Three Sparks of Joy

These past few weeks of sheltering at home I’ve felt the same sort of isolation that so many others have. I’m fortunate to be sequestered with a family I love and pets who keep things interesting. I’m in a neighborhood green with spring and the summer sun seems to be poised to make an appearance after the rainy cool weather than helps grass grow, but even so the reality of not being able to see friends and family, do the normal things (like take my son to the comic book store or eat falafel at our local kabobery) is disconcerting at best. That said, from time to time throughout this quarantine kind messages have found me from friends, art has sparked joy, and the powerful caring of my school’s artistic community has reminded me that hope is always just around the corner.

For anyone needing a bit of a boost today, I want to share three of those instances that brought me a bit of comfort and a smile to my face.

The first came by way of an email bcc’d me by a site administrator at my previous school. He reaches out to the departments he oversees every week (and sometimes shares those emails with me) and his messages of hope are always inspiring. I was pleasantly surprised to be quoted in this recent message, and then knocked off my feet by the video he shared of a poem that I didn’t know.

Good Morning, Folks:

Our former principal Bjorn Paige, himself a former English teacher, used to joke with me at the start of each school year by quoting Where the Wild Things Are. “Let the wild rumpus start!” he would say, as the first bell rang and the school year commenced. I bring this up because this past week, and the changes and challenges we have faced, felt just like that: a wild rumpus. While concerning, time-consuming, and a host of other adjectives, the week is over and the wild rumpus will go silent… at least until next Monday.

I hope this email finds you well… or as well as can be. Again, I turned to poetry this week with a poem I first encountered last night during my normal 2:00 am anxiety attack. I logged on to Twitter to find Andrew Scott, otherwise known as “Hot Priest” reading “Everything is Going To Be Alright” by Irish poet Derek Mahon. I must have listened to him read the poem three or four times and then read it four of five times more before I fell back asleep. I read it again this morning. It is moving. I share it because I share the sentiment. And Andrew Scott’s reading of the poem is fantastic. The text of the poem is below. Everything is going to be all right. I swear.

Everything Is Going to Be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
― Derek Mahon, Collected Poems

I miss you all. I hope you are well. I hope you are finding peace. Hang in there– we have just a few weeks left… and then the wild rumpus will go silent. For now.

I am here if you need anything. You will always find it here.

Cheers.”

This is an administrator who cares deeply, is willing to be vulnerable, and has a poetic spirit that can elevate those around him. I didn’t know the Mahon poem until I read his email, but am richer now for having read it, and even more for having Andrew Scott (that marvelous Moriarty) perform it.

Another flavor of performance that I’ve found myself turning to in this time of COVID-19 is music, and I realized when I was driving to the store this week that I’ve had one CD blaring in my car a lot lately: Swagger by the Irish band Flogging Molly. Admittedly, I like my rock and roll a bit more punk than pop, and song after song Swagger feels like the right balm on the wound that is Coronavirus. 

That said, it was a quieter Flogging Molly that I happened upon a few weeks ago, Dave and Bridget, two married members of the band, who are doing fireside sessions, two songs per week, from their home in County Wexford, Ireland.

Intimate, unplugged, and inspiring, these weekly reminders of the power of art have been something to look forward to. To hear a fiddle, pipe, and guitar played by two talented musicians, drinks on the table in front of them, fire in the hearth behind, is a reprieve from a world crazier than any of us could have expected. 

A little closer to home, and maybe a bit less Irish, a couple of weeks ago the staff at my little art school banded together (remotely) to put on a show for our students. Teachers, counselors, and classified staff sent in performances and messages for the kids, and we packaged it all under the title ACORN (Arts & Communication Online Revue Night). Just about every week we’ve tried to do some kind of all school activity, a scavenger hunt (for items in their houses), a Kahoot (about ACMA history and trivia), an open mic night for the students, and it felt right to have the adults in our students’ lives pick up the mic and perform. 

