Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ottawa Arts Center: The Start of Something Exciting

Afriend of mine from college, Caryn, lives in Ottawa, IL. She has a bachelor's in theatre with a concentration in creative drama from Illinois State University, and an MFA in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University. She also is an expert signer for the deaf (she signed for Barack Obama when he visited her town), and a wife and mother of four kids. She lives in Ottawa, IL about 90 minutes southwest of Chicago. She contacted me via Facebook not long ago, and discussed her desire to create an arts center in Ottawa.

"OK- hey- I need some great first steps advice for a start up for an arts center in a small town. I have all kinds of stuff I've looked at, but if you were to break it down, ABC your best advice for starting..."

I responded with the URL for the Community Arts Network, and a strong recommendation that she find a copy of Tom Borrup's The Creative Community Builder's Handbook. I also said:

To my mind, the keys are: 1)interdisciplinarity -- have people doing different art forms; 2) active outreach -- if you build it, they will come...if you ask them to come. 3) accessibility -- don't get all strung out on high quality, focus on the experience of community.

Then things started happening. A message from Caryn:

There's a strange wind blowing here.... I'll try and summarize this in an orderly way. (ha!)

1. You send me a great book title
2. Meet with Wendy- she tells me I need to meet the local librarian, she might be helpful.
3. Caryn gets confused about life plans
4. Caryn goes to library, looking for book Scott recommended, even though our town probably doesn't have it.
5. while on line catalogue searching, library lady asks me if I need help. I always say No Thanks. Today, my mouth opens, and I say.. I can't find this book in the whole prairie cat system.
6. She goes to her desk. Can't find it. Goes to Amazon. Reads the summary. types away for a few more minutes, we chat. She keeps reading online, and finally says " my name is Vicky, T-WHO are YOU? This book looks amazing!! I give Scott Walters full credit for the recommendation.
7. She says, I'm buying this book for the library for you to get, right now. No, I'm buying it for the library, AND I don't want You to wait, I'm ordering it too from some other library. I'll find it.--
8. I give her my 30 second resume and life story on request.
8.5 She jokingly asks me, Why are you in OTTAWA?!?! ( which is what everyone asks me ) I give her the geographical history. Find out she is from the next suburban town over from the one I grew up in.
9. She stops and says, I will do anything in my power to help you. (all she needed was a pink bubble, and a fairy wand, I swear to God) You can use the library annex for classes, meetings whatever. We need to set a time to meet.
10. We wrap it up and I go to find my daughter. Vicky comes and finds me. I just ordered the book. She leaves.
11. She comes back again. Here is my card. We will talk soon. Poof She vanishes.

ok- a lot more happened in this ten- fifteen minute scenario.. a flurry of ideas, timeliness, readiness of Ottawa, etc etc... she is pumped.

All because YOU gave me a book title.

After some cheering and references to The Alchemist, I wrote: "What you are setting off to do is challenging, but that's why it is worth doing, right? You can make a BIG difference in Ottawa, and help to strengthen the sense of community through the arts. In Phoenix [where she had been in grad school], you are a drop in the bucket; in Ottawa, you are a tsunami!"

Yesterday, I received this:

ok... alchemist karma of the day.....

cell phone rings... strange number, no surprise, as so many people are calling about the peter cook workshop. ( sorry, i can't be bothered with caps right now) THis lady asks for me, tells me she was at the LIBRARY today, and talking to VICKY, by chance b/c she is looking for some kind of a BOOK to start a COMMUNITY ARTS CENTER in ottawa. Vicky says, OMG-- this lady was just in last week.. Caryn... you need to call her.... so .. we are meeting on Tuesday to brainstorm, check each other out and see if we can pull together. I guess she has no arts background , but really feels we need this here...she spoke with the owner of the new Montessori school who has a creative writing degree from Columbia, and a background in Opera and musical theatre.-- she was all about it too.

Can this all really be happening?

Caryn is in the early stages of planning, and there is certainly no guarantee that her project will come to pass, or that it will thrive if it does. Like all projects in the arts, or anywhere for that matter, there will be ups and downs. I offer this (with Caryn's permission) primarily to illustrate two things:

1) that if you commit to a dream and talk about it, you will find that people will suddenly appear who want to help you. (You will also find that people and events will appear to discourage you, but that is simply a way to make sure you want it badly enough to overcome objections. (Thanks to Randy Pausch's Last Lecture for that inspiring idea.)

2) There are many more people than you think that are creative themselves or interested in supporting those who are. A librarian, another person who is interested, a Montessori person with a creative writing degree. More will appear, especially if you welcome all sorts of self-expression.

The likelihood that an idea might spread "virally" seems greater in a small town, where there are places that large portions of the community share, such as libraries. In the case of Ottawa, there is also a recent town focus on revitalization, and a new person hired to lead that effort.

I wish Caryn the best of luck, and I hope you will, too.

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1 comment:

Andrea said...

Was googling looking for a musical theater class for my daughter to go to in Ottawa, IL Have found nothing. Please let me know if Caryn found something like this in her research or gets it together so we can sign up!