At the end of each summer, the Growing Young Artists (GYA) are recognized by their instructors, friends, and family in a community fiesta celebration. As I stepped into the park near downtown Fennville, I was greeted with an explosion of bright colors. The artwork was displayed in handmade shacks, a rainbow of flags hanging above them. The joyful sounds of live music and community chatter met my ears. A culmination of 80 hours of behind-the-scenes instructor preparation and 100 hours of student work, showcased in one collective space. The students shared their handmade creations as take-home gifts for the community.
Families who have sent their children to GYA for the past four weeks had the opportunity to view their student’s work for the first time. Reese, one of the GYA students, proudly took her step-dad and aunt by the hand to show them the pieces she created. Her work, along with the other young artists, was inspired by family. Through writing prompts and art-making, Reese explored this year’s theme, Tú Eres Familia. She constructed a Native American inspired totem pole out of various animals, each one representing a person in her family; a protective lion for her step-dad, a watchful owl for her mom, a playful dog and cat for her brother and sister and a wise fox resembling her. Her family smiled pridefully, seeing her succeed in her school project with a growing interest in learning.
The lively beats of Super Nova took over the speakers of downtown Fennville and drew people to the park. It became a meeting place for community members to eat a taco dinner together, enjoy paletas and Palazollo’s gelato, watch performances by Vizions Dance, kick a soccer ball and make friendship bracelets. Saugatuck-Fennville community members of varying backgrounds and many ages came together to positively recognize the 80 at-risk students who participated in GYA this summer. A crowd of supportive faces gathered to watch as GYA student Valeria shared her poem.
“Family is more than blood it’s the people you share with and are surrounded by.”
She perfectly captured what the night was about, creating a community that feels like family. The moment she was done speaking, her teacher wrapped her up in a hug, overwhelmed by the progress she had made during the program.