Screen Shot 2020-05-28 at 7.16.39 AMAnd perform they did: a math teacher who has been learning accordion over the quarantine, a science poem, a counselor with a tutorial on how to sew masks, some songs, juggling, photography, and a bit of performance art masquerading as a long story about pink ping pong balls. Along the way the heartfelt messages of love from everyone were reassuring, inspiring, and just what many of our students needed.

One of the happiest surprises during ACORN was a host of incoming students, who have yet to step foot on our campus, who joined us for the live viewing of the show. We know how disconcerting it can feel moving to a new school in the fall, particularly when what that fall will look like is still uncertain, but I like to believe that our playful ACORN gave these new to ACMA students a sense of who we are and some reassurance that coming to a new school will be okay (thanks in no small part to the awesome kindness of some of the comments from established ACMA students in the Zoom chat room). The incoming students even got to see that they’re not alone in their love of Gravity Falls, anime, or cosplay. As one of our juniors said in the chat: “We’re all a little weird here. Welcome!”

Art can spark joy. Homegrown or from Ireland, creativity can and does make a difference. It invites us, in the face of tragedy and stress, to contemplate “the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window / and a high tide reflected on the ceiling,” and even what might happen if we “ever leave this world alive.” Making art makes an even bigger impact, and as we allow our own creativity to be inspired (from an acorn grows an oak tree) we might even find that that joy is already within us.

I’m thankful for artists like Flogging Molly, Andrew Scott, and Derek Mahon, and to my friend Bobby for sharing his inspiration with me. I’m grateful for the creative spirits I get to work with, and to the art and kindness they share with our students, even across the miles during this time of sheltering at home.

At some point we’ll be back on campus preparing for the wild rumpus of school. Until then, inspired by art and by friends, I know in my heart that “everything will be all right.”

The Art Goes On…

Leave it to the filmmakers. Quietly, cleverly, consistently they chronicle life at ACMA and celebrate the imagination (sometimes both at once). They hammer out a steady drumbeat of creativity, make original content that captures our school and our world, and at the same time they are some of the kindest and most generous people I know. Today, sitting at home in week two of “social isolation” I had three reminders of how this group of artists will help us all through these uncertain times.

I sat down at my computer (my cats reminding me that I now share an office with them) and pulled up a video that ACMA students made for our ACMA Spectacular this winter. It was designed to show the transition from our original campus in the CE Mason Elementary building on Center Street, which was demolished over the summer to make way for our new campus on the same site, to our temporary home at the empty building that will be Timberland Middle School. Death and resurrection, ends and beginnings, it’s a soulful celebration of the creative spirit that lives in our school …not in our building, but in our students and staff, the real ACMA.

That video speaks to more than just CE Mason or Timberland these days. Watching it again I was struck by the message of resilience and optimism.

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As I did, I noticed that I’d been tagged in an instagram post by one of my filmmakers. “When the only thing to do during #quarantine is photoshop my principal @bjornpaige #ACMAzing,” he wrote alongside a flattering poster that I wish with all my heart was produced without irony; I do want so much to promote HOPE, particularly right now.

IMG_4155And then, still smiling from Efrem’s post, I opened an email from my film teacher. Thinking about the remote learning that is to come, he was already designing assignments the students could do at home. He wrote from the heart about supporting the kids, and ended with the beautiful closing: “Hope you, the fam, the dog and cats are well. The art goes on…”

And I thought, all of this before nine in the morning, that all will be well. I don’t yet know what the next few weeks or even months will look like, but I believe in the ACMA filmmakers’ vision of rebirth, I know that even in our relative isolation we can and will make art, and I join the creative souls that make up our school family in knowing that it is up to all of us to help provide the world and each other with hope.

The Real Truth of It

We will sell tickets at the door, and last year it was wonderful walk-ups (alumni, parents, and curious community members) who brought in bucket loads of love and support. They, like all the audience, wanted a taste of the artistic spirit of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy who showed up in droves to see artists, actors, dancers, sculptors, poets, singers, and more than a few surprises light up ACMA. Their tickets helped to support arts education, and provided students with the kind of patronage that made a real difference.

