01/24/2011 01:47 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

An Artist Ahead of Her Time

In my hometown of San Francisco, we are very fortunate to be at the center of a vibrant art community. We are home to some of the world's best galleries and museums as well as some of the most successful companies in the world that depend on creative minds to drive new innovations.

But one local artist has touched this community in ways that no one else has. San Francisco is home to Ruth Asawa, who in addition to being an influential artist, is also one of the greatest art education advocates of our time. Although she focused her efforts in the Bay Area, her impact has been felt throughout the entire country.

If you live in San Francisco or have ever visited the city, you surely have been touched by Ruth Asawa. Her work is featured all over the Bay Area, including the Hyatt Regency in downtown San Francisco, Ghirardelli Square, Japantown, and San Francisco State University. Her work is also part of the art collections at the de Young Museum, Guggenheim, and Whitney Museum of American Art, the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, San Jose Museum of Art, and the Oakland Museum of California.

Clearly, Ruth has had an enormously successful career. But what really makes her impact so powerful is her passion for taking art out from the museums and into the community. Art had such an impact on Ruth's life that she strives to allow every person to experience the same passion.

For Ruth, art means collaborating with peers, solving problems and transforming lives. At a young age, art taught Ruth how to express her feelings -- she believes that art plays a critical role in shaping our world. It became her personal mission to bring art into the schools of San Francisco so that students have the opportunity to learn how to think for themselves and express themselves in ways they never imagined.

In the late 1960s the arts were not a prominent feature of high school course offerings. Ruth Asawa led the charge to change that in the Bay Area. Ruth co-found the Alvarado Arts Workshop where she brought artists in to schools to work with students. The program was successful and spread to other schools in the Bay Area. In 1982, Asawa started a public high school for the arts, the San Francisco School of the Arts, which has been re-named the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in her honor.

The importance of art in our community today cannot be over emphasized. Its influence touches every part of our lives, from the workplace to our leisure time. The hand of an artist touches virtually everything you can think of. From architecture and graphic design, to video game design and multi media communications, artists and designers are fueling today's innovation economy. And they continue to create sculptures, paintings and designs that provide us with an opportunity to share their interpretations of our world. Art programs like the one that Ruth started back in the early 80's give kids an opportunity to use their creativity and dream up their own innovations.

Throughout her far reaching and successful career as an artist, Ruth was consistently dedicated to teaching art, and bringing art into the classroom. She never wavered from her mission that teaching art was not a luxury, but a necessity. The Academy of Art University is founded on these same principles.

That is why our University sponsored the production of a documentary on the life of Ruth Asawa, "Ruth Asawa: Roots of an Artist," that premiered last week at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The film, which will continue to be screened in the coming months, is about Ruth's art, as well as her passion for bringing art into the schools, which is all the more urgent now that we are facing such a reduction of art curriculum in our educational system. I challenge anyone to watch the film and not come away with an appreciation for the arts and people like Ruth Asawa, who brings art to life everyday for all of us.