Oakland artists raise funds for Children’s Fairyland

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Allah El Henson, an artist and cartoon animator at Balance Edutainment, sat in the darkest corner of Children’s Fairyland, sketching the scene in front of him with a pen. Henson was surrounded by the silhouettes of artists sipping wine, swaying to ambient tunes and striking up conversations about art in Oakland next to the dimly-lit Emerald City stage a few feet away. He drew in black and white for hours. Even though he could not fully see the world around him, he preferred to use his imagination. “I became fascinated with drawing cartoons because I grew up without a TV,” the East Oakland native said as he squinted into the distance and shaded in a tree on his paper. “That’s what pushed me to keep drawing; because if I couldn’t watch TV, I’d make my own.”

Henson, like many of the other artists at the Drawn Together fundraiser, wanted to give back to the community he grew up in and inspire young artists to pursue their passions. Children’s Fairyland, Oakland’s theme park that promotes early literacy through book-themed attractions, was home to the third annual Drawn Together event on Friday night, where a handful of Bay Area artists gathered to create art and sell their pieces. Every piece sold for $40, and the proceeds will go to restoring the art on the walls and attractions at Children’s Fairyland and to public children’s programs in underprivileged communities in Oakland.

Shannon Taylor, artistic director at Children’s Fairyland and one of the event’s organizers, said she loved that so many artists were willing to dedicate their time and talent to the fundraiser. She and a handful of volunteers displayed art on the walls of the Aesop’s Playhouse as prospective buyers whispered to one another about which pieces caught their eye. To her, Children’s Fairyland is a place that encourages little ones to use their imaginations. “I love seeing the work that gets produced, and it’s a nice getting-together of local artists for a good cause,” Taylor said.

Across the park near the Oswald the Bubble Elf statue, artist Marcos LaFarga wrote out the words “Golden Rule” on his drawing, creating clean lines with his ruler. He bit his lower lip as he slowly navigated the page with his pen. As a kid, LaFarga said, he loved graffiti. As a teenager he took to the streets on his skateboard and admired the spray paint art of the city. As an adult, he studied graphic design and typography. Not wanting to choose one craft over the others, he decided to combine all three. His pieces usually feature single words or phrases like “Play” or “Rock Bottom” and are sometimes accompanied by images that relate to the word.

LaFarga said that he chose to participate in Drawn Together because he wanted to support a place that inspires creativity in young people, like he had been inspired. “I always loved to draw, but always had self-doubt,” LaFarga said as he adjusted his cap and smoothed out his paper. “But throughout my life there has been moments where people have validated my art. When I was in eighth grade we did a black and white abstract project; mine turned out pretty good and the teacher showed it off. Looking back, I think those were the little moments where I would feel like art was what I was meant to do in life.”

Around the corner, art enthusiasts lined up near Pinocchio’s castle to get free beer and wine and observe the artists at work. Stop-motion animator and puppeteer Annie Wong fiddled with her pink-rimmed glasses as she tried to get a better view of the castle. She was painting her rendition of the scenery in front of her on a miniature canvas, making small feathery brushstrokes as her eyes leapt between her tiny easel and the clear evening sky. Wong said that as a child, her family did not attend social events very often, so she had to use her imagination to keep herself entertained. She sought fun in painting and drawing and did not realize until she started working at the puppet stage in Children’s Fairyland in 2005 that art took form in many mediums. “Children’s Fairyland is actually a place very near and dear to my heart,” Wong said. “I worked there for seven years, initially as a park attendant, then as the director of art and restoration until 2012. The fact that children have access to this kind of park is amazing.”

Wong said she also quickly discovered that Oakland itself is a breeding ground for creativity. “Random stuff just happens, like a guy hopping onto the BART train on two or three stops to play his cello for riders. There are a lot examples of creativity and art, and it’s not just restricted to expensive white wall museum-type institutions,” Wong said.

Back at the Emerald City Stage, sculptor and artist Randy Colosky shook hands with Henson, eager to meet other local artists. Colosky, a punk musician and former construction worker, arrived in the Bay Area in 1993 and loved it so much that he never left. His sculptures are often made from materials found at construction sites and warehouses, like steel and aluminum. He also uses stencils to draw many of his abstract pictures. He lent his artwork to Drawn Together because he wants to support the community that encouraged him to create art, even when he was struggling economically. I’ve had a 35-year career as an artist, 30 of which I never sold anything for more than $50. I think it’s important to have pieces not only rich people can buy. I subscribe to the idea that art is for everybody,” Colosky said.

Colosky bid Henson goodbye, and Henson put the finishing touches on his drawing, looking at the Emerald City stage where dancers and singers were mingling and finishing off their drinks. “Being in the Oakland art community feels unique,” Henson said as he capped his pen. “Everyone is an artist here. It’s just natural.”

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