Autumn has a nostalgic way of flooding my thoughts with memories of the creativity I grew up around. Halloween costumes were always handmade – a papier-mâché penguin head my brother Skot made and my Shirley Temple dress sewn by my mom from an old curtain. The most celebrated was dad’s Captain Marvel yellow spray painted rainboots and mom’s Wonder Woman rubber-stamped white stars on blue gym shorts, costumes which were eventually donated to the Oakland Museum. Holiday table settings were adorned with handmade place cards and tablecloths from pieced together fabric remnants. Our Christmas tree was a display of salt dough figures, diorama ornaments made from tuna can rings, “God’s eyes” made with yarn and sticks from the backyard tree. Presents were wrapped in butcher paper and decorated by my father with permanent markers, the odor so strong we could smell it from his studio. Christmas cards were designed with pictures of us dressed in vintage clothing from the flea market, then printed on postcards and embellished with rubber stamps. The boxes, ribbons and paper always saved, “repurposed” for other occasions. My parents were thrifty before the trend of being “green,” rinsing aluminum foil and saving plastic bags and twist ties. Ordinary objects were transformed into something better, beautiful, artful! I realize now how very fortunate I was to have art education masquerading as an everyday exercise of being creatively frugal. My childhood memories and my parents’ approach to the holidays -fueled by creativity, generosity, curiosity, and invention – which organically became the inspiration of our mission, and my personal commitment, to make fun and engaging arts education available to all youth.
As the holidays approach, the feeling of being thankful is even more prevalent. I give thanks for the health of my family, a safe place to call home and the marvelous artwork and family treasures that surrounded me. My “treasures” are not monetarily valuable, but they are priceless to me: a sweet 16 birthday card my dad made for me out of plastic numbers from an old marquee, unfinished canvases he used as demonstrations while teaching, my mother’s painting decorated with broken frame pieces to make it more interesting. As I give thanks for these keepsakes, my wish is to share the idea that art education does not have to be a formal or rigorous enterprise but a natural, fluid embrace of support to encourage creativity in everyday moments. There should not be boundaries around a child’s imagination or their exploration of expression. Art education must be presented in a way that allows our youth, our future, to find the immeasurable value of expressing their individual creativity from within. When my father was a professor at Cal State East Bay (formerly Cal State Hayward), he would tell his students at the start of the fall semester to “follow your bliss” (a saying which my daughter and I have tattooed in his honor). He meant it, he taught it, and he lived it. Creative expression is a tool to heal, a way to liberate and to encourage inclusion. The need for accessible art education is crucial, not just during this season of thanks and giving, but always.
With bountiful gratitude,
Relatives With Roots – Arts & Education in the Natural World
Over the summer months, the Mel and Leta Ramos Family Foundation was happy to help support the activities of the Ojai Valley Green Coalition (OVGC) and its special arts education program for youth, Relatives With Roots. The program was designed by artists and educators and took place in the beautiful open space of Cluff Vista Park in downtown Ojai, California. The Foundation’s contribution supported the purchase of art kits for children ages 8-11 to work in small groups with experienced educators, healers and artists, including renowned ethnobotanist Lanny Kaufer, art instructor, Pacha Maia, and Barbareño/Ventura Chumash elder and educator, Julie Tumamait-Stenslie. Each art kit included a spiral-bound Field Journal consisting of fifteen pages of watercolor paper and fifteen pages of sketch paper, drawing pencils, a pencil sharpener, eraser, and a portable Field Sketch watercolor palette with a refillable water brush for each child to keep. The community leaders and teaching artists for each session facilitated observational drawing, painting and sculpting of the natural world. By engaging youth with the forms and contexts of plants and plant-based knowledge through art, we teach them (by doing) that plant life, the climate, and their own creative expressions are not separate from the world around them. In these ways, arts education takes on qualities of curiosity and caring in relation to all living things.
All images used with permission of OVGC. (C) 2021.
Centre Picasso d’Horta
The Foundation is honored to be recognized by the Centre Picasso Museo in Horta de Sant Joan, Spain for our donation to the museum and education center. A colorful plaque announcing the Mel & Leta Ramos Family Foundation’s contribution was installed on the entrance wall, cementing our commitment to my parents’ commitment of giving locally, as Horta was their home and studio for the summer months since 1972. Leta would invite the local children into her studio and create art projects from recycled objects she collected in her daily activities. Castles were made from paper towel rolls, plastic yogurt cups, decorative foil saved from candy wrappers. Mel and Leta had an open- door policy for the studio in Horta and welcomed artists and visitors to breathe in the creative air which inspired not just my parents and their Bay Area artists friends, but lured Pablo Picasso as well. In Mel and Leta’s spirit of sharing and welcoming, the Foundation will continue to support the local youth and artists with annual donations of art supplies.
In the Spirit of Giving
Saying that Leta was an incredibly generous woman is an understatement. To celebrate her life, we curated a “Leta’s Giving Gallery” in her studio, adorned with decades of her artwork. We invite you, our friends and supporters, to visit the Giving Gallery and choose a piece to take home and remember her by. Her generous nature was infectious, and she would give you the shirt off her back, whether you wanted it or not. I was fortunate to have heartfelt conversations with my mom about her ultimate “new homes” for her collected treasures. I have donated a large selection of her shoes and purses to the Oakland Museum White Elephant sale; a vintage pair to Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) and sent dozens of boxes of clothing to Ethiopia, where they were distributed by the congregations of multiple churches. I will continue her commitment of sharing and giving to new homes who welcome her keepsakes.
I invite you to come visit and take home a piece of her huge heart.
Recent Grantees and Giving Impact of the Ramos Family Foundation’s Art Education Initiative
Since our Spring Newsletter, in which we reported that our combined giving strategies of program grants, multi-year scholarships and apprenticeships through our Arts Education Initiative has supported hundreds of youth through in-class and community out-reach, we are happy to report the following grantees to our list of recent recipients:
- Re-granted a final round of support to LACE’s Apprenticeship program, providing hands-on training in exhibition and communications to aspiring young arts professionals.
- Donated to the Bay Area-based Crayon Initiative, which sends free crayons to over 240 children’s hospitals across the United States in support of their healing through creativity.
- Funded multiple scholarship opportunities through the Department of Art Practice at the University of California, Berkeley for need-based students.
- Continued our commitment to fund a grant opportunity for a qualified art student at Cal State East Bay’s Department of Art (teaching home to Mel, and Leta’s alma mater).
- Helped to fund the Centre Picasso d’Horta’s museum and art education program.
Like many organizations in these times, we took the summer months to re-group and re-think our giving strategies — how we could make the most impact through our Arts Education Initiative, while building our giving base of support through foundation partnerships and community consortia. As a result, we concluded that we would focus our immediate grant making where we are located (in the East Bay), where my parents were most active, and where we could build strong alliances with like-minded organizations and funders. Our “give where you live” approach will help us to build stronger communities, empowering our youth to thrive with the power of collective creative energy. We will continue to work with strategic partners bringing focus through directed philanthropy to our regional youth arts programs and communities.
Heading to The Petaluma Wildlife & Natural Science Museum! Founded on an innovative education theory; “if you give high school students as much freedom as possible, they will rise to the challenge and succeed”. For 30 years, the museum has hosted thousands of school classes and community groups, teaching them about biodiversity, ecosystems, wildlife, animal adaptations and natural history. Tours are conducted by trained high school docents and are developed around California State Science Standards. Hundreds of taxidermies and live animals engage children and bring science lessons alive. Mel used this lioness in his classroom for 30 years at CSUH as a prop for his painting and drawing students. When we were kids, it was in the living room…it doubled as a burglar alarm!