(Graffiti next to Chiodo Art Development in Oakland.)
This last Saturday I enjoyed an inspirational day. I wasn't excited about it at first. Occasionally, my night classes also meet for all-day Saturday classes and on this particular day we were to meet in Oakland. I was not looking forward to the hour long drive nor the neighborhood. When we got there, however, we were in for a treat.
When the three teachers I carpooled with arrived we were warned, by someone outside, to not leave valuables in our vehicles. Soon we were also told that whatever we imagine as bad about this part of Oakland is true and it is probably worse than we were thinking. Interesting, why would someone have something here, of all places, that we teachers should see? But the story gets better. We didn't know why we were in west Oakland for class but when we walked into a warehouse we were greeted to a magic land of 15 foot bronze fairy creatures, giant colorful toads, plaster Abraham Lincoln heads, clay soldiers around a flag, and so much more. Some pieces were fantastic and some pieces were emotionally moving. Turns out we were at the work space and design studio of Mario Chiodo (pronounced: key-oh-dough). Let me tell you a little bit about this guy.
Mario started out in this same neighborhood in Oakland. He was part of an experiment in school where under performing young children were given the chance to play with art supplies for two weeks with no other educational concerns. Then, as they were hooked, they learned more academics. Mario ended up learning quite a bit academically and artistically. He went on to become quite wealthy designing and creating statues, masks, casinos, monuments, exotic restaurants and more. So many of the masks you find at Wal-Mart were designed by his Halloween mask company. He worked for Lucas to create several Star Wars pieces including a special edition life sized Yoda series. Ever been to Caesars Palace in Vegas? Check out the statues and fountains; his work. Children's Fairyland park in Oakland? The Aladdin Genie popping out of a bottle at the entrance is his work (he paid for half the costs to create it himself when Fairyland could not afford it).
(Mario Chiodo's design studio.)
Mario built his business right in the west Oakland neighborhood he came from. He takes his interns from the same school district he was part of. He brings in under served students and teaches them and inspires them with art. What is his current project? The Remember Them monument. For over four years Mario has devoted himself to this project by working on the sculpture for no pay, selling off his lucrative Halloween Mask business, not taking on new paying projects, selling off buildings that he owned, using his own wealth and getting donations from others to maintain progress on this impressive project. Mario is honoring 25 people from around the world who changed their lives to make the world a better place. These people devoted themselves to something great. The Remember Them memorial statue is in four pieces and will be completed and installed in Oakland at the end of 2010. I can hardly wait to see it installed. Mario worked hard to ensure that it was installed in Oakland so that it will inspire exactly where inspiration is needed most, in the city. The work is amazing. Some of these larger than life characters are always looking at you wherever you stand. One character only is life sized and that is the little girl Ruby Bridges. Mario wanted people to be inspired by these great people but he also wanted children to see someone their size and know that they too can become one of the greats. To completely tell you all that went into this project, from what little I do know, would take a lot of writing. Let me just say that it is well thought out, very symbolic, and moving. It is also huge!
(Segments of Remember Them statue in various stages of the process to becoming a four part, 60,000 pound bronze statue.)
I am inspired. I am inspired by the people honored in the statue, some of whom I had never heard of before. I am inspired by Mario who decided to give up some personal wealth to make a good thing happen, to open his business in a neighborhood that needs him when he could have located anywhere, for taking on students who deserve more than they are given. I am inspired to remember that I can make a great change in this world through huge sacrifice but also through smaller sacrifices. Mario used his personal talent to make a difference with children and to inspire many. He gave up extra wealth but he didn't go broke, neglect his family, or become destitute to do something important. He didn't need to become as sacrificing as Mother Teresa to make a difference in this world and I am glad to be reminded of this. He must feel good about his life, he deserves to. And now, as the project comes to an end, he is starting up his business again and taking on clients.
I can't stop asking myself what I can do to make the world a better place with the resources and talents I posses. How can I use my skills to make a positive difference? This is what I am thinking about regularly.
(Mario Chiodo outside his design studio and warehouse in west Oakland.)
Check out these websites:
Maya Angelou Talking about the project: