I was feeling apprehensive the day I hauled my guitar out of my Honda and lugged it across the street to the Museum of Arts and Heritage, wishing I’d left the case and carried just the guitar. But then how would I juggle my bag of music and props, my cellphone, keys, and water? Note to self: plan on not getting a good parking space next time. Ditch the case. Travel light.
Maybe it’s because I’m used to working with much younger folks. Three to fives were always my focus. Forty-five older kids all in one room would feel akin to a buzzing hive of energy, activity, and sounds, and I wasn’t sure of my tolerance for beehives anymore.
This was a big day for our museum and arts center. It’s always a big day when people are brave and do something they’ve never done before simply because kids need it. I’m speaking of Joy, the museum’s program manager. It was, as it turned out, a big day for me, too.
I pass a statue of a ribbon dancer in glorious motion and remember touching it before on another visit. How can something that looks so soft and flowing feel so cold and hard? It seems the sculptors worked with more than mere metal when they brought her forth. A plaque lists their names: Don Haugen and Teena Watson. The statue has a name, too—Joy. These two Joys make me smile.
Behind the doors at the top of the stairs, I find a group of children ages 6 through 12, charter members of the museum’s first, hopefully annual, Kids Art Camp. The room is unexpectedly silent and for a split second I wonder if I have the time wrong. In this beautiful circular space, children are gathered around tables, gluing, weaving, painting, talking softly. Teachers and group leaders gently preside, offering their presence and support. The children barely notice the woman dragging a guitar and tote bags. They are busy, giving themselves to their work, taking stock of their progress, making adjustments, and deciding on next steps.
The main room had once served as sanctuary of The First Methodist Church in Tifton, Georgia, built in 1901. The ceilings are high and light streams in from every direction through both clear windows and brilliant stained-glass masterpieces, painstakingly restored when the church was renovated in 1995 to house the museum. Cocooned within warm wooden surfaces the children are the museum pieces on display today, to no one but themselves (and one or two moms who have stayed behind to make sure their little ones are fine, which they are).
I find a chair and sit down. Before long, children make their way to me, instinctively sitting on the floor in criss-cross-applesauce style. First two, then a few more, and as the group gradually grows we chat like old friends. They want to know what makes my guitar work and so I demonstrate how strings vibrate as I strum and then stop vibrating as I lay my hand across them. They watch with great interest as I move my fingers up the frets while strumming, captivated to hear (and see) the sound go higher and higher. Some tell me about their own instruments with strings—ukuleles and violins and guitars.
“My name is Miss Donna and I am so happy to be here at the very first Kids Art Camp.”
I scan the group. They’re smiling. So far so good.
“In fact,” I continue, “I wrote a song for you. All you have to do to join in is follow my lead. I say KIDS, you say ART CAMP!” and we are on our way.
The allotted twenty-minute music slot turns into a gracious twenty-five as we wrap it up with an old favorite, “Friends Are Like Flowers” by Carey Landry. Looking across the sea of children swaying from side to side, I notice one of the older girls old holds her cellphone high in the air, camera flash activated, waving it rock-concert style. “I feel like I’m on American Idol,” I say. Everybody giggles and claps.
I dug around through boxes and shelves and came up with my copy of the book and journal I used to work through it. I came to notes on Week 8, “Recovering a Sense of Strength.” My own hand-drawn stars point to lines on page 134: “In order to move through loss and beyond it, we must acknowledge it and share it,” Cameron explained. “Because artistic losses are seldom openly acknowledged or mourned, they become artistic scar tissue that blocks artistic growth.” And, the kicker: “If artistic creations are our brainchildren, artistic losses are our miscarriages.” I added more stars and arrows near that last part.
Name your dream, she instructed. That’s right. Write it down.
“In a perfect world, I would secretly love to be a ____.” (p 150)
This call to personal truth-telling started working in me the moment I wrote in my journal on June 20, 2012:
“In a perfect world, I would be a singer/songwriter.”
Now, six years later, the dream of writing songs and singing for children has materialized. This journey was set in motion, I believe, because of an invitation to commit secret dreams to writing and, when ready, to pull them out and give them some sunlight with room to breathe.
For further reading:
Tweetspeak Poetry Book Club: The Artist’s Way
Tifton Museum: A Historic Treasure Houses Art, by Cindy Hammond.
Brilliant ink-on-tile illustrations created with a secret process bring the alphabet to colorful life. Children will delight in the rich, poetic language of colors like emerald, jasmine, and quartz—while also meeting old favorites like yellow, orange and purple.