It’s been a crazy morning. I’ve been hard at it since 7:00 a.m. answering emails, rearranging my schedule, preparing for trainings and moderating a phone conference. After a quick lunch, I’m on my way to downtown Oakland. As soon as I cross the threshold of the Creative Growth Art Center everything changes. The artists greet me with smiles, hugs and unbelievably inventive watercolor, cloth and found-object creations.
For the past two years, I have been teaching a monthly mid-day bellydance class at Creative Growth, which serves adult artists with developmental, mental and physical disabilities. A quick look around proves that the phrase on their website “providing a professional studio environment for artistic development, gallery exhibition and representation and a social atmosphere among peers” is no exaggeration. It’s a place where you can buy the funkiest jeans-turned-tote-bag for a few bucks or witness the transformation of a canvass that would have given expressionist Jackson Pollock a run for his money.
It’s my job to get them out of their chairs and on their feet. So our classes are more like a dance party, where what is most important is that you move something! Unlike many bellydance classes, half of my students are men who shimmy just as joyously as the women next to them. And whether it is Egyptian walking to an up-tempo Shabby tune or a doing snake arms to a slow takasim, the artists are happy to take a break from a desk full of chalk, stencils and fabric. I feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to have fun dancing without an agenda, connecting with them and appreciating their work. I often think of my Aunt Eula, who loved music, braiding hair and making cookies, and who had a developmental disability, as well. I am glad to know that there are now places like Creative Growth that embrace the full humanity of the people who walk through their doors.
But don’t take my word for it. Check out their current exhibit, Home 2016: Where Horror Meets Hilarity Meets Adventure, a title borrowed from John Martin’s drawing of a Simpsons character gone rogue. The exhibit features new work from more than 50 artists. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Raks Africa gives a special thank you to Studio Manager Julie Alvarado for introducing us to this wonderful organization and Client Services Coordinator Cristina Moraes for assisting us with our monthly classes. You can find out more about the current exhibit here.