Painting the town

Redwood City hosts community art nights

Not everyone can be the next O'Keeffe, Kahlo or Picasso but on Thursday evenings in downtown Redwood City, everyone's invited to be a painter.

Since mid-October, Community Advocacy Through Art (CATA), a new project of the nonprofit Redwood City Parks and Arts Foundation, has been holding weekly volunteer-run fundraising Open Paint nights for the community at Pizza and Pints restaurant. From 5-8 p.m. each Thursday, all are welcome to stop by the large, family-friendly pizzeria, pick up some brushes and a canvas and paint whatever strikes their fancy while chatting with friends and meeting new neighbors.

Participation is free, as are the smallest pieces of vinyl-sheet canvas. To take home any work painted on a larger canvas, a donation is requested (prices vary by canvas size). Proceeds go toward CATA's goal of painting murals with a message all over town.

"CATA's mission is to bring awareness to community needs through art," director Cary Kelly said, adding that the planned CATA murals (the first of which is due up in a few months) will address issues such as homelessness and human trafficking while representing "themes of hope and growth" for the community. In accordance with a recent blossoming of public art in the city, Kelly said he hopes Redwood City can become an "open-sky museum," like many other art-fostering cities worldwide.

The idea behind Open Paint is similar to the myriad of "paint night" events that have sprung up at bars and cafes all over: People get together and socialize, sip refreshments and munch snacks while enjoying a relaxing artistic experience. But there are a few key differences. Not only is Open Paint a nonprofit fundraiser but, unlike at paint nights where everyone copies the same picture and comes out with nearly-identical canvases, at Open Paint, as the name suggests, painters are free to choose whether to color in a predesigned picture or work from their own ideas. Some of the available canvases are blank, some boast designs by local artists, which attendees can fill in with color, paint-by-numbers style.

"People move at their own pace," Kelly said.

Local businesses, including University Art, sponsor the events by providing materials, and other donations of art supplies are also welcomed. Pizza and Pints donates a percentage of food and beverage sales to CATA as well, and partnered nonprofit community organizations are also highlighted (currently, these include The Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition, St. Francis Center RWC and LifeMoves). The artists who contribute designs to Open Paint are able to exhibit and sell their work during the event, Kelly added. He estimated average weekly attendance at around 55 people over the course of three hours, and said the event was planned to continue at least through December, if not longer.

On a recent Thursday, the restaurant space was buzzing with people (including children and families) eager to paint (as well as to munch on pizza slices and play arcade games). Some gravitated towards the canvases boasting outlines created by local artists; some went freehand.

Erin Waugh used to paint often, she said, as she worked on a painting of a lion on one of the bigger canvases available, but hadn't been doing much of it recently. Open Paint, she said, makes it easy to get back into it "because it's free, and it's fun to socialize." She said she was familiar with paint-night parties at which everyone is provided the same few paint colors and design to follow but wasn't as enthusiastic about the format.

"It's very restricted and kinda boring. I like this better," she said.

Next to her, filling in outlines of butterflies, Christina Bee said she, on the other hand, preferred the paint-by-number option.

"I'm very judgmental; everything has to be perfect," the graphic designer said with a laugh. Akin to the pleasure of a coloring book, "It's soothing. You don't have to think." Bee found out about the event through the neighborhood website Nextdoor, while others have learned about it via Facebook, local artist groups or simple word-of-mouth.

Nestor Okampo, who sat with his daughter as she painted a multicolor heart, said his wife had read about Open Paint online.

"The arts scene is pretty cool," the Redwood City resident said, mentioning the colorfully painted utility boxes, shadow art and other public artworks that have been created in recent months. "It's nice, because I've seen all the art springing up around town. It adds a little depth."

What: Open Paint by CATA

Where: Thursdays, 5-8 p.m.

When: Pizza and Pints, 821 Winslow St., Redwood City

Cost: Free; donations accepted

Info: Go to CATA

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