This I Believe…

Empty Bowl Donations 2013

Empty Bowl Donations 2013

There used to be a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition called This I Believe with Jay Allison. I didn’t like that segment because it was full of sappy stories, much like the Family Circle magazine that is now showing up in my mailbox…(Thanks, Martha Stewart for going digital with Whole Living and making a deal that made that happen). These days our beliefs are plastered on everything from our cars to our Facebook pages. Growing up in a christian environment, your beliefs, or non-beliefs, as are mine these days, were kept to yourself and not so readily shared. That said, I DO believe that it is a good thing to help others, to donate and help our community thrive by sharing what we have with those less fortunate or struggling. These days there is a lot of this and it makes me feel good to share when I can.

As an artist, I get asked to help out causes all the time. And as we draw 2013 to a close, I have been thinking about this notion of being asked to donate my work. I can claim the donation on taxes but I don’t get the retail value. And my bank account doesn’t grow like I would love to see. There is even a Facebook group called Stop Working for Free that I joined to see how other artists deal with pleas for free work.  I have read numerous articles where artists are told not to work for free. I’ve even read articles where people think that artists should expect to work for free and not feel that we are “entitled”. As a young artist, we get told that by doing a freebie for someone will give us exposure and help our careers. I have to say, that as an “older” artist, this has been the case for me locally. I don’t ever expect to be a famous artist but, after losing my job to the internet, and having to fall back onto my  artistic talents, I am happy to say that some local exposure has been helpful to my new career. But at the same time, I still get frustrated when I am asked to give a donation for a cause. Especially if the cause is something that I don’t believe in. For example, I was asked recently, because I do rabbits, to donate a piece of my work to a rabbit rescue…..in CALIFORNIA. Uh, rabbits are food….. and a silent auction to save rabbits from someone that decided they didn’t want them anymore, to me is not a worthy cause for me to donate my long hours to. And to ship it to the opposite coast…..Sorry.

I have several causes that I do donate my art work to. This year I have had five and luckily, haven’t had to turn down a cause because I thought it was silly or something that I can’t support ethically. In my heart, I have to feel that I am truly giving back to the community by giving/donating a piece to someone because, these days, there is little monetary funds for them to ask for. I even cancelled my $5 a month donation to Moveon.org. I do feel that I am maxed out in terms of donations at this time so if you think this is a good time to give me a call, you might want to reconsider that…..just sayin’.

My causes this year have been:

  • Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. This is the organization that I helped brand and spent about 10 years volunteering with them as a river monitor, benthic monitor, webmaster, helping with fundraising and yes, donating my artwork for them to auction off. I even became one of the people that went to other artists and asked them to donate to the cause. This is the organization that I have to thank for the support that they, in turn, have given me and helped to get my name out into the community so that I can do what I am doing now. Thank YOU, FNFSR!
  • Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter. When I decided to become a full time potter, I was asked by Kary Haun to donate to the Alliance’s Empty Bowl Supper. The first year, I think, I donated 24 bowls. Now, you need to know, the Shenandoah Alliance does compensate the potters $6 per bowl to cover the materials but the time spent creating the bowls are given by the individual potters. This will be my third year doing this and I really love this event. The shelter’s mission is to provide help for the homeless. Unlike many cities, where homelessness is very visible, our rural area still has this problem. This shelter gives temporary shelter to these individuals or families so that they are taken care of.
  • Habitat for Humanity. I have always felt that this is a worthy cause, even though it is christian based. How cool is it when a group of local people come together, as a community and build a house for someone that qualifies for it. The homeowner isn’t given the house but has to meet qualifications and be able to repay the loan, just like the rest of us. They are required to give “sweat equity” as their downpayment so this is proof, to me anyway, that I can also give some sweat equity and help them get into their new home, knowing that they are a hard worker too.
  • AIDS Response. This event was to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS and help those persons with their medical needs that might not be available through another source. Since our society is becoming more tolerant of the gay lifestyle, there is still a stigma surrounding it and yet the expense, like many illnesses, add a burden that I believe we, as a community, can help with.
  • Shenandoah’s Response Shelter for Abuse.  Given that I have seen first hand, abuse to women is not something that should be taken lightly. My mother put herself into abusive relationships and had all the symptoms of how women deal with these types of situations. With the economy and funding being cut to these programs, both on a national and local level, I feel this is one that I also have to try and help out.

