The studio provides pens, pencils, paints, brushes, easels, and clay for artists. For budding musical performers there are a variety of instruments, MIDDI-based musical software programs, and a professional-level recording studio. Nine capable LMC student interns are available to assist guests. The interns are being paid with free time in that professional recording studio.
Michael has had the soul of an artist from birth. He began writing poems as soon as he learned how to make sentences and started creating imaginative pencil and paper drawings almost as soon as he could hold a pencil. He said that he moved into the world of digital art as soon as he could get his hands on Photoshop and website design tools. When he was 18 he began composing and recording original hip-hop tracks and became involved in the world of digital music as soon as the digital recording tools appeared. He has recorded a number of albums.
They say that “A pleasure shared is twice enjoyed” and rather than focusing his energies on creating or performing, Michael said that his greatest sense of fulfillment comes from providing a space where others can explore the creative side of their nature. Your Art Studio is a place to explore imagination and creativity without boundaries with prices scaled to the ability to pay, starting with free.
Michael intends for Your Art Studio to lure people away from a consumer mentality by establishing a modern version of the ancient communal pattern where people would gather around the fireplace in the evenings while they made quilts or music. They were participants in life and not spectators.
“Our mission is to ‘enable the creator,’” Michael said, “by providing an environment in which people can practice their craft, showcase their talents, and collaborate with other artists.” To that end, Your Art Studio offers sessions focused on recording, painting, drawing, sculpting, learning musical instruments, computers, and training with the digital studio tools. In addition, they offer jewelry making classes and sponsor occasional wine and paint nights.
Michael emphasized that the studio’s creative resources are available for people of all ages, skill levels, and interests. People are drawn to the professional quality tools for creating and recording music. Three computers are running FL Studio & Reason, which are digital audio workstations (DAWs) that provide guests with the same music production environment used by the professionals. Guests are able to compose, arrange, record, edit, mix, and master professional-level quality music. For a reasonable fee, Michael also makes available industry standard Pro Tools recording and sound editing resources, which includes the help of an engineer and producer. Guests can create a product capable of being published immediately after leaving the facility.
Your Art Studio is community oriented. It has sponsored talent shows and food drives, and has donated time, services, and products in various other community support projects.
Michael also manufactures and distributes a line of artful clothing called Mortal Elegance that melds fashion with a message and offers up-scale clothing at affordable prices. “For any Contra Costa County student who purchases a suit, tuxedo, or formal dress” Michael said, “we will donate $5.00 to their school.” (Check out www.MortalElegance.com.)
Michael has also developed an interactive website where users can create their own line of t-shirts, which can display any uploaded picture of their choosing from their PC or mobile phone, a graphic from an extensive gallery, and/or any slogan or message that they wish in a font of their choosing. They can begin designing their own clothing at www.yourtshirtprinting.com.
Michael said that his parents were flower children during the San Francisco Revolution of Love. After his father died from a drug overdose when he was two years old, his mom married another member of the revolution. When Michael was seven the family moved to Oakley in an attempt to escape San Francisco’s drug-ridden culture only to discover that drugs were as available on Neroly Road as they had been at Haight-Ashbury. “I have memories of them sending me to bed on a weekend with the sun still shining,” Michael said. “The next morning they would be in the same position as they had been when they sent me to bed.” Michael said that in spite of his step-dad’s compulsive behavior, he was a hard-worker who would spend 10 to 12 hours a day commuting to his job at Marin.
Everything changed for Michael’s parents when they began attending Delta Community Church of God and turned their life around.
Michael attended Brentwood’s Delta Christian Academy through his freshman year. It was wonderful and Michael was head of his class. However, his life started on a downhill slope during his sophomore year at Freedom High, when he started on a different lifestyle and was distracted from his academic pursuits. He began cutting class, hanging out with a girlfriend, and smoking pot. His GPA remained strong enough for him to graduate with the Freedom High Class of ’02.
Michael remembers his first years of bachelorhood as having an aimless quality. “I was poorly socialized,” he said, “with a rebellious attitude that, in part, reflected an unconscious seething resentment at the feeling of having been abandoned when my dad died of that overdose.”
Michael said that his situation wasn’t helped by the fact that he wasn’t busy enough and that his life illustrated the truth of the old adage about idle hands being the Devil’s workshop.
Even though by then his mom and stepfather were clean & sober, heredity and parental influence kicked in. Alcohol was a problem, he became a compulsive drug user, and drifted from one entry-level minimum-wage position to another. “I was fired from numerous jobs for being late and missing work,” Michael said. A problem was that minimum wage never provided enough incentive to encourage him to apply himself to a job. “I found myself struggling to adapt and to develop some stability.”
Nevertheless, in spite of his chaotic lifestyle at the time, Michael continued to pursue the arts. After graduating from high school, he attended the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in San Francisco. Because of his compulsive behaviors, he was homeless, living in storage units, and in a friend’s garage. He was too distracted by his maladjusted lifestyle to focus on studies, so he dropped out after a year. He subsequently enrolled in an Electrical Engineering program at LMC. He excelled at the studies but never obtained a degree.
“During all this time,” Michael said, “I maintained my vision of opening a multi-faceted creative arts activity center.” He recalls a Starbucks manager laughing at his dream, “Do you know how much insurance would cost?” he asked. Michael admitted to me, with a wry smile, that he now knows how much insurance costs. “A lot!” he said.
Stability finally began six years ago, when Michael was 28 years old. He finally landed a job that paid higher than minimum wage as a steel mill operator at Pittsburg’s USS-POSCO Industries. “The job probably saved my life,” Michael admitted. “For the first time, I was able to live like an adult, renting a decent place and beginning a 401K.” The new stability enabled Michael to finally find out who he really was and why he was put on earth.
Michael’s current Your Art Studio facility is a minimal version of the warehouse-size “Enable the Creator” entertainment and production facility he hopes someday to create. He would love to offer the facilities and programs for no charge, so he’s established a 501(c)(3) tax-free foundation called My Haven that will hopefully result in a genuine community center open to anyone who would like to drop by to explore the creative side of his/her nature or for serious artists who can use Your Art Studio as a stepping stone to a profession in the arts. “We would have after-school programs during the day,” Michael said. “The facility would be available to the adult public in evenings and weekends.”
Through Michael’s vision, guests could unleash their creative energies in whatever direction their imaginations might lead. Children could pair entertainment with learning. For example, a child who wanted to play a guitar could spend part of the time in a lesson and then take an online lesson on musical theory. He/she could play a video game for half the session time and then spend the remainder of the session sculpting a meme — whether in physical or digital media. The studio could coordinate hands-on learning with the curricula in the children’s schools. Instructors would be available to operate as docent tour guides, leading the guests to the resources available in whatever area of interest the child is drawn to.
The center would also include recording facilities, instruments, and possibly even go-karts, skate parks, or other amusements that could be channeled into offering real-world learning experiences. They would provide a variety of opportunities to lure people away from their increasingly non-creative use of social media. Each activity would be tied to some opportunity to learn, grow, and create.
Michael said, “I hope to encourage people around me with their arts and to pursue their passions. We need to stop isolating ourselves emotionally and physically. We need to become involved in living.”