Opinion: Milpitas is Ready for the Arts

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“It’s a struggle for me,” said Milpitas High School teacher Kaila Schwartz. “This award has been a mixed blessing.”

She was speaking to The Milpitas Beat about her 2018 Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) award for Teacher of the Year.

“Yes,” she went on, “I love that my work as a theater educator has been acknowledged and appreciated. But at the same time I keep struggling against the need to justify my existence. The need to validate creative education. It’s been really difficult and is a challenge I wish I didn’t have to face every day. I’m constantly having to convince people that creativity is a necessary ingredient. There is no scientific innovation, no technological advancement without creativity. My theater classes don’t just prepare actors. I’m not an actor machine. I prepare my students for any working environment with any type of personality. And I’m hoping that I’m bridging understanding between people and fostering good communication skills. Not just for the problem-solving, but for everything in the world. So I’m looking forward to not having to validate my existence anymore.”

One might presume that the award itself, or the choice to give it to Schwartz, was a step in the direction of her no longer having to validate the arts. Hopefully it wasn’t the opposite of that: a band-aid meant to simply nod at the arts while keeping them essentially sealed off and inert.

In any case, must the arts be validated, even? As a lifelong artist, I wasn’t sure about how urgent a need there was for Schwartz to correlate the arts with scientific innovation/tech advancement.

The correlation is certainly real, of course. Creative thinking drives all innovation. The creative thinker doesn’t stick to the straight and narrow; she knows how to curve left, right, up, down, back, forth; making circles, forming diamonds, throwing sparks, carving emeralds. Shooting stars…

Creativity, thus, is essential to teach, in preparation for vocations of all kinds.

But it’s also, in the meantime, lest we forget, a universal human impulse: an exhale of the spirit, a merging of the inner world with the outer one, a union of the dream mind and our collective waking state.

Talent, of course, determines who creates art, or who is most driven to create it in perpetuity, and perhaps even pursue it as a career. Some human beings have more talent than others, and the ones that are talented probably were (at least in part) born with it. But that shouldn’t wall off art in the province of the talented, for the impulse to express lives (thrives! throbs!) in us all — and much of the time the existence of talent can be debated, anyway.

Is Milpitas getting ready to exhale? Will Schwartz’s award shine on the shelf as a precedent, rather than gathering the dust of an old, dry memory?

I see indicators, in addition to Schwartz’s award, that Milpitas is ready for the arts.

First, though, the data: What do we know about what we do here every day? As in, right now?

In Milpitas, the most common professions involve Computers, Math, Administration, Management, Architecture, Engineering, and Production (and no, not film production).

Likewise, our city’s most common industries are Manufacturing, Professional Services, Scientific Services, Technological Services, Healthcare, Social Assistance, and Retail.

Milpitas’ least common industry is Utilities, weighing in at about 100 employees. The second to least common? Our old friend the arts — or, more formally, Arts, Entertainment, & Recreation — with just above 400 employees busy churning the holy butter.

The arts have never been sustainable as a human career choice. Inspiration and industry do not exist on a married index. You can’t put divinity on a deadline, or Mozart on a clock.

Asians seem to be well aware of this fact. It’s worth pointing out that 62% of our city’s residents — a sweeping majority — are Asian, and that they’re too smart to let their children go into the arts. But don’t take my white-man word for it. The Guardian sees it; The Huffington Post sees it; The Atlantic sees it.

And, courtesy of my Filipino mother-in-law, I have seen it, too.

But let’s not turn this op-ed into a stereotype circus. Back in May, I attended the MCEE High School Summer Job Fair, and saw no end of Asian parents in full support of their children’s creative endeavors and ambitions. One father in particular was so enthused about his son’s aspirations to be a YouTube video-maker that I coined a new term, to go alongside of “soccer mom”: “YouTube dad”.

Milpitas, I think, is ready for the arts.

I saw it again, earlier this month, when I met the cast of “Fame”. I expected to meet some young performers. That happened, of course, but what I didn’t expect was an encounter with such staggering depths of passion.

