Mainewhile: All in for art

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This past weekend, I found myself in a familiar place: tabling.

Literally stationed behind a table covered with colorful brochures, clipboards covered in sign-up sheets, and stacks of “save-the-date” cards. If, like me, you’ve spent a career in the nonprofit sector (or you volunteer a lot), this is familiar territory. I have tabled a lot of events.

I don’t mind tabling. For one thing, I like people and I like meeting new people. For another, I never table for anything unless I believe in it wholeheartedly. It’s not surprising then, that events usually go pretty well. Rarely, however, do things go quite so strikingly well as they did this weekend.

I was tabling at the Maine Craft Guild show at Fort Andross in Brunswick, and I was there on behalf of Arts Are Elementary, a relatively small nonprofit that creates professional artist residencies within each K-5 classroom in Brunswick’s public schools.

(This is where I must interject and state I have a vested interest in the organization. Given my commentary, you could reasonably assume this. But it goes further than just caring. I am, right now, wrapping up my time as the executive director of the organization. Let’s just be clear about that.)

My purpose at the event was to let people know the organization’s mission, show them the last year’s residencies (seriously, the work was amazing), and invite them to the fundraising auction happening this Saturday, Nov. 3, at The Daniel. (So, OK, that’s a plug, but it ties in. Stick with me.)

The conversations I had, however, were so much weightier than the standard fare. Sure, some folks smiled, said hello and kept moving. But there were many, many people who stopped to talk – really talk – about the work of the program. People spoke with me about how art influenced their lives, either as an outlet for self expression, or as a talisman of sorts – a visual touchstone they turn to during their day.

People also spoke to me, with deep sincerity, about their belief in art as the force that will foster compassion, nurture beauty, and right the wrongs they see in the world. This all made perfect sense to me; I, too, believe in art.

I think I was around 9 or 10 when, on a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I turned the corner and saw my first David Hockney. It was one of his English landscapes, all wavy lines and striking colors. It hung at the end of a long, white hallway with no other art in sight, and it took up the entire wall. It rooted me. I couldn’t move. Art can do that. Art is powerful stuff.

That experience in the museum was undoubtedly a huge part of why I later obtained my master’s degree in museum studies. Here’s the thing though: As important as it is for all of us to see, and be around, the works of masters in their field, I know it is equally if not more important for the “non-artists” among us, a group to which I belong, to get messy and create some art.

Creating is really where it is at. Amazing things happen when we all create. Maine artist Tim Rollins, who went on to found an innovative program in NYC, had the realization that art wasn’t made in oil or watercolor, but that “education was the medium.” Through the process of making art, we come to understand our world, our situation, ourselves.

This is why Arts Are Elementary exists. This is why I tabled. This is why the conversations landed with such force. If I had needed a nudge to pay attention, I certainly got one.

My day concluded when a vendor, a maker of fine woven garments, came to my table and said she was so moved by the work we were doing, she wanted to donate a piece to the auction. Just like that. Those who create, who know the power of art, know its value to our emerging youth. This artist was standing up to join the many others gifting their art in order to bring the experience forward. Really powerful stuff.

So come see what all the fuss is about. Look up Arts Are Elementary on Facebook. Check out the past residencies. Join in the fundraiser auction (it really will be phenomenal). Volunteer in a classroom. Come be a part of pure inspiration and hope.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at heather@heatherdmartin.com.

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