So, as an artist, who by this time of year, is pretty much done with my donations, I have to say that, donating to a cause is a good thing. If someone approaches me to do free work or discounted work, I am learning that I need to ask for money for the work. I have bills to pay just like everyone else. My art is personal and is for me. It is not something I can do to suit someone else who thinks I need to make what they think will sell best. I need to be the one to make those decisions but I also need to eat.

I also believe that our society needs to think more about where items come from. The mug or bowl that I make isn’t from China. If, for all those years, we had been paying someone like myself, in our own communities or, within a 100 mile radius of our homes, prices for hand made items might not feel so high. I believe that by building communities and trying, (notice, I said, trying) to leave our beliefs out, that we can come together and do a lot of good for ourselves and our planet. I just believe that is the right thing to do. What are your thoughts?

Here are some links for some additional reading on this topic.

 

Berea, Berea Beloved…

This is the Official Berea College Logo. It is...

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In 1976, I was accepted to Berea College and really had no idea how my life was about to change forever. I’ve been thinking about Berea a lot lately. I have reconnected with many Berea alumni through Facebook and that has really been a wonderful thing. Berea people seem to all have a lot in common.

I have a friend from high school, (one of only 3 that I have allowed into my Facebook page) who has a daughter who is a Senior in high school and in the winter was looking to find the right college fit.  I had her look at Berea to see if she might consider Berea as one of her choices. Due to the less expensive cost for the education, Berea is unique, because if you make too much money, you can’t get in. It is primarily for students from the Appalachian Region who have the brains but not the financial means to go to school. In my case, I paid a full term bill because I was receiving Social Security money from my father’s death when I was 13. I didn’t have the grades to get in and got in on letters of recommendations. But once there, I managed to become a dean’s list student. I needed to get away from a home life where there was no emphasis on education. And I needed to see the importance of education on my life. At any rate, I paid about $4,ooo for a 4 year education. The cost of Berea is much higher now. but is still very affordable for students without the funds to go to college at all.

Melvin, (Steven's partner) Susan Strickler-Polstra & Steven Summerville

When I graduated from Berea in 1980, I had met the love of my life, had experienced classes that allowed me to think critically about things that I never would have thought about, and make valuable friendships that I hope to keep for the rest of my life. Thanks to Facebook, I have reconnected with so many wonderful Berea folks and I also have to say that has made a big difference too.

Dorothy Tredennick with students in 1980 at my wedding

Recently, I went back to Berea. I had not been there for almost 20 years. My art history professor, Dorothy Tredennick had passed away in February and her memorial was being held March 18th. I rode there with a potter friend, whom I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. Dorothy was 96 years old and had led an incredible life of travel and teaching and inspiring her students. The service was more of a celebration of her life than a memorial. She was the kind of teacher that expected much from her students and while that kind of teacher can be hard to like, Dorothy was loved by all.

I didn’t make it onto the quadrangle to see much of how that part of campus has changed but made it inside the main block in the center of town. The students all look like a next generation of the students I went to school with. Porter Moore Drugstore, as it was when I was there is now a coffee cafe, equipped with wi-fi and espresso machines and sofas. The fountain counter is now a serving counter full of pastries and goodies with the typical chalkboard menus behind the counter on the wall like you would see in any large city. Yet the students still have the look of being from small towns and full of promise for a bright future after their Berea experience.

back of Boone Tavern, new drive up portico

me, Melvin, Joanna Griffin & Margaret Beasley

 

The disturbing thing about my visit back to my alma mater though is the change that looks like a marketing ploy. Boone Tavern is no longer owned by the college but by the Marriott Corp and it has the look and feel of a Marriott now instead of a unique hotel full of handmade crafts made by the students. I was told that the president of the college no longer lives on campus with the students but has a home in Richmond, KY, 15 miles up the road and is rumored to own a home in Northern VA. Not really the type of individual that seems to be relating to his students in terms of their backgrounds or needs. And the student crafts are being downsized and are changing, I’m sure due to the recession,  but the college is known for the student crafts as well as the top education that it offers the students. A Kentucky Artisan center has been positioned at a new Berea exit and it makes you wonder if the proximity to the college was on purpose to make it’s success play off the reputation of the college crafts.

