Monday, June 28, 2010

Famous in a Small Town

Paintings from last year

Another summer, another week of our annual summer art program for special needs kids. Last year at this time we were trying to sell our house and move out of state, so I didn’t expect to be doing this again. Our summer art program is fantastic for children, with or without special needs, not so good for 60 something, out of shape women with bad knees and bad arches and a severe need for an afternoon nap.  I like to call art camp the reason God invented Celebrex.

This year, the children got to do pottery, storytelling, painting, dance (called “movement”, like they weren’t moving the whole rest of the time) and collage. There were five groups of children so they rotated through the classes. I was with the second oldest group, which comprised two children in power wheelchairs, one with a walker, two children with autism, one with Down syndrome, one with an unspecified form of cognitive disability, two siblings, and two children of my co-workers.  Despite the wide range of special needs, they behaved exactly like any other group of  children that age: distracted by the construction going on outside, inclined to converse with their best friend while being given instructions, imaginative at using any art supplies as small weapons, stubborn about trying anything outside their comfort zone, and generally in need of those crowd control tactics beloved by generations of teachers everywhere. Compared to the younger groups, they were easy to handle, especially with the aid of several teen volunteers and one of the siblings, and for the most part understood the basics of the tasks and did an impressive job with them.

On our first day there, I noticed a reporter accompanied by a photographer being led from group to group. It started me thinking about the advantages of living in a small city. There are stories in our local paper every year about our art program, our annual canoe trip, and our two major fundraisers. These are not just small paragraphs in an “around town” section. These are full articles with bylines and pictures. I suspect that if we existed in Philadelphia or Atlanta, this would not be the case. As Miranda Lambert sang, everybody dies famous in a small town.

The reporter was back for our culminating event, the recital at the end where the children danced “The Ant and the Grasshopper” and displayed their work. By this time, I had forgotten the bad knees and bad arches, the spilled paint, the “swordfights” and got teary eyed when most of our group, who were playing dragonflies, remembered where to stand and when to flash their lights. By the time the ants carried off the dead grasshopper and took their bows, a process that took longer than the actual dance, I was convinced that it was the best production of  “The Ant and the Grasshopper” ever.

I can’t wait for the reviews.

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