One evening I was traveling north on I-5 on my way back from a soccer game in Manteca. Clouds filled the sky as a beautiful sunset began to ripen rapidly. I knew I needed to pull off of the freeway soon lest I miss it. I got off at Downing Avenue in South Stockton and headed toward Van Buskirk Park. I wanted to get something in the foreground to help lead the viewer’s eye to the colors of the sunset. Walker Slough is at the southern edge of the park and separates the Weston Ranch development to the south from the low-income housing of Conway Homes just north of the park.
It’s not a place that many would normally associate with a beautiful scene. As I stood near the center of a bridge over the slough, I looked straight down. I could see the partially submerged wheels of a couple of abandoned shopping carts that had been dumped there. But looking beyond that, a thin ribbon of the slough snaked its way past the tule reeds lining it toward the horizon. The colors of the setting sun turned the clouds from a vibrant orange to a deep purple. The water reflected some of those colors as well as some open blue sky.
I got my shots and headed back to my car. Walking toward me on the shoulder of the road was a family: a young father and mother pushing a baby in a stroller accompanied by their son, who was about 7 or 8 years old. They appeared to be walking back to the Conway homes area from shopping at the Food 4 Less about half mile way. We passed each other, and as they reached the spot where I had taken my photographs, I turned back to see the young boy point toward the sunset and say to his parents: “look!” They turned and smiled at the natural beauty before them. The dad took out his cell phone and took a picture.
It can be a bit disconcerting and embarrassing when confronted with a stereotype you didn’t even think you had. It didn’t occur to me to think that low-income people would concern themselves with art and beauty. Not that they don’t have the capacity to appreciate them, but rather that they probably have more pressing priorities, such as finding money to feed and house their families. Certainly art had to be way down on their list of priorities. But the young family proved me wrong. They took a picture in the very spot where moments before I had stood to take mine. They enjoyed the beauty of the sunset just as I had done. I got in my car and headed back to the office satisfied in the pictures I had shot of the sunset and happy that there were others who appreciated it as much as I had.
Art isn’t for just a select few. It’s open to everyone to either create or to appreciate no matter where you fall on the socio-economic scale. For beauty isn’t found in one’s pocketbook but in one’s the heart, mind and soul.