Art and Activism

I don’t refer to myself as an artist. When I was much younger I wanted to be “an artist”, yes, but as I have worked in the arts for many years now I have realized that a lot of the game of becoming a “successful” artist is knowing how to market yourself. And that’s the rub. I have no desire to develop that side of my personality. But I do love to draw still.

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Our first group meeting of activist-artists.

We recently started an art group at Direct Action Everywhere, and I was amazed at the wonderful artists in the group. It’s an honor to have been included.

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Here is an artist statment I wrote not long ago when I was approached by art group organizer Leslie Robinson Goldberg, aka the Vicious Vegan of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) about a series profiling activist-artists.

Artist Statement

Genevieve Cottraux

As a shy and anxious kid, drawing and animals were two of the ways I connected to the world. My mother was always very tolerant about taking in the strays that my siblings and I brought home. At one point, we had 4 dogs and 7 cats sharing the house with Mom and the 4 of us. I drew a lot of pictures of cats, needless to say.

In college getting my design degree, drawing classes were always my favorite. My first job out of college was as an archaeological illustrator with a company in Sacramento, working on environmental impact reports and historic building surveys. After a couple of years, I was being phased out by computer applications, so I went back to school and shifted careers into arts administration. My love of drawing had really suffered, but never my love for animals! By finding a community of artists with the animal activism world, I’ve finally felt inspired to get out my sketchbook.

The project that I am contemplating working on focuses on the animals I meet and love during my volunteer shifts at the East Bay SPCA. I plan to do a sketch a week, picking the animal that most touches my heart during my shift. I mostly volunteer in the cat adoption area, but I’d love to start including dogs as well. The challenge will be finding the best way to include their stories with the sketches.

I think what bring me back to drawing is the personal connection I feel when I am with the animals at the shelter. My heart is involved, not just my eye-hand coordination and attention to detail. Someone suggested that I offer the shelter animal drawings to the eventual adopters of the animals, and I really like that idea, if I can bring myself to part with them!

I went through all of the work I have accumulated over the years, and was surprised at how little of it involved animals. I included an older piece (the endangered Smith’s Blue in the DxE blogpost, link below) because it is a drawing I am still happy with years later and it was one of the rare chances I had as an illustrator to draw something that made me feel like I was doing something important (plus it made me happy).

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Smith’s Blue, my rendering

 

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Smith’s Blue, the real deal

The other 4 drawings, all unfinished, I included are of animals I recently spent time with at the The East Bay SPCA, the wonderful shelter where I have volunteered sine 2009. I plan to keep doing a sketch every time I go to the shelter, focusing on the animal that day who most tugs at my heart.

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Check out the DxE blog, The Liberationist, for many interesting and thought-provoking articles, such as this one by the amazing Kitty Jones: Five Things Animals Would Say If They Could. Here is a link to the post with my drawings: Art and Animals: Genevieve Cottraux

Tofurkey, the sad-eyed chihuahua mix, has since been adopted! Yay, Tofurkey!  I can’t decide if I hope they changed her name or not.

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Tofurkey (unfinished drawing)

I started a new piece last night, of my newest foster kitten Babou. He is the sweetest, funniest little guy. He makes me laugh and I know he will find a wonderful forever home, thanks to the East Bay SPCA.

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Kitten Chronicles, age 13 days

A quick check in on Mouse and her 4 adorable babies, now 13 days old. Momma is eating A LOT, which is good. One of the little ones, I think it was Ferrett (the one the shelter refers to as a Torbie; not as orange as her ginger brother Sugar Glider but more sable colored that the other two) that gave me a little baby hiss when I picked her up. A feisty girl!

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Momma Mouse wants to know why I keep taking pictures of her babies!IMG_6900

Returning to School in My 50s, or, Perfecting the Art of Procrastination

Preface: I should be writing an assignment on peer reviewed journals and open access publishing, but this is more fun. I fell asleep doing my school reading on the couch last night, and I hoped I’d wake up full of academic insight but instead I woke up thinking, I’ll do a blog post on going back to school!

For those of you who know me personally, I’ve always been a bit of a neat freak. My television hero for many years was Mr. Monk, played in the best persnickety way by Tony Shaloub.

