This 4th of July weekend, I had an incredibly proud parent moment or day, actually. My daughter Kate never ceases to amaze me. She is a very busy and focused woman raising my beautiful granddaughter, being a health department nurse overseeing infectious disease care (including COVID), working part-time as a prison nurse, and running a burgeoning bakery business on the side. As if that weren’t enough, she is a gardener, cares for pets, leads a Girl Scout troop, and recently joined her local community action group. I can barely find the time to do the handful of things I do each week and struggle to understand how she manages so much. And yet I remember that long ago, I too had that kind of drive and energy and could stretch out a day like nobody’s business.
The huge thing she’s done that thrills me is starting an arts organization. Kate and her family live in a very remote, rural, and underserved part of Illinois. She was raised as a country girl and continues to love country life. But she was also raised by parents who enjoyed traveling and appreciated and made time for the arts. When she was growing up, it was simply routine for us to take her to art museums, historic sites, and cultural events. As a result, she was exposed to a broad range of arts and history experiences. I cherish memories of her wide eyes taking in such things as Renaissance Fairs, galleries of the Chicago Art Institute, the blooming landscapes of botanical gardens, Ice Capades, and Native American Pow Wows. She even learned about the music of her parent’s generation while attending a concert of “The Monkeys,” who performed at Six Flags.
I also am drawn to the arts and majored in art in college. I’ve painted, drawn, photographed, made jewelry, sewn, knit, crocheted, molded clay, and more throughout my life. I was an event coordinator in my museum work and often brought Katie to work with me on days of events. I suspect that her exposure to all this as a child was also absorbed and valued.
So my little girl, who is now 35, said to me, “I have this burning wish to find out if anyone else around me would like to have more of the arts in their lives.” This was a big heart-swelling moment for me. She was not content to just privately dabble in the arts on her own. She desires a connection to other creative souls – for learning and growing more of that essential part of her being.
So she began researching arts organizations in other communities, studying their mission statements, who they serve, where their funding comes from, and what kinds of activities they offer. She created a Facebook page for an art group and began seeking input from interested parties. She contacted her local community government and pitched her idea. After months of knocking on doors, she was invited to join the Action Brown County (ABC) Committee in planning a 4th of July event. The event would include an opportunity for her to explore public interest in arts activities. She decided to focus on art for young children. Through the support of volunteers, the ABC, and a grant from the Two Rivers Arts Council and Illinois Arts Council, she was able to co-host her first art event. And by golly, it was like watching Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams when he heard a voice say, “If you build it, they will come.”
Altogether between 65 and 100 people visited the little arts tent at the Mt. Sterling Summer Bash. Children could create firecracker paintings by stamping or spraying watercolors. The event could be likened to a salad of colorful, messy, and delightful ingredients, and the little ones who came couldn’t consume enough. Parents also seemed to enjoy the crafts and offered many thank-yous. Then, as quickly as it began, it ended. It was a stellar day.
I volunteered for her at the event, and at one point, when things were humming at the height of the afternoon, I stepped back to watch the buzz. The bright yellow “art tent” was filled with happy, bouncy children spraying paint, flinging glitter, and grinning from ear to ear. Their paintings were strung on lines around the tent, airing to dry. All the colorful works and busy moving children made the scene look like a living kaleidoscope. A little voice in my head said, “She has done such a wonderful thing.”
So parents, grandparents, and teachers… keep buying those crayons and paints. Keep taking your kids to events. Let them be messy and explore. Let them get lost in the colors, sounds, and textures of their young lives. Expose them to the big swirly, dancing, color wheel of life and watch what they do with it. It just might come back to serve your family’s community someday, and you too will feel the massive swelling of the heart.