Plus, and this is the real truth of it, the ACMA Spectacular was fun.

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This Friday and Saturday the most fun you can have is on 118th Avenue. Come to see our dancers perform The Carnival of the Animals (with costumes by our visual artists and music by our classical orchestra) and stay to see actors who will make you laugh, poets who will move you to tears, and musicians who will swing like a gate.

You’ll see fantastic films, hear astounding vocalists, and could even leave with a painting. 

Plus, and this is the real truth of it, your support of the ACMA Spectacular makes a profound difference in the artistic lives of kids.

The $45 ticket price goes right to the arts and artists of ACMA. With that contribution, that investment in art and artists and ACMA, you can change lives. Schools like ours are rare and the positive, life affirming impact ACMA makes, sometimes on students who might not find a home that fits anywhere else, is as astonishing as the art they create …when supporters like you help give them the chance.

And it is possible because our community supports us, as we hope you might this weekend. If you’re free on Friday or Saturday night, we hope you’ll come to campus to enjoy an evening of performance and positivity. The real truth of it is that we can’t do this without you.

 

You can find out more and purchase tickets through our PTO website. I hope to see you there and thank every person who helps to support out kids.

Welcome to the real (and spectacular) ACMA

Day to day, hour to hour, ACMA is a magical place. For those of us who get to be on campus during the school day, the sight of students singing in the hallway, applauding around a lunch table, or playing an impromptu piano concert in the commons is part of our usual ACMA experience. Our students carry portfolios and sculptures to class, ACMA filmmakers seem always to be shooting a scene, and during passing periods groups of dancers dash from studios to changing rooms like schools of colorful fish. What we see when we’re here from 7:30 in the morning until school lets out at 2:05 is striking both in artistic diversity (poets, painters, animators, actors, singers and set builders) and talent. To be immersed in ACMA is to live Neil Gaiman’s line: “The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.”

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All too seldom do we have an opportunity to share this wild artistic abundance, and…

Once a year all of our disciplines pull together to do something spectacular. For a night or two audiences come to campus and have the opportunity to be immersed in art and surrounded by creative students doing what they love. 

This week, February 7th and 8th, our ACMA Spectacular gives the unsuspecting (well maybe suspecting) public a chance to see our dancers, actors, and musicians performing together. Those who buy a ticket for Friday or Saturday night hear poets, see photography and fine art, and are able to support our young artists in a thousand ways (including purchasing a piece of art they can take home). The Spectacular allows everyone to experience a sliver of what our students do, walking a hallway filled with creativity, energy, and passion, and then ducking in to see performances that span the creative spectrum. 

What to expect at the Spectacular? Everything. Anything. 

Come early for the Monster Drawing Rally. I plan on joining in on the creative fun, drawing right there with the audience and creating a piece or two that folks can purchase to support AMCA artists.

Spectacular_2020_PosterHear our musicians play while our dancers perform The Carnival of the Animals.

Have a seven minute portrait done of your kid, your parent, or yourself …suitable for framing!

See a show stopping number from Cabaret, witness poets collaborating with dancers and visual artists, and listen to our vocalists remind us that all we need is love.

If you like a silent auction, we’ll have that too, plus gift baskets, refreshments, and artistic surprises (like a cinema showing ACMA films and a few booths described to me, in “so very ACMA” style as “a renegade craft fair”).

This is a chance for the world to experience ACMA and support the arts and artists who make up our creative community. There is still time to buy a ticket for one of the two nights, a bargain at $45. All of the proceeds go directly to helping ACMA continue to provide a fantastic arts experience to our students.

I thank everyone for supporting our ACMA artists, and I look forward to seeing you at this magical place we call home.

 

You can find out more and purchase tickets for Friday (2/7) or Saturday (2/8) through our PTO website. I hope to see you there and thank every person who helps to support our kids.

