As I stood in a sunny alcove at Stivers School for the Arts, watching a group of young ladies arrive for the Culture Builds Community course (part of the Dayton Summer Arts Camp) it was easy to imagine the beautiful wonder weaving that would follow and the transformations that would take place.
Course descriptions can only take you so far. Words share the ideas, the tasks of the course, maybe something about what leaders hope will take place. Families sign up based on the descriptions that sound most engaging. Truth be told, it is more likely that the power of arts camp on individuals and groups is exactly what they don’t read in short pithy sentences, the stuff talked about but not yet in the room. Let’s call that “wonder”.
Merriam Webster defines wonder as something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience. See also: marvel, miracle. Yes. It’s that connection with something new, something that moves us. Wonder breeds transformation. The action of art, the doing what could only be described: this “other” connection, beyond the directions and the tasks: here is where a journey begins.
As the children entered the space for the CBC course, I watched their eyes wander from thing to thing on the presentation table. Day 1: sand mandala and dance styles from India. They sat in the bright, warm space, responding quietly to the greetings of their instructors. Slowly, the leader invited them into ceremony for the beginning of the Mandala. The cacophony of voices: kids, parents and teachers at registration tables had diminished, leaving, at this moment, the sound of Tibetan chimes and the quiet breathing of a new group of “wonderers”.
Next, the table, the paper, the pattern, each thing interesting in it’s own right, combined to be a receiver of color, texture and promise – the new moon mandala, appearing like magic out of sand, pigment and paper, carefully arranged by a group of children who knew nothing of each other, the artists or the process just 30 minutes earlier. On they went without lapse of attention, with intensity and calm. After an hour, it was time for dance. A short completion ritual of the day’s progress, a break and then into a large classroom, desks removed and space created for dancers.
Onward into the rhythmic, mysterious music of India, vibrant young women wearing beautiful fabrics, and more wonder! This bunch of campers, ranging from age 8 to 15, stood ready to learn. By the end of the first day, they had learned an entire Bollywood-style dance. Day two: they jumped right into Bhangra style dance, confident and full of pride. Transformation was well underway. These young ladies will join their teachers, dancing at the Cityfolk Festival, to the live music of Red Baarat!
A terrific first week ended in true, wonderous fashion, with the ceremonial destruction of the mandala (very moving), the distribution of sand to all the makers and a walk to the river to return the remaining sand to the natural world, flowing all the makers’ intentions throughout the city. I joined the group in their walk down to the river. The melancholy of sweeping away the mandala turned into a joyous celebration walk, culminating in an unexpected and magical way. When we arrived at Webster St. bridge and walked down the path to the water, the fountains came on, all of them, creating a brilliantly colored rainbow with cool, misty refreshment for the weary walkers as they gave the sand back to its source.
Wonder weaving: taking the threads of rich, new experiences that delight and shape us, weaving them together and building the vibrant fabric of our lives. When we share fabrics, one with another, the tapestry of community is woven. When tapestry upon tapestry, fill the rooms of our cities, states and countries, our world is unified: one big colorful house of wonder! May these young students at summer camp be inspiration for us to wonder weave. Culture Builds Community is for everyone. It’s the art of us!