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Chutzpa – my dictionary defines it as “shameless audacity” but I have a slightly different view. When I was young, someone told me I had a lot of it and I thought that was a good thing. In a world too often governed by greed and generally dominated by men – a bit of shameless audacity can be useful. Chutzpa has two requirements – you have to believe that you’re worth it, and you have to be willing to work hard enough to get whatever you are audacious enough to think you deserve.

For forty-plus years, my road to success has not followed a conservative route, and there were many that thought my path would lead to a life of poverty and dependence. Fortunately, it didn’t. In the early years, I ate a lot of $2 burritos and grilled cheese, but my life was rich, inspired, and rarely stifled by reasons not to try. I went for it. I’ve been going for it for almost 50 years now. I don’t always get it, but I dream so big that getting halfway there really isn’t that bad, as long as I put my focus on how far I did get, rather than how short I fell.

I finger paint for a living. I found my niche forming community through art almost 20 years ago. Producing a hands-on arts festival that involved 15 diverse artists lead me to develop this collaborative way of painting I call “FingerSmears”. Over the years I’ve had over 80,000 people stick their fingers in the paint at my request to add to the larger picture, literally and figuratively. People like Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Harrison Ford, and Willem Defoe have all added to my FingerSmear canvases. These were pretty cool moments, but they didn’t skyrocket my career. They were fleeting encounters that I can point to. The defining moments that really transformed me were more subtle. I can’t remember the exact instant that I realized the potential client on the phone was equally flawed, and that the occasional human faux pas was a normal course of business. I can’t remember the moment when I realized that it was Ok to ask for help, or that not everyone who makes promises delivers, or when I understood that the small steady steps are the ones that got me up the hill.

Somewhere along the line, the urgency of it all fell away. The pleasure of the process
took the driver’s seat, and the ride became my focus, the destination…a bonus.

I am working on one big dream though. It’s been lingering for a long time and I think it will make the world a better place so ‘I’m going for it”. It’s a global FingerSmear project. I call it Mighty Fingers Facing Change. One canvas traveling around the world, co-created by a global community of girls, embellished by abstract self-portraits and writings from this next generation of change-makers. Working to create a piece of art that celebrates, empowers, and connects girls around the globe, and helps them connect to their own personal power through art – I can’t imagine a better fantasy, so I’m working to make it my reality.

Much of the groundwork is done. The pieces are in place. The funding is not.

With minimal resources we made our way to Guatemala to work with a group of girls brought together by The Child and Youth Parliament of Guatemala. Off we went, myself, a filmmaker from San Francisco, and my daughter –the three amigos. My experience there taught me that it was not all about saving the world; it was as much about saving myself. I’m sure I walked away with as much as they did. I was empowered. I was inspired. Thanks to Toni’s videos, you will see that they were too. I would find a way to keep it going.

Several clients offered support through new commissions and I funneled my fees into stops #2, #3, and #4. Grants from sponsoring orgs like The Soroptimists of Edmonton, GAP! and pARTners helped back up my efforts, as did paint supplied by Jack Richeson & Co.
I’m not sure how I will continue to get Mighty Fingers to all of the girl groups around the world that have welcomed us. Time and money will tell.

In my mind exposure to, and cultivation of, the arts are a basic necessity that closely follows our need for clean water, food, and shelter. Self-expression, verbal and non-verbal, is a basic human need. A community rich in artistic expression will experience less conflict than one that is not because they understand how to communicate on a deeper level. They see from a broadened perspective and develop a greater sense of compassion for the world around them. They are rich and inspired, regardless of their economic status.

This world needs more girls (and boys) empowered, educated, and influenced – by art. It needs more Chutzpa.



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