Support Your Local Artist

Spectacular_2020_PosterAbout a year ago I had the pleasure of introducing Arts & Communication Magnet Academy’s ACMA Spectacular with three truths: “I believe in art. I believe in artists. I believe in ACMA.” I do, and I also believe that art has a transformative power that makes our world better for everyone, the audience and the artists. Everyone

And…

Art doesn’t happen without support. Sometimes that support is wild applause. Sometimes it is quiet encouragement, gentle reassurance, and the unwavering belief that the artists can and will make magic. Sometimes that support is as simple as a few dollar bills.

Artists have had patrons since artists have been artists, and in a world of education where the arts sometimes takes a back seat to other worldly concerns (at least in the minds of decision makers) patrons of art education have never been more important.

Right now you have an opportunity to make a profound difference. With a few mouse clicks or touches to the screen of your phone you can change lives by supporting student artists and art education.

On February 7th and 8th ACMA is staging this year’s ACMA Spectacular, a celebration of arts and artists that draws on the talents of all of our disciplines, showcases student work, and shouts to the world that art matters!

Screen Shot 2018-11-10 at 9.16.29 PMThe Spectacular is our biggest fundraising event and all the profits go directly to helping kids.

Those young artists are hard at work now, rehearsing songs, dances, and scenes that they’ll share with audiences in less than a month. Our filmmakers are shooting and editing, our painters are painting, our sculptors are sculpting, and our poets are polishing verse. All of them are passionate about the work that they are doing, proud that patrons will be able to purchase that work at the event, and excited to share their performances with anyone who buys a ticket.

It’s through those tickets that you can support these creative souls, and I would encourage anyone reading this post to consider the $45 ticket price not only as admission, but even more as a contribution to something that matters: art and artists and ACMA.

You can find out more and purchase tickets through our PTO website. I hope to see you there and thank every person who helps to support out kids.

Dog-a Lisa

A Spectacular Parade

What will make it spectacular will be the students. Artists, actors, dancers, and musicians, photographers, poets, and performers of all types, these ACMA students will collaborate this February to fill our school with an astonishing extravaganza: The ACMA Spectacular!

The ACMA Spectacular is a joint effort between our school and Parent Teacher Organization. Replacing the auctions of yesteryear, The ACMA Spectacular is our biggest fundraiser of the year, with ticket sales for the performance going to help support students and programs, opportunities to purchase artwork at the event, and fun ways to support the school while getting a little something as a prize like live caricatures by our drawing students or copies of our literary magazine or student literature anthology.

At a place where so many departments produce amazing work, this is the one time of the year when everyone works together to celebrate the kaleidoscopic delight that is Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. The ACMA Spectacular will live up to its name.

Spectacular_2020_Poster

…and it will be different. Delightfully so.

For nearly thirty years ACMA has been tucked away on a little campus off of Center Street, and for the past decade most performances have taken place in our beautiful performing arts center. This year that campus is a flat lot, an expanse of dirt the blank canvas on which our new building will emerge. The new building will attach to the PAC, a fact that’s good for kids, but right now means that our most beloved venue is surrounded by chain link construction fencing. It is a reality that invites innovation.

At ACMA we know how to innovate.

So with this time of change in our minds and the energy that comes from improvisation filling our creative soul, this year’s ACMA Spectacular will embrace the notion of upheaval and take as its theme art in motion, a parade.

Specifically, Picasso’s 1917 ballet Parade. A performance of the ballet, complete with ACMA designed costumes and sets, is the starting point and one of three centerpieces of this year’s ACMA Spectacular. 

Parade was actually written by writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, with music by “gymnopedist” composer Erik Satie, and surrealistic sets and cubist costumes designed by Pablo Picasso. Their early 20th century collaboration was novel to say the least, and the result left Parisian audiences as confused as they were delighted. 