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Towels had to hung a certain way, the bed made just so every morning, laundry folded while it was still warm, never a dish left in the kitchen sink. News flash: between working full time, going to school full time, volunteering at the East Bay SPCA, and having a bathroom full of foster kittens, I don’t have time to be Mr. Monk anymore!

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My favorite appliance used to be the television set in the den; now it’s the coffee machine in the kitchen.

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I still watch television, but I am choosier about what I watch. Chopped and Ted Allen, I love you, but what else can you put in a mystery box that I haven’t seen already? And Rick Castle, I think I’m done with you and Kate Beckett. When you disappeared for 3 months on the way to your wedding–that was jumping the proverbial shark for me.

Chopped Castle

As Heidi Klum says, one day you’re in, one day you’re out. Heidi, you and Tim Gunn are in. I can’t give up Project Runway. And Gordon Ramsay, you might be as mean as they come, but I am addicted to you. Plus you added Christina Tosi to the MasterChef host crew, and a woman who kicks ass in the pastry kitchen is right up my alley.

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The home cooks will need to create an elevated dish using peanut butter and jelly.

I got so involved in getting my study area organized Saturday night that I completely FORGOT that I had a ticket to the Hall and Oates concert at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. Daryl and John, I have not outgrown you, I just have a very busy life right now. I’ll be there next time!

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I used to take the time to put in my contacts and make sure I looked nice before I left home in the morning. Now, as long as I am wearing clothes and have coffee, who cares?

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If there were books left piled in the kitchen (rarely), they were about food and cooking. Now there is always a pile of reading, nothing to do with food or cooking either one! And the stack of books by the bed is going to get dusty before I get to them.

cookbooks texts papers bedside

Unheard of just a month ago, there are two loads of laundry that have been waiting days for folding. And my poor refrigerator is going to starve. For a fledgling vegan, I don’t have many fruits or vegetables on hand! But the pets have food, more important.

laundry refrigerator

So, why am I doing this whole school thing at this point in my life? Because it’s the most excited I’ve felt about anything in a long time. I finally found something, Humane Education through Saybrook University, that I am passionate about and maybe it will turn into a way that I can make a little bit of difference in the world. I feel inspired and fulfilled, feelings I don’t really get at work these days but feelings that I think we all deserve to have. And now on to that assignment on open access publishing…

Six Days in Seattle

After much agonizing over saving for a rainy day versus following my heart, I decided to go for it and head to Seattle and start a doctoral program. I am intimidated by the sound of it myself; I am starting on a PhD in Organizational Systems, emphasis Humane Education. I am not sure where my research will take me at this point, but I know I want to look at animal sheltering, animal welfare, animal agriculture and farm sanctuary among other possible topics. The program, through Saybrook University, requires all new students to attend a residential orientation conference for two days, followed by a residential program attended by all of the students, new and continuing. I am in Seattle for a total of 6 days at the lovely Cedarbrook Lodge. Today is Day 4, and we have a little free time (a little).

Of course, before I could leave Oakland, we had to say goodbye to foster kitten Abracadabra. She had gained enough weight to go back to the shelter for spaying and vaccinations to go out to the adoption center and find her new family. Good luck little Abby! It was hard to say goodbye.

Abby

I am an anxious traveler, and don’t travel alone that often, so this felt like I was going on a big adventure. I checked in at the Alaska Airlines counter in the International Terminal of San Francisco International Airport and had to go through the misery that is security screening with a very many international travelers even though my flight was domestic; it took quite a long time. But the International Terminal is quite nice otherwise. This mural is before you hit security. You might not love California quite as much afterward.

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There is quite a lot of art in the airport, from wall murals to changing exhibitions. Some of my favorite murals were Joyce Hsu’s Namoo House:

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Enrique Chagoya’s Love Letters:

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And Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s Waiting:

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After a coffee (why does soy milk cost 75 cents more than regular at a coffee place?), I headed to my gate. Right across the aisle was a flight for Paris. Too bad the conference isn’t there! Seattle is a nice place, so I went to my correct line and didn’t try to sneak on the Paris flight.

Paris Seattle sign

How civilized; there are charging stations at every seat on the Alaska Airlines flight. All planes should have these.

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On arrival at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, I was pleasantly surprised by how clean and, dare I say, pretty, the airport is. Even the bathroom is pleasing to the eye! And you can rate the cleanliness; it was “smiley face” clean.

