Good art, good community, is all about connections and insight, creating and glimpsing into things a little bit more deeply than might make us normally comfortable. It’s about stained-glass nippers, felted rocks, stack upon stack of unfinished projects, the smell of turpentine and glue, the feel of a chalk pastel against the skin.
There is something vulnerable about creating, but there’s also something so joyous in that. Community is the same way. Reaching out to others, sharing experiences while you create a stained-glass piece, a project, serve on a board, or even just stand in a grocery store line can be frightening, exhilariating, vulnerable and powerful.
ArtWaves combines both of those possibilities at its Town Hill campus of barns and grass, flowers and trees, combining experts in art, dance, and wellness with people who sometimes know nothing about art, dance or wellness.
Sometimes those people are Rotarians.
Safety goggles in place, stained glass nippers in hand, glue ready in coffee creamers, several Rotarians spend their Wednesday night doing something they aren’t used to doing – making art.
“This is so fun,” says Colleen Maynard, a local banker, sitting at a work table that’s full of stained-glass pieces and ‘tool kits’ for the students to peruse as they build their stained-glass mosaics.
“Look at all your blues,” Liz Cutler, ArtWaves’ board secretary and a founding artist says as she touches Maynard’s piece. “I love your blues.”
Cutler comes up behind another Rotarian and gazes upon her stained-glass mosaic before she announces, “You’re an artist.”
“Oh no. I’m just a person,” she protests, blushing.
“You can be both!” Liz exclaims. “You are both.”
And that’s the thing, you can be an artist and a person, but you don’t have to be a self-proclaimed artist to enjoy ArtWaves. It’s for everyone. As the nonprofit’s website proclaims, “ArtWaves serves as a center of learning, engagement, and community for individuals at every skill level to experience and create art.”
Before the mosaic-making, Rotarians had gathered around a long white table, eating, drinking, socializing and catching up on news. Large barn doors that led to a grassy area were shut and Rob Pollien, president of ArtWaves’ board and a founding faculty member explained the goals of ArtWaves.
“It’s about building community,” he says. “It’s about trying everything.”
Many of us grew up being told we failed to color within the lines or that there wasn’t an artistic bone in our body. We were told to be bankers, bus drivers, accountants, plumbers. And while ArtWaves is full of serious artists with massive amounts of talent and creativity, the organization is about nurturing the creative side within us, too, about building bonds during sessions where you put on safety glasses and nip pieces of stained glass. It’s about laughing and learning and sharing an experience.
Art is humanity emphasized. It’s broad strokes, finite pieces. It’s about illumination and illustration but with the magical element of communication thrown in. It often makes something bigger than its pieces. It’s community within a form and then expanding beyond it. Artists seem like magicians as they open up worlds that we only slightly imagine. Those worlds aren’t just on the canvas or stage or page. Those worlds also become part of communities.
Or as Suzanne Gerber writes in Next Avenue, “Putting art at the heart of a community enhances our lives by stirring hard-to-articulate feelings and inspiring us to look beyond what we believe to be possible and imagine a more vibrant, exciting future. It also reminds us that we’re all creative beings — and that whether we’re making art or music, telling stories or cathartically sharing in the experience, we’re all connected.”
Those connections are the bonds that hold people and communities together in difficult times full of strife and polarities but also in good times. Places like ArtWaves quietly soldier forward in a war towards art, connectivity, expression and understanding.
“The country’s future depends on inter-community connections – the promise of increased understanding between people who maybe have little in common on the surface,” according to Robert Lynch and Laura Zabel in their article “The Importance of the Arts In Our Community,” writing for Americans for the Arts.
“Look at you!” Cutler says. “What a great piece you’ve made.”
“You’re an artist,” she says.
We all are. We just don’t realize it. Movement by movement, word by word, action by action, we create our own selves but we also create our communities. Places like ArtWaves just want to make sure that we’re making something beautiful and meaningful and good.