The story goes that E.E. Cummings was at the premiere of Parade, and dug the surrealist experience. I like to imagine that the show at least helped to inspire his 1924 poem…

Picasso
you give us things
which
bulge:grunting lungs pumped full of sharp thick mind

you make us shrill
presents always
shut in the sumptuous screech of
simplicity

(out of the
black unbunged
Something gushes vaguely a squeak of planes
or

between squeals of
Nothing grabbed with circular shrieking tightness
solid screams whispers.)
Lumberman of the Distinct

your brain’s
axe only chops hugest inherent
Trees of Ego,from
whose living and biggest

bodies lopped
of every
prettiness

you hew form truly”

And sure Picasso’s costumes were clunky, made of wood and cardboard, and the set tilted with shapes and angles, the work of a painter, not designer. And yes, the music slips into ragtime during the show (and ragtime ballet is not a rich genre …yet). And yep, the story was about a group of artists struggling  to gather an audience for their show, busking the streets of Paris, trying to capture the attention of passersby. But a century later the idea of Picasso’s Parade is as rich with possibilities as it was on the day before opening night 1917.

Such collaboration and innovation is something we’re proud to do at ACMA, and from the start of this year’s soirée both are evident in the work we’re doing to prepare.

You can see this inspiration finding its first voice in the artwork for the ACMA Spectacular poster. ACMA visual artists were asked to come up with representations of a parade, and shared a parcel of images with our PTO, a creative collective of parents tasked with marketing the event. Wildly diverse, these artistic interpretations reflected our students’ many points of view.

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A clever parent looked at these offerings and embraced the improvisational mantra: “Yes, and…” The end result was a wild mélange that included bits from many of the students’ work. Like so much of ACMA, this parent’s ingenuity embraced the abundance of art and allowed something marvelous and unexpected to emerge.

Last year’s Spectacular was epic, both in spectacle and duration. This year we’re already working on tightening up the show, even as we keep the connections between artistic pathways and representations from each. We hope, like Cummings’ Picasso, to “hew form truly.”

This year, in our temporary home on 118th, three venues will hold that “sumptuous screech of simplicity” (well, maybe not too simple), as one big experience fills campus for two nights of artistic celebration. Dance, song, art, spoken word, and so much more will be on display, some of it for sale. We’ll stage Picasso’s Parade in the large dance studio, with costumes by our visual artists and music by our orchestra and band, and have two other theatrical spaces where audiences can see the artistic power of our amazing students.

This is a fundraiser, so we hope our patrons and friends will give generously as they enjoy the show. Supporting art and artists is a tradition as old as time, and all of our students benefit when the community around them both believe in them and help provide the resources they need to create.

The 2020 ACMA Spectacular will be filled with some surprises, some standards …and all ACMA!

You can purchase tickets now at our PTO website!

“Making your unknown known…”

The poet finished her second piece and looked up at the audience. “I have one more,” she said quietly into the mic. “Would you like me to read the long version or the short version?” The crowd answered without hesitation, shouting enthusiastically: “LONG!” The poet smiled, just a little, her composure strong. “Really?” she asked. “YES!” answered the audience. And it was awesome.

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The whole event was an experiment to be sure, something ACMA hadn’t tried before, at least not this way. Open Mic Nights of recent years past have been marvelous affairs populated by wildly talented students with polished pieces, well organized and planned weeks in advance. Last Friday’s soiree was the equivalent of a pick up basketball game, or one of the guitar pulls famously hosted by Johnny Cash (where Shel Silverstein might try out a piece to an audience including Kris Kristofferson or Johnny Cash might sing a tune to T Bone Burnett). It was a night of having fun, trying things out, and cheering each other on like crazy.

IMG_1526Students arrived at the venue, a rug a the base of some concrete steps set up with a simple mic, a stool, and an upright piano, and wrote their names on a clipboard. We tried to mix it up so singers were interspersed with stand up comedy, dance, and poetry. 

I told the performers and those in the audience something I believe to be an ACMA truth: “Art matters and sharing art with one another can be a positive and transformative experience. ACMA Open Mic Nights are forgiving and kind affairs, and strive to encourage all performers to continue to create art, share their voices with others, and applaud like nobody’s business.” At ACMA we’re in the business of making artists, sure, and also making good audiences.

