We've just come back from a short, happy visit to the area on the Vermont-New Hampshire border where we used to live. How different it is from Quebec, and from this big international city! And how utterly familiar. We stayed with family, attended a twenty-year dinner given by our longtime client for their ongoing project, saw friends, negotiated with a local bookstore, and spent some time at AVA Gallery and Arts Center where I used to be quite involved on the board, the education committee, and as an artist. It has grown so much, with an expanded facility and program; classes and open studios for adults and children; its own green-certified building (a renovated factory) now filled with artists' studios as well as galleries, a media lab, a library, and wonderful teaching spaces. I was so delighted to see the most recent changes, visit my old friends there, and felt a small glow of pride at having been a part of it during the early years when survival was tenuous. And - especially good news - my husband will be having an exhibition there from April 17 - May 20, this spring!
A great photo from the AVA Gallery website
What I saw at the art center these past few days were art classes of senior citizens, developmentally-disabled people, and children -- not just motivated artistic adults -- all having fun, supporting each other, and being encouraged to make art, to be creative, to express themselves. I met some of the students, and heard first-hand how their lives had changed -- they were eager to talk about it. I was really moved, and powerfully reminded how important the arts have always been to me, and how much of a difference organizations like this can make. I talked with our longtime friends Murray Ngoima, who has taught there for ages, and Bente Torjusen, who has directed the organization for more then 25 years.
"I see the desire to be creative all the time among readers of my blog," I said. "People often write to me and tell me they have been encouraged by my writings about my own artistic process to get out their own paints again, or try writing poetry. That encourages me to keep writing about this and sharing my own work, but it also proves to me what I've always believed: that everyone is creative. It makes me sad that so many people feel reticent or even afraid to return to something they once loved or were attracted to, because they were discouraged in the past, or gave it up for one reason or another, or think if they can't achieve on some higher level it isn't worth it."
"Exactly!" Bente said. "'Compare yourself to yourself!' That way, people can just get on with it, and claim a part of themselves that they've forgotten or neglected -- and find community and happiness along the way. It actually transforms lives -- we see it here all the time."