By Connie Schlelein | The Creative Spark —
Creativity has fascinated me in my education, research, teaching, and now community arts action. Something stirred in me after relocating to Sonoma Valley, with its wealth of Creatives and enviable wealth of arts organizations. This culturally alive Valley sparked me to put pen to paper.
Growing up in the 1950s in the center of the U.S., my childhood experiences were unlike anyone I knew. Raised by two unconventional, bohemian parents, the expectation was for me to be creative. My creative juices flowed not only in my DNA but also in my upbringing. My parents’ mantra was, “Don’t be so worried about being normal…normal is quite boring,” Once embarrassed by their quirkiness, I now realize how lucky I was. Though we had very few material possessions and learned to “make do,” we were culturally rich. Creativity was the family norm.
Our mid-century modern dining room table wasn’t a place for evening meals, even though they loved to cook. Filled with inventive family art projects spilling over from workspaces, the table was the center of activity. My mother, an art teacher/professional painter and my dad, an engineer/inventor of sculpture and metal/jewelry always were involved in crazy projects. Building rooftop bizarre reindeers from junk delighted our middle-class neighborhood. There were three-dimensional chicken-wire costumes, theater sets for local musicals, and oil-cloth maps haphazardly cut up and used as bathroom wallpaper.
Tables, oddly enough, were part of our entertainment. One in the dining room was a prototype, made from a salvaged door hung by chains from the ceiling that could be hoisted up or down at a moment’s notice. An evening’s Beta Test of that table was memorable —10 guests seated and cutting into their steaks at the same moment. With the table swinging wildly out of control, the plates flew across the room and smashed as glasses of wine flung liquid everywhere. Luckily no one was hurt! Laughter erupted and everyone learned that The Creative Process can be messy.
As you can imagine, our house was a magnet for Originalists: artists, actors, directors, writers, musicians, museum curator, collectors, poets, politicians, and those gay or straight. The odder the better, and everyone had a part to play.
Nurturing creativity wasn’t confined to my homelife. Music, dance, and visual art for every child were provided in my public school, every week by certified arts teachers. My peers and I benefited from having a creative education. Choosing a career as an art teacher was a perfect match for me. Arts education at its very core helps every child to engage in the marvel at the interconnectedness and magic of existence.
Children, no matter their intellectual abilities, culture, race or economic circumstances respond to the arts because art, music, theater and dance speaks to their whole brain, spirit and body and unifies us. The arts are a universal language that every child in the world innately speaks.
A community arts activist, Connie Schlelein is co-chair of Creative Bridges, an alliance of 36 Sonoma Valley nonprofits and organizations working with SVUSD to improve and expand arts education. A teacher of visual arts for 30 years, she was vice president of the National Art Education Association.