Amy Tanaka: Something From Nothing

Artist Amy Tanaka is part of the GreenLB team that’s preparing for the 4th Annual Green Long Beach Festival, taking place next Saturday, June 9th, from 11 AM until 8 PM at Marina Green Park. The park is located just East of Shoreline Village, and South of East Shoreline Drive, with beautiful views of the marina and the downtown skyline.

For June’s Bixby Knolls’ First Fridays event, which is taking place this Friday from 6-9 PM, Nino’s Restaurant invited Amy to host a GreenLB preview event in their parking lot. The restaurant has a long history of hosting art and music in their bar area, so this seems like a natural extension of that.

“Carina [Cristiano, who organizes banquets and special events for the family owned restaurant -srw] reached out to me personally, wanting to do a collaboration between Nino’s and GreenLB,” Amy said. “She wanted to help promote our festival and our efforts to fund-raise, and we in return are grateful and want to also support what Nino’s does during 1st Fridays.

“Since Nino’s always has art and music, I decided to incorporate some of our festival participants, such as musicians, artists, and fashion designers into the mix. This way, we market the festival, we support a local business, and we also give these artists another outlet to showcase their talents.

“I told the artists/musicians from the beginning,” Amy explained, “that them getting involved with GreenLB not only meant participating in the festival, but also for other events we hold.

“Jose Pina and myself will be ‘live painting’ outside. GreenLB will have a table in the parking lot where we will be selling plants, desserts made by our very own members, and two bands: The Lost Hours and The LBians. We’ll also feature two local fashion designers, Amabelle Aguiluz and Tania. We also have bands inside as well: Glasshouse Construction Co, and Along for the Ride.

“So I am very happy about how this Friday will go,” said Amy. “I think this is a great opportunity for GreenLB because we have been trying to bring the Downtown Long Beach community closer to other parts of Long Beach. In the future we want to continue spreading our roots into Belmont Shore, Naples, and other neighborhoods.

“Sadly, there are still many in the community who have never heard of GreenLB. We are trying, slowly but surely, to bridge that gap. These efforts will get our GreenLB mission out there, as well as accumulate a larger participant base and find those who are also passionate about what we are interested in and do voluntarily everyday.”

The Green Long Beach Festival really is lovely. It is kid-friendly, informative, entertaining, and tasty. One thing I noticed, though, in attending two of the last four years, was that it seemed to draw people that were already connected to the Green philosophy. I asked Amy how the organizers are dealing with that.

“There has been definitely a feeling of ‘preaching to the choir,'” Amy said. “I agree with that. We’ve talked about that. I think, sometimes, there is still a struggle to get people involved. We are connecting and collaborating with other local non-profits whose members may not know about us. We attended the LA Green Festival this past year to introduce GreenLB to that new crowd, and there were a few Long Beach people that stopped by that didn’t know who we were, and who decided to subscribe to our newsletter. We are also connecting with people through social media. We are finding other groups online that may have never heard of our efforts.

“For example, our sponsor coordinator, David, and I recently attended a BNI [Business Network International – srw] meeting at Skylinks Golf Course, and met with 29 other businesses. We exchanged cards and information, and some expressed interest in getting involved with us to bridge the gap between businesses and the community.

“This year,” continued Amy, “we’ve got connected to Mary Kay, Stephanie from Art of Life, and a mutual fund company who simply wanted to know how we connect with the community so well. They asked advice about creating sustainability in their own business, not just ‘green’ wise, but also reaching out more.

“We did a tree planting with Autism LB, and started to connect with local businesses in the Belmont Heights and Naples areas. Another member and I also attended a meeting with a similar group in the South Bay a few months ago, to share ideas and see what they are up to.

“I think,” Amy confessed, “that GreenLB has stayed downtown, and ‘preached to the choir’ thus far because we are still new, we are still connecting with people in our area, and establishing relationships. Not only that, we are still educating ourselves. We are attending documentary films, attending Southern California Economics Council workshops, and taking classes at the Green Ambassador Program out in Lawndale at the Environmental Charter High School.

“For the festival this year, I also wanted the workshops to be more hands-on, so there are a few people who have never been involved with GreenLB that are holding workshops. They are offering new ideas and information. It’s not only us reaching out. It is also people who are looking to get tapped in.

In addition to her organizational efforts with GreenLB and the annual festival, Amy is a talented and adventurous artist. I asked her how she got started.

