Eric Bowman works during the 2014 Sonoma Plein Air Festival.

A lot of the paintings produced during the recent Sonoma Plein Air Festival were dazzling, but the success of the festival’s mission overshadows the great art. Since 2003, the Sonoma Plein Air Foundation has raised $740,000 for arts education in Sonoma Valley schools, with every penny going to the cause. That takes drive and dedication. That would be Keith Wicks


Aimee Erickson won Artists’ Choice at the festival.


Wicks recalls the beginning of the foundation. “I started it because my daughter came home from school one day and said, ‘I get to go to art class once a month,'” says the Sonoma, California, artist. “I had access to art when I was young, and I wanted her to have the same thing.”

Anton Pavlenko won Honorable Mention. 


There is an abundance of quality artists in the Sonoma Valley, and plenty of wealthy collectors, too. Those are two really good tools. Wicks got down to business, and a bit more than 10 years later, the Sonoma Plein Air Foundation is a smoothly running operation with a volunteer board that awards money for specific projects at specific schools — a process that ensures the cash truly goes to arts education. 

Jason Sacran also won Honorable Mention in the Artists’ Choice category.


Wicks acknowledges that the underfunding of arts education is a huge problem. “The state of California spends $2 per year per student on art education,” says Wicks. “It seems daunting, like any big problem. But any individual community can find their own solutions to their problems.”

Kim Vanderhoek with her creative output from the festival


The foundation is not just trying to groom young artists. “It’s not just about kids who want to be artists,” says Wicks. “It’s about all kids having access to art because it makes you much more of a critical thinker and an abstract thinker. Besides, most people want some sort of creative outlet. I think it is really critical. In the future it is much more important that we in society should not cut the arts. It’s the last thing we should cut.”


Models in costume posed for the Quick Draw.


At the festival, the artists get to enjoy the beauty of the area and the hospitality of the residents. The event is not a competitive one, although the festival does award an Artists’ Choice honor — and because these votes are often very close, some Honorable Mentions. Aimee Erickson took the top honor this year, with Anton Pavlenko and Jason Sacran garnering Honorable Mentions.

A painting by Philippe Gandiol completed during the festival


The artists are funding the arts, and they are also paving the way for a stronger art culture. “These students are going to be the art appreciators of the future; they are going to be doctors and lawyers with an appreciation for art,” Wicks points out. “They will become collectors.”


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