Ed Solomon and Maryann Del Pizzo, founders of TIMOTCA, are dedicated to showing how artwork can bridge cultures and promote peace around the world.
By Ashley Ryan
Over the last 30-plus years, longtime Laguna residents Ed Solomon and Maryann Del Pizzo have strived to connect cultures around the world with the idea that peace can emerge through art. After creating a nonprofit organization to channel their efforts, they have developed projects dedicated to revealing the ways in which people are the same across the globe.
Back in 1978, a mutual friend introduced Maryann to Ed at a party in Laguna, where he outlined his idea to create an organization promoting peace through art. Two years later, the duo founded The International Museum of Twenty-First Century Arts (TIMOTCA) with the goal of using the universal language of art to bridge the gap in cultural acceptance and understanding.
“I saw TIMOTCA as a vehicle to expand my passion, or realize it perhaps,” says Maryann, explaining that even in her youth she was committed to nonviolence. As a mother, she promoted her ideals, urging her children to solve conflicts with peace instead of through fighting and banning the use of toy guns or war play. “I see the human race as one family, and the concept of brother killing brother is barbaric and something I have been committed to change in any way I can.”
Ed, on the other hand, had always had a love for the arts. As a musician for many years (he was a first-chair violinist), he had an appreciation for all things artistic. When Ed first met Maryann, he was managing several artists to promote their work and increase their exposure. He told Maryann, “If I can do this with good local artists, can you imagine what could be done with the works of celebrated artists from around the world?”
And with one simple idea, two feverish passions and a world of opportunity, that’s how TIMOTCA was born. By reaching out to cultural officials from more than 60 nations, Maryann says the organization has been able to involve countries “from Albania to Zimbabwe and [many places] in between,” becoming what she likes to call the “United Nations of the Arts.” Ed and Maryann worked with these officials to select one prominent artist from each nation that embodies the mission of TIMOTCA. From there, they generally try to travel and visit the artist in their home country, where the artist signs an “artist agreement” that confirms their contributions to expanding humanity.
Art Beyond Borders
Once the idea formed to ask each artist to create an original work of art for a permanent collection, TIMOTCA’s first project was born. “Art Beyond Borders” became a traveling exhibition showcasing the works of these renowned artists, serving as a visual representation of the countries that had come together under the organization.
“The only way to be strong is if you’re putting them altogether,” Ed says. “No country has said ‘no’ yet.”
With so many artists involved, the collection represents a vast amount of artistic styles. These different styles often help reveal something about the country’s culture as well. Hubert Clerissi, the artist representing Monaco, filled his canvases with pastel watercolors depicting old-fashioned city streets and boats floating in scenic harbors, symbols of the country’s Mediterranean atmosphere. Iranian artist M.A. Taraghijah’s paintings often featured horses, an icon representing high social status in past Persian societies. Cecil Skotnes, a prominent artist from South Africa, painted with brightly colored oil paints, incorporating long, lean outlines of people—reminiscent of the origin of mankind. This collection of artwork demonstrates the differences between individual cultures while highlighting the ways in which art ties them together.
“Art Beyond Borders” premiered at the United Nations headquarters in New York City in 1997 with the assistance of UNESCO. The following year, the exhibition appeared at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and the World Expo in Lisbon, Portugal, with artists from varying countries making appearances to support the project. In 2010, it began a tour of the United States, showing in Honolulu; Santa Fe, N.M.; St. Paul, Minn.; Washington, D.C.; Little Rock, Ark.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Hartford, Conn.; Laguna Woods, Calif.; and New York City.
The success of “Art Beyond Borders” has led to the implementation of many cultural and educational programs including a teacher’s guide that encourages students to explore artistic paths in life. The organization’s efforts have been endorsed by prominent leaders such as former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, according to Maryann.
“Art Beyond Borders is an exhibition with a mission that is both timeless and timely. Spreading cultural knowledge is a timeless pursuit that encourages tolerance and appreciation for those different from ourselves,” Kofi said of the project.
“Visual art is uniquely positioned to be a vehicle for fostering peace through understanding, in that it is accessible to all with no language barrier to hamper its message.”
Messages of Peace
The organization’s mission of using art as a cultural connection has continued with its newest project, Postcards From the World, My Dream of Peace, for which Ed and Maryann have turned their attention from renowned artists to future artists.
Discussion guides were sent to teachers all over the globe, inviting them to talk with their students about the concept of peace. The children were then asked to draw a picture of what peace means to them on a 5-by-5-inch postcard provided by TIMOTCA. With 43 countries participating, Ed and Maryann have received thousands of postcards from children between the ages of 5 and 18—all postmarked to Laguna Beach—decorated in watercolor, oil, chalk and crayon, and even collages.
Some images include many people and their countries’ flags coming together on one large continent; an angel holding the Earth in her hands against a backdrop of flags; and children holding hands across the globe with white doves as symbols of peace in the foreground.
The cards also provided a space for the children to comment about their artwork, revealing the impact the project has had on so many students around the world. A 13-year-old from South Africa wrote, “When our leaders make peace with each other, they can finally unite against this planet’s problems.” A 12-year-old Ukrainian child simply said, “I don’t want to live in a world of war!”
“To be able to read what the picture means … it’s almost the most poignant part of it,” Maryann says.
The project doubles as a competition, with monetary awards available in categories like Best of Show, Peoples’ Choice and Best of Country. In an effort to encourage continued creativity, TIMOTCA will give away $10,000 benefiting participating schools, teachers and, most importantly, students.
Additionally, Ed and Maryann will be selecting more than 1,000 of the submitted postcards to be displayed in a special traveling exhibition at four major international airports, where they will be viewed by millions of travelers beginning this fall through early 2015. The exhibitions are slated to take place at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
“Art has always been a valued part of our community and that value is reflected in the art installations integrated throughout McCarran International Airport,” says Christine Crews, public information administrator for McCarran. “ … The inherent connection between travel and postcards makes the ‘Postcards From the World, My Dream of Peace’ collection a natural fit for the airport environment. In many ways, an airport, our airport, is the gateway to those seeking to explore the world abroad. With this exhibit, we have the chance to allow people to explore by bringing the world to our airport, even if it’s just in postcard-sized pieces.”
Once the exhibits end, the postcards will be redistributed among the participating schools, giving the students a chance to view drawings by children from other countries—to examine similarities in understandings of peace throughout the world.
As buzz about their latest project spreads, Ed and Maryann are looking to the future. Within about a year, they hope to create a virtual TIMOTCA center online, which they say is a significant opportunity to get their message out to more people. “That’s been our struggle—to capture our vision and share it with people who have the same vision,” Maryann explains.
The virtual center would include permanent digital collections of the artwork created through the “Art Beyond Borders” exhibit and Postcards From the World project, allowing people all over the world to view the art and spread the message of goodwill.
Their ultimate goal is to create a Peace Monument, honoring those whose visions have aligned with TIMOTCA’s quest for harmony. The monument would house a Peace Assembly, a meeting place for representatives from various countries to meet and discuss advancements in art programs and global interaction. They would also like to include a nearby Museum of World Art, showcasing past, present and future TIMOTCA art projects as well as other pieces created by international artists.
“For me, the creative spirit shared by every human being is the ultimate demonstration of our connectedness and, thus, TIMOTCA seemed a perfect vehicle to devote my life to,” Maryann says.
Wherever Ed and Maryann’s work takes them and TIMOTCA in the future, their longstanding efforts toward peace and global unity will continue to be recognized and revered—near and far.