Going to the G.O.A.L.
Summer arts exploration returns to Arts Center

Self-portraits such as these by a past participant are part of the Durango Arts Center’s G.O.A.L. summer art program. The aim of the 10-day program, for girls entering sixth through ninth grades in the fall, is to nurture self-discovery through creativity./Photo by Jules Masterjohn

by Jules Masterjohn

This time of year, as the evenings warm and the days grow hot, I am reminded of childhood summers. The coming of the season meant freedom from the daily schedule of school but certainly not a departure from learning. On the contrary, these summers were spent exploring the natural world with friends, wandering through the stands of trees that remained despite the growing footprint of suburbia. Inside those cool green groves, my education continued without adult supervision. It was in these “wild” outside places that my feral self – my creativity – was most nurtured, untouched by “grown-up” perspectives.

The artist in me came alive during these unstructured times, and I rediscovered a place within that would, for the rest of my life, provide a cool respite from the heated cares of the world, a place that provides grounding for the many contradictory aspects of adult life.

In today’s world, even in our small and relatively safe town, children are not often allowed to wander far or for too long, the way we were set loose a quarter century ago. Instead, summers are scheduled with learning and for many young ones, this freedom to explore is tamed and directed into a framework of specific activities.

Fortunately, regardless of the method, life opens and learning is found. The artist within can be nurtured in any circumstance. Yet, I believe, it finds itself most readily in environments that allow it to appear in its own time and way.

Nurturing creativity is the objective of G.O.A.L., a summer program for girls presented by the Durango Arts Center. Begun five years ago and based on the importance of self-discovery through creative expression, G.O.A.L (Girls Opportunities in Arts and Leadership) brings middle school girls together with talented women artists for two weeks of intensive arts and personal exploration.

While talking with girls who have attended the summer program, one thing becomes clear: the freedom within the program’s structure has touched the artist within each girl. Jessica Gosche, an eighth-grader at Miller Middle School who has participated in the program for three years, offered, “It was really fun because you got to do whatever you wanted and got to express yourself in your art. I liked not really having to follow any rules.”

At the helm of the program since its inception is visual art educator Jane Steele, who is responsible for selecting the artists that teach the workshops and for setting the theme of the program. This year the girls’ explorations will focus around the question, “Who am I and What is My Voice?”


Each day begins with the girls gathering in a circle to hear inspirational stories and discuss their intentions for the day. Each day closes in the same circular fashion, with the girls sharing their day’s challenges and successes, “finding their voices” and sharing their stories.

Working with Mary Ellen Long, the girls will learn to construct various book forms in which to write their stories and explore book making using materials from nature. Raylene McCalman will introduce the girls to felting and spinning processes; Deborah Gorton will offer instruction in making whimsical dolls using a variety of materials; and Amy Vaclav-Felker will lead the girls toward their dreams and accomplishments by creating “nichos,” the Mexican folk art of embellished paper machê boxes with skeletons inside that are acting out the activities of the living.

“Our skeletons will be doing the things that we sometimes don’t think we can do, or things that we would enjoy doing if we could find the self confidence to do them,” Vaclav-Felker explained. “My objective is to let girls know that anything is possible, no matter what others, or even ourselves, sometimes say, to find a way to voice our ideas and feelings and to accept who we are.”

Like the nichos project, each of the artists has incorporated self-discovery and leadership building into their visual art scheme. One art project that has been popular among the girls is painting a self-portrait on canvas. Its appeal is no surprise, given many pre-teens’ preoccupation with how they look. This project builds on this interest and invites each girl to look deeper into herself as she gazes into the mirror. Steele, who instructs the painting project, reminds them that for artists throughout history, self-portraiture has been a tool used for introspection. “The self-portrait focuses on who this girl is in the mirror, her interests and unique qualities, using photographic assistance, painterly techniques and much imagination,” Steele says. The young artists will be introduced to the self-portraits created by famous women artists, such as Frida Kahlo, to familiarize themselves with women who have made important contributions through their creative pursuits.

Mentoring is an important facet of the summer experience, with the girls’ not only getting exposure to important historical women artists but also having close associations with the women artists living in our community who are their teachers. The mentoring aspect will deepen this summer with the addition of a former G.O.A.L. alumna and high schooler, Brigid Hammel, filling the role as the teachers’ assistant.

Growing healthy and creative women can be serious stuff, yet the program also acknowledges the role of playfulness in learning. Steele has developed a project, “Mood Manicure,” in which the girls will explore body art and paint their finger and toenails with colors that best express their feelings that day.

For former G.O.A.L. participant, Anamichel Apted, the G.O.A.L. art projects helped her identify how she was feeling and express those feelings in a creative way. It also has filled an important role in the further development of her art skills. “I love art, and I was trying to find a teacher when we heard about the G.O.A.L. program. It has been so much fun because there are different teachers, and I have learned a lot and made a lot of friends.” Anamichel, an eighth-grader at Miller Middle School, not only found new friends last summer but also a new interest. “I loved learning calligraphy and spend a lot of my time doing it. I am really into it now.”

According to Zoe Schultz’s father, Michael, his daughter “loved going to G.O.A.L. and came home all fired up” after each day of last summer’s program. Zoe said that her expectations for the summer program were pretty ordinary before it started, thinking it was going to be like her art classes in middle school. “I was so wrong. I liked all the projects. Some weren’t my style, but I learned from all of them. It was everything … artsy and fun.” •

The G.O.A.L. Summer Intensive Workshop will be held from June 18-28, Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Durango Arts Center. Registration ends Fri., June 1. Girls entering 6th through 9th grade in the fall of 2007 can participate. For more information or to enroll, contact Caitlin at 259-2606.



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