“It started in my childhood,” she said. “I liked to observe people, things, nature, etc. I created a notebook of drawings from things I would see around the house. I would draw people, their facial expressions, the mood and emotion of their body language. I liked to draw it because it caught my attention.

“I guess you can compare drawing a little to photography but, for me, drawing allowed me to be more engulfed in what I was drawing. I had to feel it to in order to really create the mood in my drawings, and details.”

I asked her if she studied art.

“We all were told, in high school, to choose a major,” Amy said, “so I chose art. I was talented at it, so I stuck to what I knew I was good at, and went to CSULB for art. I think college was good practice for skills, but I think I lost that passion to draw for myself while in college. Classroom settings tend to feel like a room [full of] judges. I began drawing to pacify the teacher rather than myself and what I believed in.

“It wasn’t until after college that I began drawing more on my own again. I moved to LA for a year and didn’t really know anyone but my roommate. I worked for a non- profit out there as well. So instead of living the fast LA life, I stayed home a lot and just drew. I tried to draw less from observing things, copying exactly what I saw, and tried instead to tap more into my imagination.

“My most difficult experience as an artist was trying to draw from imagination,” she explained, “because I tried to start from scratch, from nothing, but turn it into something. It was really a challenge. I still do some drawings from what I see, but I have been getting more into surrealism. My imagination now takes over a lot. I notice that, when I am driving, my mind slips in and out of my imagination.”

I asked if she has a preferred style or medium.

“I can’t say I have a style, and don’t want one because I like tapping into all aspects of creativity. I think my art shows that. I do paintings, drawings, claymation, and upcycled art. Even outside of art, I like doing everything. I don’t want any limitations, or to be pressed into doing one particular thing. I am more versatile than that.

“If I had to decide where I grew most, I would say it was my paintings. We tend to lose our imagination a little bit as we begin to grow up and start focusing on more responsible, adult things. Through painting, I think I finally found an opening to let myself back into my imagination.”

I asked Amy if it has been challenging for her, personally, to embrace and implement the Green philosophy in her daily life.

“To embrace the Green philosophy has not been a challenge,” Amy said. “Acting on the ideas of ‘going green’ has been a challenge because we all, as a society, have set up this unsustainable structure that has conditioned us to live our lives this way.

“I began getting more interested in sustainability when I worked for the non-profit in LA because I was introduced to a huge variety of nonprofits. The environmental ones caught my eye. Everything about the environment seeps into our daily lives: Physical & mental health, air, water, homes, land, and food.

“I think the efforts of being sustainable have always felt like ‘doing right,'” Amy said. “Regardless of whether people think there is global warming or not, we should be making efforts to conserve our resources. We should consume less. We should know how we treat our food and know the effects of what we are putting into our bodies.

“It has become one of my values. I value life. I value earth. I value people. Since I feel so strongly about it, I must change my own behavior to live it. This is probably my greatest passion, along side art, so I am trying to fuse the two.”

I asked Amy how people can learn more about the Festival, and participate in ongoing local Green efforts.

“They can learn more by visiting our website for updates on events and workshops,” she said. “I update the website, so I try my hardest to keep the information flowing. I’d like people to know that, no matter what they are interested in, or do, please come find us and get plugged in. Offer your services to the community, connect, and support.

“That is one thing I have loved about being with GreenLB. We’re not just about the green aspect, but about making Long Beach smaller. We look for, and reach out to, others incessantly… I want to see more people reach out to us as well, and bring their passions along with them.

“So they can connect with us at greenlb.org, or on Facebook, or they can even sit in our meetings. The meetings are very casual, usually potluck style, and include a lot of conversation and ideas. I literally consider my GreenLB group my second family. We feed each other, support one another, and we all come to the table with different skills and talents. Having more people in the community, involved with us, makes us even stronger.”

To learn more about Amy, visit actanaka.com.

To learn more about GreenLB, visit GreenLB.org.

Connect with GreenLB on Facebook. Explore Nino’s menu, and keep track of upcoming events, at NinosLongBeach.com.

If you’ve not experienced the wonder that is First Fridays, make June your first, as there are a few extra special things this month, not the least of which is the Uptown Village Market in the Expo Arts Center, and Press Telegram columnist Tim Grobaty signing his new book at the Historical Society of Long Beach.

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