I’ve been thinking a lot about communities lately, namely in terms of how they dream themselves into existence. If you can hang with the idea of a collective unconscious, you can honor the idea that collective psyches can actually be geographical in nature — i.e., countries can have minds, states can have minds, counties can have minds.

Cities can have minds.

That’s how culture is formed: It’s the hive-mind, dreaming itself into being. Sometimes it grows in some directions at the expense of others. Sometimes some parts of it burst awake, while others remain silently asleep.

In Milpitas, I think, the arts are waking up.

This got thrown in my face over this past weekend. A film festival, of all things, came to Milpitas. It was called The Diamond In The Rough Film Festival. And it was stranger and deeper and more wonderful than I could have hoped for.

Don’t take my audience-member word for it. Listen to festival organizer Mark Schwab:

“Round Table calls themselves the last honest pizza; we like to call ourselves the last honest film festival. Because there’s no politics. We have no date as far as submission[s]. We’ll look at any film…We program such an eclectic bunch of films…Can we be surprised? Yes, luckily we can. We want to provide kind of an unsafe environment for audiences. Not pornography, or violent, just like — challenge them where this is going. [Making audiences say,] ‘I won’t see this anywhere else.’”

Mark’s a filmmaker, too, and his latest work, “Shadows In Mind” (which looks soul-jolt formidable, by the way) will be released later this year.

It was 10PM this past Saturday when I drove over to the festival to drink in some cinema. Whereas the presence of a film festival was striking enough, its location, of all things, almost knocked me out.

I speak now of The Cinema Exchange, over on South Main Street.

The Exchange went into business this past year. They offer office and production space to the independent filmmaker. Varying membership tiers are offered, by which members can access equipment, studio space, staff labor, and other creative resources.

“WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING HERE?!” I almost shrieked.

But it made good sense, actually. After all, BART is coming to Milpitas. This literally puts us “on the map”. We’ll have other cultures, other mindscapes, other dreams piping into us, along with some 20,000 brand new residents.

This is the way in which cities are made. First, all the practicalities are handled: dwelling, eating, drinking, commuting, trading, educationThen, once the sturdy, smart grown-ups have laid the foundation, the pink-haired dreamer-trolls can finally exit their caves.

The films I saw certainly had pink hair. The screening block was titled “On The Wild Side.” The 4 shorts were called “Girls In Space”, “Doris”, “The Noise of the Light”, and “The Outer Boroughs.”

I’m a nose-in-the-air snob. I had my quibbles. The filmmaking was oftentimes first-rate. But the storytelling could have often used more rigor, more revelatory humanity.

But never mind.

The weight of my smile brought my snob-nose level with the screen. These films were all swollen little organs of passion. Their combined incandescence violated the Fire Code. It was liberating to see so many new ideas, new images, new tones, new attitudes, new dreams.

I thought of something Francis Ford Coppola had said, “An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk.”

The risk was there. The risk is HERE.

The city is growing. And the dreamers are coming.

And Milpitas is ready for the arts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer and filmmaker. He is the author of six critically acclaimed fiction books, among them the novella "It's Only Temporary" (2005), which appeared on Nightmare Magazine's list of the Top 100 Horror Books, and numerous short stories published in anthologies alongside work by H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, and many others. His nonfiction articles have been published on The Daily Dot, Ravishly, and The Good Men Project. His first feature film, "Rule of 3" (2010), won awards at the Fantasia International Film Festival and Shriekfest, and had its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest. His second feature film, "Living Things" (2014), was endorsed by PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals) and distributed by Cinema Libre Studio. In 2015, he won the 19th Annual Fade In Award for Thriller Screenplays. He was a founding partner of Ghostwriters Central, a writing and editing firm which received positive notices from The Wall Street Journal, Consumers Digest, and the TV program "Intelligence For Your Life." Eric has edited works published on The Huffington Post and Forbes, as well as two Bram Stoker Award-nominated novels.
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