportive environment and was profiled in the award-winning documentary “Outsider: The Life and Art of Judith Scott.” Her work is being shown at the American Folk Art Museum in New York.

Despite notable successes such as Scott’s, the Center is not about commercial success. Its goal is to empower people to thrive and create in an atmosphere of equality. “There’s a visible difference in the way the people carry themselves once they step into the building. They know that this is a place where they are really respected,” Evans said.

Several of the artists’ creations can be found in Evans’ Alameda home, including a block print of a five-legged elephant and a bug-eyed turtle sculpture. “I’ve loved the art ever since I first visited the Center,” she mused. “There is just a joyousness about art made by artists who don’t really care what other people think.”

Evans chose Rhythmix Cultural Works to host the benefit because of its comfortable atmosphere, large exhibition space, accessibility, and because the venue “fits so well with our theme.”

Evans had never single-handedly orchestrated an event on this scale, and did not have the luxury of an unlimited budget. What she did have was a strong social network and a vision of people gathering to enjoy great food and beautiful art.

She started by asking each of her artist friends to donate one piece of art to be sold at the benefit. Soon her list of donors grew to include acquaintances and generous strangers. Nationally acclaimed punk artist Winston Smith donated one of the collage sculptures for which he is famous. Olivier Bonin, director of the Burning Man documentary “Dust and Illusions,” donated tickets to a screening. Last Gasp, a local, historic publisher of underground comics, pitched in with books.

Evans is excited that her benefit will feature work by well-known artists from across the country. However, she is just as grateful for the generosity of the many part-time artists, hobby artists, craftspeople, musicians and business owners who have volunteered their creations and time.

“Sometimes when you have a cooperative effort, people just start joining in. I have watercolors, photographs, potted plants, tiles, sculptures,” she said. “One painter in Alameda saw my post on Craigslist and gave me three paintings!”

Raffle prizes will include stays at the Westin St. Francis in Union Square and the Andiron Seaside Inn and Cabins near Mendocino.

All of the donated art will be sold at prices from $10 to $200. Evans wants to cultivate a no-pressure atmosphere: No stuffy art auction, no astronomical prices, and no requests for extra donations. “I am not a wealthy person throwing a caviar party,” she explained. “I am a regular person with friends in the art community who are coordinating their resources and efforts to create a fabulous event for a great cause.”

She stresses that the main purpose of the event is to eat dessert and have fun. To make her point, she has invited the Bay Area “Pie Extremist Group,” a social club which meets in various locations throughout the Bay to eat pie. (These self-described “revolutionary Pie worshippers” will be in attendance with samples of their favorite dish, which they call “the ultimate expression of the divine.”) Beverages will be provided by Ritual Coffee Roasters and Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden.

Evans hopes that Alamedans will come out to support CGAC’s unique artists and the organization that enriches their lives. “I love the environment the Center has created. I could have just had a big birthday party but I really wanted to use those efforts to do something good,” she said.

The event takes place from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, May 29 at Rhythmix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding Avenue. A $10 donation will be collected at the door, and the donation cost includes one raffle ticket.

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