Thursday, October 23, 2014

Art For Everyone

The Fantasticks at Centre Theater
If you ask people on the street what "The Arts" means in Norristown, most will say the Arts Hill Fest and our two theaters. Some will mention Open Words Open Mic Poetry.

Not as many, surprisingly, will say music, maybe because we had concerts in the park long before we had Arts Hill. No one seems to count live music in restaurants as "art"--I think a lot of people consider it just another perk provided by the management, equal with munchies put on the table while you look over the menu or down your drinks.

For most folks, "The Arts" is something done by professionals for the rest of us to sit back and enjoy, not something we ever participate in.

Quite a few parents in Norristown DO encourage their kids to participate. Centre Theater hosts childrens' theater arts classes, summer theater camp, and Student Musical Theater productions 3 times a year. They also started a music school for school students this past year. Theatre Horizon has an afterschool drama club, drama camps, an autism drama program, and a theater school for ages 5-15. This year the Norristown Educational Theater, SpeakMeFree Productions and Norristown Violence Prevention Initiative partnered to form YouthNET, which holds FREE creative sessions each Saturday at 19 W. Marshall. And, of course, there's ACPPA Community Art Center on Haws Avenue, who offers all kinds of kids' classes in the arts--different kinds of dance, painting, pottery, music, etc., and at extremely reasonable rates.

Those of us who've worked with youth know that channeling kids' creativity into the arts is the best way to keep them off the streets and to reduce our crime rate in the long run. As I heard a parole officer say just last week, criminals are some of the most creative people you'd ever want to meet. Let's focus our youth's creativity BEFORE they can become criminals.

But what about the rest of us? Are the arts only for professionals or children? Do the rest of us feel we've somehow outgrown the need for creative expression? I think it's more that we feel that creative expression is expendable--everything else in life comes first.

A few weeks ago, I started taking a pottery class at ACPPA. Now, even though I consider myself a professional writer and musician, artistic craft does NOT translate across mediums. In the visual arts, I know 4th graders who have more skill than I do. A pottery class of 6 year-olds meets right before our class--they're crafting recognizable clay elephants and cats. Meanwhile my teapot's spout keeps falling off. But I'm enjoying the class immensely. There's something very therapeutic about playing with clay for an hour. It's not a big time commitment, and the cost is cheap compared to other night classes. I'm thinking of re-upping for next semester.

There's also something about being in a building where people of all ages are being creative. Doing art of any sort, or watching your kids do art, makes you feel good for a while, even if you had a really bad day at work. Being in a place where everyone's feeling good because they're playing and creating makes you feel even better. I just heard that ACPPA's preschool dancers having been taking the class with their dads. What a great thing for kids to not only be introduced to dance at that age, but to share the experience with their fathers. Then again, it's as good an experience for the dads as it is for their children.

So, I recommended getting out and participating in the arts in Norristown. ACPPA has been adding more and more adult classes and events. Centre Theater's production of "The Fantasticks" last summer was open to all ages. There are opportunities all over town--I'll post them as I get details. Get your kids involved, but get yourself involved, too. You'll feel better.

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