On a positive note, I didn’t see that there are food courts and the kinds of additions to the college that I know many universities are spending their money on for the students that don’t add value to the student’s overall education. I saw additions to buildings that were definitely improvements such as a large addition to the music building to allow for a new elevator (which was much needed 30 years ago) and the elimination of the glass walkway on the art building to allow for more hanging space in the gallery. These are both good changes that are adding to the educational value for the students.

Union Church, Sally Wilkerson (fiber arts professor) on front pew

What a great way to spend a reunion! Celebrating a life well lived, reconnecting with friends and seeing change.

On the Ninth day of Christmas

My True Love gave to me… Nine Lords a leaping.

leaving Amsterdam in May 2010

Leaping from place to place is what we do across the nation and the world. We love to travel the globe. I did my first trip abroad this year, going to the Netherlands to visit some college friends. I would really love to do more but wonder about my impact on the planet.

I’m currently reading a book by Joan Dye Gussow called Growing Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables. The New York Times calls Joan a nutritionist and matriarch of the eat-locally-think-globally food movement. But in this book she journals about all things environmental as well as understanding her feelings about losing her husband of 40 years to cancer and growing older.  In one of her rants on travel, she talks about how so many of the people of “money” seem to think they need to escape their large homes for an exotic locale. Joan feels that, if they are so unhappy in their homes, with swimming pools and tennis courts, that they need to escape to some other place, then they must not be really happy and that if we all stayed home more we would be happier and the planet would be better off. And what about those people in the slums who really deserve a chance to escape to one of those island paradises.

She had read an article in the NY Times about Penguins in Trouble World Wide because global warming was melting the ice on which they lived and later in the day she emailed a farmer friend this letter:

“I had an Aha! today when I saw in the paper that the penguins are disappearing. My first thought was “Oh, God, I’ve got to go see them before they disappear.” My second thought was “It’s that sort of impulse that is helping them disappear.” If we all travel all the time to see things before they’re gone, we’re helping warm the planet, which means they will be gone. We’ve gotten used to thinking that because we can do everything technically, we also can do it, so we go ….on and on.”

One of the points Joan is making is that we can’t create livable communities if we are out escaping to somewhere else. She sees this as a moral issue. By burning fossil fuels, which raises the CO2 level of the atmosphere and causes parts of the planet to warm. This, in turn, accelerates the melting of the polar ice sheets, thus threatening the wildlife and their food sources.

Lonely Planet has a wonderful article about Responsible Travel and how our tourism has had an impact on cities across the globe turning them into shopping meccas and disrupting the infrastructures of these places. They have made a commitment to advise travelers to be more responsible. They say, and I totally agree, “that it’s only through travelling, through meeting people that we begin to understand that we’re all sharing this world. We are all coming along for the ride, despite the barriers which governments, religions and economic and political beliefs often seem to build up between us.”

One way to have less guilt about travel is to purchase carbon offsets. Climate Care is the site that Lonely Planet recommends and Green Irene has a series of carbon offsets for not only air travel but also SUVs that you may own. You can also offset your large home or a small car. Carbon offsets are set up to pay into a company or project that is creating efficient energy. The most common project type is renewable energy, such as wind farms, biomass energy, or hydroelectric dams. Others include energy efficiency projects, the destruction of industrial pollutants or agricultural byproducts, destruction of landfill methane, and forestry projects. Some of the most popular carbon offset projects from a corporate perspective are energy efficiency and wind turbine projects.

While carbon offsets, like Cap and Trade policies, are somewhat helpful, I don’t think they are the end all fix. To me, it is basically paying a fine in order to be allowed to break the law and trash the planet. Interesting article about that here at Green Living Review.

street scene in Haarlem, Netherlands

I have told my Facebook friends who do lots of traveling that I can go to so many places by looking at the photos they post. Many of them are traveling, not so much for pleasure but out of necessity for family or work. While they go they take photos and share with me so that I can take virtual trips. This year, I have been to Rome, Greece, and China virtually and physically to the Netherlands. I dream of places I’d love to see before I die but know in my heart I may never physically see. I feel good about the efforts I am making in my own backyard to make my own little place my exotic escape.