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At “GO!,” and for Peralta, artists make happy mess

on November 13, 2008


Nov.  12 – With the wine, delicately displayed hors d’oeuvres, and creatively-yet-tastefully attired crowd milling about the warmly-lit space, tonight could have been just another art exhibit opening at Swarm Studios in Jack London Square.

But the presence of eight men and women wearing white disposable suits signaled otherwise.

No, the gallery and artist studios were not being prepped for a hazardous materials cleanup. The suits had been donned for an equally important and noble mission – getting messy, to raise money for Rockridge’s Peralta Elementary, now an arts magnet school.

“Making art gives children confidence in themselves because they are taught that there is no such thing as making bad art,” said Deb Levine, parent to two girls enrolled at Peralta. Kelly Wainwright, Levine’s Temescal neighbor — an artist and the founder of Messy Monkey Arts, a company that provides unusual arts-based experiences for individuals and corporations — organized the event. “This confidence spills into everything else they do in life,” Levine said, over the buzzing of the crowd.

As an official “call to the canvases” spread through the crowd via the PA system, the men and women in the disposable suits — all Bay Area artists — put down their food and drink and strode to their easels in the back studio space. The crowd followed. 

Each artist had a tool by his or her side: 

Turkey baster. Rolling pin. Cooking whisk.

Plunger. Broom. Hardhat with a paintbrush stuck on top.


Toilet scrubber.

At the sound of “Go,” with funk music blasting in their ears and a crowd of a few hundred Peralta School parents, school employees, painters, and poets cheering them on, the artists dipped their tools in various primary colors – as well as pink — and started to “paint,” using the tool assigned to each station. The use of unorthodox methods wasn’t limited to household objects: one station required that painting be done with hands only, facing away from the canvas. Another provided a walker for balance as the artists painted with their feet.

In line with the title of the event, “Cre{eight},” each of the eight artists switched canvases after one minute at each station – creating paintings completed in eight minutes. A second round allowed each artist to keep his or her canvas as they moved from station to station.  Eight of the paintings were to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, with the remaining eight given away by raffle.

Hands smeared, fingernails etched, and feet dipped the paint onto the canvas. Paint was splattered (the whisk), dribbled (the turkey baster), and stamped (the plunger). Snapping photos on their cell phones, the crowd leaned forward — just enough to catch the changing configurations moment by moment — but far enough away to avoid becoming a canvas themselves. 

As the rotations continued, a symmetrical painting of blue circles became filled with red dots; a brown dot circled with green was painted over Rothko-like yellow and orange blocks; and a dainty smattering of purple dabs was joined by a series of playful green strokes. The tops of the artists’ feet turned from green to part orange to completely blue — no telling what color were on their soles. 

“Mix it up, baby,” yelled one of the spectators to Calvert Hand, as he created a painting of a blue face with periwinkle-colored features and a white triangle of a mouth. “Dump it on there,” the spectator encouraged.

Hand, an artist who once worked with American painter Richard Diebenkorn, has taught at Peralta for 11 years, long enough to be part of its transformation from an under-enrolled, struggling school to one that boasts a waiting list, campus garden, and three artists-in-residence who teach the students mural painting, quilting, and videography.  “I really credit the school’s transformation to the leadership of Principal Rosette Costello,” Hand said. “She was the visionary that brought Peralta to integrate the arts into every aspect of learning,” he added.

The idea for a fundraiser was hatched, according to Hand, when Peralta discovered that arts funding from the City of Oakland was at risk for the upcoming year. Although the funds survived the city’s budget cuts, the school still found themselves in need of the last few thousand dollars for their arts programs. 

Coincidentally, Levine discovered around the same time that Wainwright was interested in putting together a fundraiser for a children’s arts program. While Wainwright and Messy Monkey Arts recruited the artists from a network of professional and personal contacts, Levine gathered an extended community of Peralta supporters to help. 

“This is really a community event,” said Levine, who credited the event’s success with the volunteer time contributed by Wainwright and other neighbors, Peralta staff, and Peralta parents of both current and former students. “It shows that art is a community issue.” 

When the paintings were completed, the auction began. Calvert Hand’s  painting of a blue face sold for $500, while the highest price fetched for one of the night’s creations was $525. At night’s end, sitting around Levine’s kitchen table with children underfoot, she and Wainwright calculated that they had raised $5700 – right on target with the goal she had identified at the start of the evening.

Peralta School Principal Costello, watching tonight’s event, was pleased. An artist herself, she moved to the Bay Area decades ago to study painting at Stanford University. Not being able to afford the life of an artist, she became an educator instead, choosing the field she saw as “the only profession that rivals being an artist.”

“In education, just as in art,” she explained, “every opportunity is an opportunity for change. Every moment is vital. On a second to second basis, everything you do is affecting everything else.”

“Just as when you make a mark on a canvas and it affects the entire painting, everything you teach a child affects them as well,” she said.×225.jpg|×225.jpg|×225.jpg|×225.jpg|×225.jpg|×225.jpg|×225.jpg×225.jpg|×225.jpg|×225.jpg|×225.jpg|×225.jpg|×225.jpg|×225.jpg


  1. Kelly Wainwright on November 14, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Thanks, Kristine! We at Messy Monkey had so much fun putting this together, & are looking forward to the next one!

  2. Amy Kincaid on November 18, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Deb, great job in art and fundraising! Two of my favorite topics.

  3. Deb on November 18, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    The Peralta Community can’t thank Kelly and her team at Messy Monkey Arts enough for their time and energy donated to Arts at our kids’ school. THANK YOU! More schools should be so lucky to have such a successful fundraiser.

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