IMG_1552We started with the philosophy: “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing,” a line from Georgia O’Keeffe.

The night wasn’t only about beautifully crafted pieces, but invited our students to try something that mattered to them. Our school is rich with opportunities for students to audition, rehearse, hone and perfect performances, but Friday invited them to do something different.

There was no backstage on Friday, just people in the audience watching, waiting their turn, and cheering when they saw peers make art. The informal feel of the night complimented the variety of performances: a marvelous song with ukulele, an a capella dance number (really), a very funny standup set on driver’s education, and a show stopping pair of songs with piano and voice. Add to that the moving poetry that started this post, an acting scene, and more than a few songs that had the audience humming and wanting to join in on, and we had all the fixings of a great event.

It takes courage to stand up in front of an audience and, to use O’Keefe’s phrase, “make your unknown known,” and on Friday’s Open Mic Night that’s just what these amazing ACMA students did. 

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We’ll do it all again, with Open Mic Nights on November 5th, and December 13th, from 6:30-8:00 pm at ACMA. Come cheer on the kids, allow yourself to laugh, applaud, and be inspired.

Knee Deep in the Hoopla

I could always walk the hall from end to end in five minutes. Starting out in front of the office —after hitting “play” on the morning music— I would go up past the mural of Leonidas, turn the corner and say hello to Mr. Kindblade, who was always standing outside his classroom greeting students to start the day, and walk up the sloped hallway beneath the dog Mona Lisa mural saying good morning to students while managing most days not to spill my coffee. I’d keep going past the Tom Marsh Gallery and on up to the end of the hallway where I’d usually open the doors to the outside and say hi to the students coming out to the music portable. From there I’d retrace my steps, music still filling the halls (as much as our antiquated speakers would allow, too loud in some spots, hardly audible in others) weaving through the thinning crowd as I passed a large mural of Pegasus and our iconic flannel clad Mona Lisa, turned the corner near the student store, and ended up at the doors to the library.

Dog-a LisaSometimes —oftener and oftener to be honest— the music didn’t sound so great. Sure it might be a fantastic tune, a little Billie Holiday or David Bowie, but the PA system had seen its best days end back when Jimmy Carter was president, and all too often it was hard to if the Bangles were really telling us to walk like an Egyptian or Johnny Cash was actually talking about a burning ring of fire.

That said, I loved seeing nearly every student every morning, even if the crowds could be dense, the songs filled with static, and my coffee always just one rolling backpack away from disaster.

Moving to a new building this year, those of us in the front office knew that we wanted to keep the ACMA tradition of morning music in lieu of a first bell alive. Touchstones like that are important as we work to keep our sense of ACMA strong.

We were excited to have a better internal sound system, and we spent the summer working with everyone we thought might help us be sure we could play five minutes of music every morning to start the school day. Herculean efforts by my amazing assistant, whom I’m certain got more than a few sideways looks when she tried to explain to people unfamiliar with ACMA how important it was that the principal be able to play a Starship song at 7:25 AM, paid off, and by opening day we were able to start the morning by explaining to our students in song that “we built this city on rock and roll.”

pegasus.jpgThe song was so clear in the hallways of our temporary campus, and I even heard a student on that first day laughing and telling a friend “I don’t know why, but I love this song.”

Me too.

And as the opening weeks rolled out (to the sounds of Miles Davis, Styx, Ella Fitzgerald, and Buckshot LeFonque among others) I realized that no matter how fast I walked, I couldn’t make it from one end of our borrowed building to the other in five minutes.

What to do?

I tried being equitable, walking the C Hall one day and the B Hall the next. I attempted to circumnavigate from the giant painting of David Bowie outside the front office up the stairs, down the B200s, over the skybridge, down the stairs, and up the C100s. Bob Dylan stopped singing about “Mr. Tambourine Man” before I made it back around.

SpartansIt’s still early in the year and I’ve got good walking shoes. I believe I’ll figure it out.

