This past Sunday, when I walked into Michael Grbich’s home high atop the Oakland hills, a full-blown party/fund-raiser was in swing.
Grbich, 74 years young, and a lifelong artist, whose paintings have been shown at the de Young museum, could not greet me because he was busy providing the entertainment. Wiry and athletic, wearing fitted, black leather pants, a tight white T-shirt, and a red scarf at his neck, Grbich spoke eloquently about using the artistic process to heal from the abrupt losses of his home and his wife.
Next, he donned his tapping shoes and tapped away to “Walk Right In.” Settling in to enjoy the silent auction, food and company, I checked out the nonprofit Health Through Art (HTA, Web site at healththroughart.org), previously unknown to me. The reasons for Grbich’s support of this truly unique organization are clear. On a shoestring budget, HTA goes into communities, reaching out to children, teens and elders, emphasizing the visual arts to promote health, and fight substance and tobacco use, violence, racism, ageism and sexism. Through “Roving Art Shows,” HTA exhibits the works of participating artists, often from elementary or middle or high schools, in cafes, libraries, community and cultural centers, schools, public buildings and throughout the Bay Area.
Best of all, HTA deftly turns our ubiquitous advertising media on end by using billboards, buses and BART trains, to convey their educational messages.
“HTA purposely invites community members to create the messages and art work. We believe that this is effective, healthful and healing, because the messages to counteract alcohol-and tobacco-pushing billboards and stores come from community members themselves,” says HTA founding director Tisha Kenny.
Here is a partial list of HTA’s accomplishments since inception in 1989, according to HTA:
- Community-wide Calls for Art: 5
- Special Project Calls for Art: 3
- Inner-city murals: 2
- Outdoor and transit billboard signs posted: 5,600
- Community-created messages exhibited in more than 1,500 sites through the Roving Art Show and community events: 2,000
- Direct contact with more than 200,000 people
- More than 20,000 promotional items sold and distributed including posters, magnets, T-shirts, bumper stickers, buttons, book covers and calendars
- More than 300 collaborations with organizations, programs and other projects