HOW TO HELP WHEN YOU THINK YOU CAN'T HELP

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
— Pablo Picasso
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One of the great joys of our travels has been getting to reconnect with friends that, because of time, jobs, and life, have ended up separated from us by the vast distances that make up this country.

Tucked away in the scenic Finger Lakes area of New York, the town of Corning is a patch in a quilt of quaint villages, towns, and cities that dot the landscape. Beyond its name, each town has its own identity that makes it unique, but there is much that unifies the people of the area as well. As is true of life, one thing that is a commonality is art.

At 171 Cedar Arts Center, a hub for helping nurture local artists of all ages and disciplines exists. It’s also where we found our friend, Mitchell, an artist in his own right, who we hadn't seen in seven years.

Mitchell and I have shared the stage before. Our love for theater was the seed of our friendship. All these years later, it’s still serves as the roots.

Mitchell reached out to us when he heard of our travels, and recommended we stop by 171 Cedar Arts Center to volunteer. We were happy to do it, and excited to see him, but confessed there was little we envisioned being able to offer.

The Center helps teach and offer resources for many artistic disciplines, including ceramics, fencing, dance, theater, culinary, music, literature, and foreign language. While I like to dabble in theater, and John-Michael occasionally paints, we’re hardly qualified to help others in these pursuits. Any artistic advice or training from us would likely derail or confuse an eager pupil.

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“We would love to have you volunteer at 171,” Mitchell told me. “I can get you set up with something.” That something turned out to be landscaping projects. Perfect. We’re both very comfortable using garden tools and getting dirty. We were in our element.

As the day progressed, we were serenaded by the sounds of violin lessons echoing down the hall and out of the open front doors. Such elegant background music to enhance our sweaty work. It was also the soundtrack to an important lesson. We all have ways we can help others, even if it’s not obvious at first.

The arts are important for both children and adults. They are an integral component to a community. They provide beauty and shared experiences and emotions. They can be beautiful and challenging. Art is one of the few things that truly distinguishes us as humans. It bonds us. Having a place like 171 Cedar Arts Center can be a bedrock for sustaining a healthy and vibrant community. Now more than ever, places like this need the support of citizens, as the arts have become targeted by funding cuts in schools and government. As if we need more missiles than music; more prisons than paintings.

Most importantly, that help can come from the least transparent of ways. Planting flowers, weeding, and raking sticks and leaves are chores most of us can do. Most of us do them at home. Non-profit facilities need these often mundane things done too. If you can do them, that’s one less service they have to pay for, allowing more funds to be spent on supplies. Or it’s one less thing the employees have to do, allowing them to focus on sharing their gifts by teaching others.

Find a way to help. If you can’t think of way, ask someone. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by what they might suggest.

For me, learning this valuable lesson and seeing an old friend in a familiar environment gave me a feeling of camaraderie, yet also a touch of nostalgia.

Nostalgia for the stage. Nostalgia for my youth, when my imagination was the only limit to my artistic endeavours. Nostalgia for having a yard. Even nostalgia for friendships now inconvenienced by time and distance.

Can nostalgia happen after only 7 years?

I’m going with yes.