When we move back to our new campus on Center Street in the fall of 2021 things will be better. There will still be more ground to cover than our original campus, but we’ll be closer again, our doorways not separated by sprawling hallways or empty classrooms, but clustered around an open area ready made for art. 

In the meantime…

I’ll relish walking (on sunshine) the halls every morning, hearing (really clear) music from across the decades, as diverse as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Cher, Chet Baker and Katrina and the Waves, Aretha Franklin and Tom Waits; as diverse as the creative souls who fill our school.

I’ll still say good morning to the kids, still see teachers out in front of their doorways, and still do my best to avoid spilling my coffee. Things might be a little different, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be as good as they always were, and maybe even better. We’re still together (and now without portables). We still dance when we hear Cindy Lauper or Panic! at the Disco come over the PA, now clearer than ever. We’re finding out way together, building this city on…

Tempest Tossed

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.” –The Tempest

We hope to be good neighbors. Honest. We see that the homes around our new campus are close. Really close. Like look out your window and nod at the white cat perched in the sill of the townhouse across the way close. 

We know that this neighborhood has never seen the likes of us; a well ordered cavalcade of elementary school students have tromped through the halls of the campus that we’ll call home for the next two years, a very different crowd than our spirited, quirky, iconoclastic teenaged ACMAniacs. And we hope…

We hope that the neighbors will see in us a celebration of creativity. We hope that they will see in us hope, and inspiration, and fun. We hope that the first time a mom or dad pushing a stroller past our home on 118th Avenue sees us they will notice our multicolored hair, unicorn onesie, furry tail, rainbow backpack, fabulous makeup, Cher concert shirt, hooves… and walk down the hill humming the refrain from Prince’s Paisley Park.

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With just a couple of weeks to go before students fill campus with an energy that is difficult to capture in words, I want to whisper those lines from Caliban to our neighbors: “Be not afeard.”

Because while our metaphoric isle is full of noises, ACMA strives to “give delight and hurt not.” Our twanging instruments and sometime voices, our dance and art and film, our poets and potters, actors and animators all strive to bring dreams to life, to share our creative souls with those around us.

Those neighbors that are so close included.

And as we begin our year it is incumbent upon us to reach out to the homes around us and introduce ourselves. We are the colorful people whose hair on one side is swept back, a wild conglomeration of poetic spirits who are finding ourselves and our place in the world, and who for two years will be plop in the middle of a lovely neighborhood of orderly houses, wide sidewalks, and people walking dogs.

We will sometimes make more noise than an elementary school. We will host big performances that fill our parking lot with the cars of audience members. We will have student drivers.

And…

We welcome you to come see a concert, watch a play, marvel at a dance performance. We’d love to have you come to Art is My Voice or February’s ACMA Spectacular. If you do, we can promise to give you the best art we’re capable of, something that might just inspire you to believe that our world does contain magic, and the future of our planet is in good hands with the youth of today.

Then, two years from now, we’ll be gone like a dream.

Perfect, with Obstructions

For more than a quarter century they made art in imperfect surroundings. Dancers danced in studios carved out of spaces designed as elementary school classrooms, musicians rehearsed in a low ceilinged portable, and actors performed in a Quonset Hut. Strikingly, the results were magical; talent, passion, and perseverance outweigh infrastructure. In the end art wins.

And then we tore it down. We didn’t, I guess, but the construction team did, reducing seventy years of wood, concrete, and plaster to dust and clearing the way for a new campus to open in the fall fo 2021. That building will be designed as an art school, a powerful gift for our kids. In the interim ACMA has taken up residence in the voluminous building that will eventually open as a middle school for more than a thousand students. With our 700 or so kids it feels a little like wearing dad’s suit.

TMS

But this bigness isn’t a bad thing, at least in the short term. Having packed our little art school into boxes and traipsed across town, it has been nice to have enough space for everything, and while we know there will be swaths of the building we don’t use, as a temporary home it’s a pretty terrific space.

