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Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - October 2016


Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - October 2016

For a community the size of Sonoma Valley, with its 10,648 residents, the number of nonprofits we support – 95 according to Impact100 – is impressive. 

The Plein Air Festival, held this year during the week of September 5 through 10th, supports arts programs in the schools that might no longer exist without it.

With the decline of school funding in recent years, most districts have cut art, music, and even physical education to make up for the shortfall. But thanks to the SPAF, Sonoma’s art programs have continued. The Festival in the Plaza funds school and community art programs, with 35 artists displaying work they produced in three days at locations around Sonoma. Forty percent of the sales – $130,000 for the past two years – is contributed to local arts programs; over the Festival’s 14 years, one million dollars has been raised.

And what fun it is, to see familiar scenes interpreted and portrayed in these vibrant paintings! The hills, the sea, boats in the Petaluma River, the old Petaluma granary, the buildings around the square: our world in art!

My long-time friend Philippe Gandiol has been participating in the festival for the past six years. I visited with him on the Plaza, where I enjoyed watching the stream of art lovers, many of them locals, come to view the work and chat with the artists. It’s another slice of Sonoma lifestyles, one with which I am not personally familiar. A community of elegance, this social network sustains our nonprofits with their contributions, attending the $100-a-plate dinners and other fund-raising events held by so many of our organizations, where they enjoy fine food, wines, and entertainment while supporting the good work of F.I.S.H., the Sonoma Mentoring Alliance, the Sonoma Ecology Center, to name just a few. Do other communities operate in this way? Do organizations tailor their platforms in order to compete for the dollars offered by this relatively conservative segment of our population? Could they survive if they didn’t? 

The Plein Air Festival is blessedly non-political. In these hectic pre-election days, it’s good to get a break from all the jousting between the two front-runners against a background of mounting environmental and political problems around the world. Still, an outsider looking in may wonder where the more affluent members of our community stand on affordable housing, tourism, the plight of millions of refugees worldwide, and the value of stocks in companies like Monsanto (now merging with Bayer), Chevron, Lockheed Martin and so forth. When it comes to rich and poor, where may the twain ever meet? And how do we create viable change if it doesn’t?

Philippe enjoys coming to Sonoma. “When you stay in a place for a few days, you begin to have a relationship with it.” The artists are hosted by supporters throughout the Valley; this year Philippe was hosted in a lovely guesthouse in Glen Ellen.

He completes about 12 paintings during the three days of on-site sessions around the Valley, and beyond. One of my favorites depicts a boat on the Petaluma River bathed in golden light. Everyone who saw it fell in love with it; it sold for $1,200 while I was sitting listening to Philippe chat with a customer.

Then a beautiful street scene of our Heavenly City next door – one of San Francisco’s hills and valleys – was whipped off the wall!

So much fun to see local spots rendered by fine artists.

You can see some of Philippe’s other paintings at a gallery in St. Helena,, on Facebook and at his own web site,

Philippe lives in Davis with his wife Anna Lynn Dayton. He’s in his studio at 8 every day. He talks fluently about the challenges of being an artist, challenges quite similar to those facing writers. And as you get better at the techniques, he says, you become freed to tackle the real challenge, of how to convey the feeling you see in the image. “That’s even harder,” he says.

But you know that he loves it.

The desire to do good in this life is an interesting human phenomenon, one that takes many forms. A handful of peace activists carrying signs pleading for an end to war stood in front of City Hall on International Peace Day – September 21 in case you didn’t know it existed (I didn’t). The vigil was organized by Sonoma Valley Peace & Justice

Transition Sonoma Valley is paying a lot of attention to the county’s Climate Action Plan 2020 currently facing a lawsuit from Jerry Bernhaut of RiverWatch on the grounds that it caters to the wine and tourism industries. And Georgia Kelly of Praxis Peace continues to explore alternatives to capitalism. Find out about her tour to Cuba at – there may still be room to join.

We’re a full spectrum community here in Sonoma!