Pier Party was a blast!


My wonderful wife Patricia and me, in between chowing down on the delicious brunch provided by some of the top restaurants in Santa Monica — and that’s saying a lot! (Thanks, Ted, for the photo!)

Sunday was the first ever Pier Party!, a fundraising event on the Santa Monica Pier at Pacific Park, supporting the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, which is responsible for most of the academic, athletic and arts enhancements that make SMMUSD so incredible. FreeAssociates donated the design of all the promotional graphics…. sponsor proposals, ads, posters, t-shirts, signs, etc.

Linda Greenberg Gross is the visionary powerhouse who runs SMMEF. She’s positive, effective, and a joy to work with.

Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica chaired the steering committee composed almost entirely of powerful, connected, highly committed women (I was one of only two guys that I know of).

The overall project was spearheaded by Rachel Faulkner, who pulled off complex miracles on a daily basis — with a lot of help from dozens and dozens of  energetic volunteers far too numerous to name here, but so impressive.

It was a gorgeous day and a wonderful group of people! I am grateful to be a part of this project, and of this amazing community.

Here are some snaps from the event, plus a few of our graphics just to give you the flavor of things. There are more photos on our Facebook page.


A night of dramatic madness

A Night of Madness Poster

Who gets to decide if a person is crazy? Do some people just happen to see the world in a different way than we do? What if they’re only a little crazy? Why is it always so important to us to “cure” them, to bring them back to the standard worldview?

These are the issues that director Kate Soller seeks to explore in A Night of Madness, which opens November 4 at Santa Monica High School’s Humanities Center Theatre. For her first production as Samohi’s new drama instructor, Soller is excerpting scenes from Ken Kesey‘s brilliant One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Mary Chase‘s wry comedy Harvey with its six-foot tall invisible rabbit.

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been creating posters for Samohi’s plays and musicals for the past three years. (My son’s been in most of them, which, of course, is how I got hooked.) These are the kinds of projects we designers love: tight constraints, sure, but also lots of freedom to find interesting solutions, and an end result that has a positive impact — in this case, on the program, on the school and on the community it serves.

I really like this one. Hope you do, too.

Got a reaction? Leave a comment!

Shakespeare meets Mudmen

I don’t imagine that the Bard of Avon ever saw a Papua New Guinea Asaro Mudman. But that hasn’t stopped director Darryl Hovis and costume designer Shannon Kennedy from turning the fairies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream into denizens of that Southwest Pacific island forest.

Samohi Theatre presents A Midsummer Night's Dream

Tickets for the December presentation of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Santa Monica High School are available at samohitheatre.org. Photo by Jialiang Gao for peace-on-earth.org

This December, Santa Monica High School will stage the Elizabethan comedy in its Humanities Center Theatre. We created the campaign for the production (pro bono, of course). Designed to show off this fresh take on a beloved classic, our hope is that the image will entice local theater-lovers to want to experience Midsummer again in a whole new way.

Intrigued? You can buy tickets and see it yourself! It runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from December 2 through December 11. (And, oh yeah, my son Gabe plays Demetrius.)

Waiting for Superman

Patricia and I have been pretty involved in our son’s high school. Admittedly, I’m not as deeply engaged as some. But enough to be very aware of the disaster we are wreaking on our children by neglecting the funding of education.

This past year has been the worst I’ve seen in a long time. Here in California, we are ranked dead last in the nation in spending per student. And the effects of this indifference are everywhere. LA Unified School District has had its budget cut by $640 million, and has been laying off people in droves. 6,300 of them at last count. Those cuts helped spark the battle this spring over out-of-district permits. (For a personal look at the parents’ effort from the inside, take a peek at this great blog: A Fire in My Mouth.)

Santa Monica attempted to compensate for some of the state’s further funding cuts by passing Measure A, a relatively small parcel tax — less than $200 a year — to try to make up some of the $10 million in lost annual revenue. It required a 66% vote. It got 64%. Now Santa Monica-Malibu School District has to fire teachers, increase class size and slash programs.

Waiting for Superman is a new documentary about what’s been happening and (I hope) about what to do to change it. Please take a look, tell your friends and get involved.

We are courting disaster. Our children rank 21st among developed countries in science. 25th in math. Our taxpayers rail against “waste” in our school districts. Our teachers’ unions make it impossible to fire lousy educators. Our priorities are royally messed up, and we are failing our children and our country’s future. There simply has to be a better way.

Music: our schools’ secret weapon

In education, among the first things to be cut in tough times are arts programs. What a mistake. That’s like trying to save water by cutting all the leaves off a tree in your front yard. Yeah, you’ll reduce your water bill. But without the shade those leaves provide, your electricity costs will go through the roof. And the tree will soon be a dried up, brittle collection of dead twigs.

You think I’m prejudiced because I make my living from the arts? Think again.

Study after study shows that creative expression — especially music — is tremendously important to the development of children’s brains. It literally makes them smarter.

Steve Lopez’s article Sunday in the Los Angeles Times makes this very clear. He explains that studying music physically enlarges the corpus callosum, the structure that connects the brain’s hemispheres. He cites UCLA professor James Catterall, who says that playing music can improve spatial reasoning skills, mathematics and language.

My younger son has grown up in the Santa Monica-Malibu School District, and was lucky enough to experience what conductor David Robertson describes as the finest public school music program in the entire United States. He learned to play the recorder in elementary school, then the flute. He sang in the choir in middle school. And he’s performed in musicals in high school, and is again joining the choir next year. As a result of all this, he can sight-read musical notation, and has a huge appreciation for a wide range of music — from rock to hip hop to jazz to classical. But he is also very strong academically, with excellent math, science and language skills. And so are many, many of his peers.

The District hosts an annual musical event called Stairway of the Stars. It’s been renowned for decades and sells out every year. Over 1,000 student singers and musicians fill the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and create an evening of auditory magic. It’s an astonishing experience.

But now this incredible music program is threatened. Because budgets are being slashed, and, as usual, the arts are on the chopping block.

Fortunately, the City is trying to pass a local ballot measure that charges property owners $198 per parcel to make up for the shortfall and help save the program. It might pass. It might not.

If it doesn’t, the losers will be many: students (especially elementary students), teachers and parents. But perhaps the biggest losers will be the community itself and, in the longer run, our whole society.

Because Santa Monica is not unique in its struggle. All across the U.S., the arts are viewed as expendable. And without them, we risk churning out millions of further deadened minds, functioning below their potential —creating one more reason that Americans are slowly losing the smart jobs to societies where education is valued. And music is, too.