I’ve been able to gauge reactions to our temporary campus from the handful of teachers, students, and parents who have stopped by over the summer for meetings. As I’ve taken them on impromptu tours, dodging in and out of boxes and furniture in the process of being assembled, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the comments and smiles inspired by the building and what we’re doing with it.

Some cheered at the large clean classrooms, others were wowed by the beautiful wood on the walls of the commons, and two students who walked around couldn’t get over how many bathrooms there are. “And they’re huge,” they added. I suppose they are.

This campus where we’ll spend two years will be nice for our creative ACMA family. With more than enough space, the compromises we’ve had to make (like two years without our performing arts center) seem to be working out (thanks to some good old fashioned creative problem solving), and the overall result is almost what one staff member called it, coming back from a tour: “For a rental, this is perfect!”

Ah, perfect.

That line reminded me of a documentary my film teacher recommended to me last year called The Five Obstructions. It’s a film about art and the creative process, and as I got to thinking about it this summer, it struck me as a nice analogy for what we’re about to do as an art school.

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 7.49.58 AMThe Five Obstructions takes as its starting point another film, a 1967 short The Perfect Human by Jørgen Leth. The Perfect Human is an artsy meditation on …something. You can see the whole thing here if you like, and if you do you’ll recognize the work a confident artist working in a medium he knows and creating a polished piece that can be classified as art. Visual, creative, and more than a little quirky, there is a whiff of that ACMA spirit about The Perfect Human. It is the kind of film our students would dig.

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 7.50.37 AMFilmmaker Lars von Trier certainly dug it, and in 2003 invited his mentor Leth to remake the short five times, each with a collection of “obstructions” that would challenge him to adjust and force him from his original plan as he pushed against the limitations von Trier imposed that blew up his comfortable and familiar way of working.

These obstructions are many and diverse: he must remake the film in Cuba, for example, with no shot lasting more than twelve frames; he must shoot the short in “the most miserable place on earth,” but not show that place on screen; he must turn The Perfect Human into a cartoon.

The results are delightful.

The process, however, Leth describes at one point as “demonic.” And… An oyster without sand under its shell doesn’t produce a pearl, so while Leth complains to von Trier that the constant cuts of the first obstruction (twelve frames is about half a second of screen time) “will be totally destructive,” once done with the film, he reports that “the twelve frames were like a gift.” For an artist, challenges are like that sand in an oyster. 

Now I don’t know what unexpected obstructions will come with our temporary (but perfect) home. In August I can anticipate a few: some of the classrooms won’t have the furniture we expected, using lockers for the first time in our school’s history will be different to say the least, that sort of thing. But for every expected obstruction, I’ll wager that there will be another dozen we can’t predict. Some of these will feel “demonic” and some will lead to artistic gifts.

So thinking about The Five Obstructions, I hope that our response to the obstructions we will face will be not to grouse and stamp our feet on the floor, but to embrace the challenges, look for creative solutions, and remake our approach to making art (and our approach to making meaning in the core academic classes) and use this as an opportunity to do something wildly creative.

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 6.48.09 AMThe results? Heck, they could be all over the map. And that’s okay.

Leth’s series of remakes run the range of emotion, imagery, and innovation. His actors, including him as one of his actors, inhabit environments unfamiliar and evocative. Watching The Five Obstructions, and the remakes included within the documentary, is like pulling back the skull of an artist and peering inside.

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 6.35.49 AMPushing an artist to work within constraints, limit him or herself to a particular palette, or respond to external complications outside him or herself could suggest that the process or the product would be compromised. And yet…

Looking back at the 1967 film that started it all, modern audiences might notice that the “perfect person” smokes a lot (a pipe for him; a cigar for her), is very white, and seems to embrace the trappings of the midcentury western bourgeois society. Given an opportunity to bring fresh perspective to this point of view, many of our students might come up with something innovative, very personal, and new.

How might that hold true for us as we are faced with the obstructions that come in any move? How might these challenges, and we know there will be surprises that challenge us, inspire in us innovation?

I have no doubt that this big yellow building can be a great home for us for two years. Perfect, even, with obstructions.