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Everything was so well signed and accessible that I had my bag at baggage claim and was on the Cedarbrook shuttle in what seemed a matter of minutes. The lodge is remarkably close to the airport but it is anything but your traditional airport hotel. You feel like you are miles from everything!

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I decided to pay for the luxury and ease of dinner the the lodge’s Copperleaf Restaurant. I am not used to eating in restaurants alone, so I took a book (Alice Hoffman, The Museum of Extraordinary Things), but I was too busy taking pictures and eating delicious food to get much reading done.

Cedarbrook dining Museum

I was intrigued by the table decorations; a frog riding a snail was the best. They sell them in the lodge’s gift shop. Might have to get one!

giddyup snail

The conference started bright and early the next morning. Signed in, got my agenda and name tag, and tried not to get any more anxious than I already was.

agenda student Day 1

It’s been a jam-packed few days but I have learned a lot, made a whole new group of friends, and been inspired to affirm that I made the right decision.  And 6 days at the lodge is not a bad thing! There is even a piano in the business center.

Cedarbrook room 1 Cedarbrook piano Cedarbrook grounds 2

Last night was the graduation ceremony for the 2015 graduates. It was very inspiring and I covet the velvet sash that I too will wear if I play my cards right (well, if I work hard).

graduates graduation graduation flowers

I am exhausted, overwhelmed, apprehensive, inspired, excited…but this is an amazing and supportive group of faculty and students and we are all on each others’ sides. I will be glad to head home on Tuesday evening, but I will also be sad to leave this amazing learning community to start doing the distance education work. That’s the plus side of social media–we can all keep in touch and keep our community going even thought we are spread around the country (and globe). Still smiling!

student Day 2

Summer on a plate/in a glass

It has been unusually hot for the Bay Area of California the last few days. Maybe it was earthquake weather? I don’t really know what that means, but it’s been hot, muggy, and hazy.  And voilà, this morning we had a 4.0 earthquake centered in the Piedmont area of Oakland. I was awake, up and feeding the foster kitten, Abracadabra. I was in the middle of my open kitchen so I couldn’t really get under a doorway or a desk or table, so I held on and hoped for the best! No damage at our house. The pets weren’t impressed.

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For your entertainment, a little shot of foster kitten Abracadabra.

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Despite the heat this weekend, I decided to make a trip into San Francisco. I got on BART at 10:51 a.m.  and since there was a Giants baseball game in the early afternoon, the cars were already awash in orange and black hats and t-shirts; and it was unbearable in the cars, like being in a sauna with a whole bunch of other people, not all of whom smell so good. Not necessarily a reflection on Giants fans! I am one!

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I headed toward the San Francisco Street Food Festival at Pier 70, but it was so hot, and Pier 70 is not really that nice (all hot black asphalt, no shade, and the roasting pigs on spits were way more than this vegan could stand).

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Instead, I ended up in nearby Esprit Park, with trees and shades (!), and home to the Urban Open Air Street Market, much more my speed.

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Not necessarily a lot of vegan eats (but no animals on spits, thank goodness), but I had a wonderful cold and refreshing watermelon agua fresca that kept me going for the trip back to the East Bay.

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You might be able to see from the shot of the Ferry Building how hazy the air is. The fires north of here are affecting our air quality. It’s really frightening with the fire danger so high, and so many people have been evacuated in the fire zones. And the loss of wildlife and habitat is unthinkable.

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Back in Oakland, our air conditioner was deployed, one of the few days every summer we feel compelled to use it. Neither of us felt like cooking and it was too hot for anything heavy, so we opted for salad bar dinner (or as my family calls it, big weird salad). Summer on a plate!

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Eating on folding trays in front of the television in the air conditioning–childhood memories for sure. However, as a child I wouldn’t have been watching Rectify, one of the best shows on right now but not 1960s mother-approved fare, for sure. I think we would have been watching The Doris Day Show.

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What better way to wind up a hot summer night than with an iced coffee? Decaf of course.

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The foster kitten returns to the East Bay SPCA tomorrow to prep for adoptions now that she’s put on some weight. I’ll miss her! But hopefully we will get another one when traveling dies down. I am off to Seattle in a couple of days; expect some blogging as I start on my doctoral program in humane education with Saybrook University at our term opening from Cedarbrook Lodge!

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