Guest blog post by Charles Washburn, Vice President & COO of VSA.
Sidewalk Sam was a friend of mine. That in itself is no real distinction because this wonderful man made fast friends of nearly everyone he met.
But we were the kind of friends and colleagues who would let the ideas flow where they might and then circle back around and see what we could do with them.
Like the time when, brimming with energy and enthusiasm he suggested that VSA Massachusetts should celebrate our 35th anniversary and our then recent move to the NonProfit Center near South Station with a Zestival! The result was the convening of hundreds of people suspending their business in the Financial District to learn the bunny hop and take over South Station and Dewey Square for a day of dancing and art making. Or the time we set up great troughs of paint for children to role their wheelchairs through and onto long sheets of cloth to create the backdrop for the world's first Wheelchair Dance Festival.
Sidewalk Sam was fun to be with and embraced life with a special zeal, but he was also quite serious about his mission to take the arts off the pedestal most people reserve for them and place them at our feet. He meant it literally when he asserted that the arts should be pedestrian. When his creativity and talent opened a path to a career in which his work could grace the homes of the wealthy and hallowed walls of museums, he chose, instead to give art away to anyone who passed by. He relished the conversations he would have during chance encounters while he was chalking up the sidewalk. Children were naturally drawn in by his lively energy. Adults would approach, at first hesitant, and get caught up in the creative vortex that was Sidewalk at work. Invariably someone would come along seeking a hug, sharing a story about a past encounter and providing an update on family and friends.
Last fall, I persuaded Sidewalk to share his own drawings and paintings once again in a gallery show. He was uncomfortable with the very idea of presenting his artwork as exceptional, noteworthy and valuable. I did not persuade him to sell any of these beautiful artworks; that would have been a step down the path he long ago rejected. He and Tina, his wife, soul mate and collaborator, created a wonderful installation of images of what he could see from his window. He seemed to relish sharing his love of life and art during the reception and challenged everyone who came to see his show to contribute their own drawings to a shared artwork, literally "drawing in the community". It was quintessential Sidewalk Sam.
I will miss Sidewalk, his friendship and tireless energy, and his ability to see beauty everywhere and in everyone.Tweet