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Letter to the Editor: Art on First

A transplant discovers a welcome sense of community in downtown Napa.

To make art is a brave act. And I have been a coward. A quick digression though; I'm currently taking a clay sculpture class and it is heaven; more on that later.

Tonight I went strolling along First Street here in town, where the put together an event called "."

First Street here has been a sad thing for a long time. Word has it that the keeps the rents too high and no small business can afford to make a go of it for very long. There are a number of storefronts that have been empty since I moved here. Some businesses come and go, give it a try for a while, and then the space goes empty again. Along Main Street there is some life, and further west now there is also due to a new hotel and some restaurants and new businesses. But there is still this sad dead zone in the center part of First Street.

So, "Art on First" put together some artists to create something for these sad, empty windows. On a cold night, I ventured out to see. And it was good.

The art scene in Napa is generally pretty dismal. I've gone to quite a few openings and shows, and the caliber of art is really pretty laughable. The vast majority of it is embarrassingly amateur, a bit of it is excruciatingly self conscious, and then there is a tiny bit that is quite good. Of course, art is all about opinion, but, there are some real basics, and it is actually true that a lot of what passes for art here is very amateurish. But the art done for tonight's event was all quite good. What a nice surprise!

And, strolling along First Street, it struck me again, what an odd town this is. I've lived here for some time now, sort of unintentionally. I moved here for a job that I no longer have, and just stayed put, because I was so sick of moving. And it is a really odd town in many ways. Conservative in the middle of a bastion of liberalism. Chichi but very self-conscious about it. Simultaneously very middle-class, uneducated, insular, gossipy, while also completely international, educated, worldly, and sophisticated.

I lived in Boulder for two years. Boulder has a walkable outdoor mall which has shops and restaurants and a very lively street scene, all very safe for the outdoorsy yuppies that flock there. But Napa has never had a lively street scene, not really.

And as I strolled along, I saw people I knew, and they said hello. And people I didn't know struck up conversations. And we had our little moment and smiled and moved along, viewing and commenting on the different creations in the storefront windows. A group of musicians played . And for tonight, it was a real community.

A community that I've known and lived in for some time now, that has not ever really felt like a community until now. I don't know if there is any other place where I could feel this, a place so small like this. Small enough that I could just venture out and have casual, neighborly conversations with my neighbors while looking at art on a First Street in my tiny downtown, USA.

And the art was brave - it was brave to put it out there. And it's so exciting to see so many great things happening here lately, so much support and exposure for good art. And it was amazing that there were so many people who came out to see it, enjoy it, and appreciate it. On a cold night, and with snow in the forecast, in a place that doesn't see snow for 50 years at a stretch. In a town that has been without, I found some real community.

For all its faults, and there are plenty, I'm sort of loving Napa.

Catherine George lives in Napa and works in digital media design.

For more information about Art on First, visit the FAQ here: http://www.artscouncilnapavalley.org/artonfirst/faq.shtml

Mark Rieken March 01, 2011 at 05:19 AM
I've lived here for two years now and I too see a lacking of sorts in Napa. Wouldn't it be nice to perk up the downtown area? We have so much to offer here other than wine. We have the hospitality, mentality of a small quaint village but no one seems to be opening up to the possibilities. No one seems to be steering the ship. Is there a way I can get involved with upcoming events? Who would I contact? How can I get on a list of volunteers?
Hilary Zunin March 01, 2011 at 04:14 PM
Mark - You're right; there's much to be done to help this community thrive. As far as the question about volunteers at the end of your comment, that's easy. On Saturday, March 19 at the library Community Room, Napa Valley CanDo is holding its 2nd Annual Gathering from 10-noon.? (www.NVCanDo.org). Do you know about us? Did you hear about Soles4Souls shoe drive we initiated in January where people all over the valley collected over 13,000 pairs of shoes for those in need? How about CanDo members serving as guides during Project Homeless Connect? Among many other projects in only two years, people with the CanDo spirit have mulched trees to help restore Scott Creek, read stories to little ones at the Farmers' Market, formed a carbon circle, sorted donations at the Food Bank, and held a dozen public events to help educate Napans about the process of government in Sacramento. We're a grassroots, non-partisan group whose mission is to help ease the path from intent to action. Take a look at our website; visit our Facebook page; email (NVCanDo@gmail.com). No volunteer requirements, no dues, just neighbors helping neighbors. Dive in!
Louisa Hufstader March 02, 2011 at 01:57 AM
Hi, Mark -- City of Napa also has a number of events during the summer months where you might want to be involved as a volunteer, including two band nights a week at Veterans Park. The Parks and Rec Dep't publishes a periodical guide that's the size of a magazine and well worth a look -- it's mailed to city addresses and available at distribution points all over town. The current edition has a bright blue color scheme on the cover, with photos. See you downtown!

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