Several years ago, I was employed by York Arts in ArtWorks!, a public-service project for teenagers on probation. For several months, the group worked on community and individual assignments -- beginning with the destruction of a room full of tiles.
I will always remember the look of gleeful disbelief as they were handed safety goggles and hammers and told to pound away at the stacks of tile that needed smashing for their mosaics. Or the faint hope expressed briefly in tough faces as they held up their works in progress which were always met with much-needed praise.
As the weeks passed, Kevin Lenker, the executive director in charge of the project, deftly guided these young men and women through the process of creation, its inner mysteries teaching patience and discipline and ultimately revealing some of the hidden potential within the broken pieces of their lives that encouraged seeking restoration for their crimes.
Sadly, programs like these are often the last to receive funding during times of economic downturn. Many of us rationalize that we must be logical and provide the necessities of life first. While I agree to a certain extent, it is the artistic expression -- paintings, music and the written word -- that will hearten us through the hard times and help us to find a hope for the future.
Share the timeless spark of creation with a young man and his pen can bring forth stories of entertainment and wisdom. Teach a child music and you give her the power to transform muteness into melody. Give a few kids broken tile and glass and they will bless a community with a new vision.
Within the Parkway Housing Authority lies the "Peace in Our Community" mosaic assembled by the staff and volunteers of York Arts. The montage of colorful pieces depicts three angels who appear to be keeping guard over the residents of York County. On a recent visit, I stood in the cold air, the glow of house lights and the angels' countenances seeming to mix into a mirage of heaven. Through a drizzle, we regarded one another with mutual understanding.
I closed my eyes and an image formed in my mind of a group of young people standing in the grass, in the middle of the darkness, hands in the grout, placing piece after piece of tile into the mold, making this mosaic to inspire, to encourage, or even change a life. Little earth angels, filled with the joy of doing what they love. There are many young people like this in York today.
When I was growing up the local art scene was dismally empty. Except for a few brave high school teachers and local professionals sounding the clarion call, and mostly for dance and music, anyone interested in pursuing creative endeavors was left largely abandoned. To the young dreamer, helpless without a craft, the shifting sands of life amid the demands to conform to a future I couldn't envision seemed impossible to manage. And so I left York. I moved to New York City to live and breathe the expansive creative world in that City of Dreams.
But by the time I returned to York, enter left stage, venues like York Arts; DreamWrights, welcoming families into that lemon-yellow, unpretentious slice of joy and wonder; OrangeMite Studios, where original plays and films are scripted and directed by local artists; the YCPrep Community School offering top notch musical instruction; and closest to my heart, the Professional Writing program at York College, where my own earth angels -- Dr. Madeline Yonker, Dr. Dominic Delli Carpini, Professor Cynthia Crimmins and Dr. Anthony Fredericks shared their tools and further helped me find my voice.
These organizations have changed the face of York forever.
Let this letter serve as a "thank you" to those who have anchored their faith and their creativity to York. You help me forgive the people who tell us to "quit daydreaming and get real jobs," including the frustrated teacher who told a distressed young girl that she was never going to amount to anything in life, because mortgage payments and other adult trappings had demanded she give up on her own dreams.
Perhaps that teacher, now retired, will read this and be inspired to pick up those precious dreams once more.
-- Nicole Watt is a former Yorker now studying writing in Northern Ireland.