'The Gifts We Bring'
Arts Center’s GOAL program enters 6th season

Local middle school girls take part in a dance routine at the Durango Arts Center on Monday. The center’s G.O.A.L. (Girls Opportunities in Arts and Leadership) program was inspired by the Georgia O’Keefe Art and Leadership program./Photo by David Halterman

by Jules Masterjohn

Rounding the corner into the alley behind the Durango Arts Center, the sounds of voices grow louder. I approach the door to the Garage Art Studio, where this summers’ session of the G.O.A.L. program is taking place. The once-auto garage has been converted into an art studio with lots of art supplies that Rachael Pease, 12 years old and a two-time veteran of the summer program, finds inspiring. “This room is a really good place to do art,” she tells me as she points to the life-size papier-mâché-and-found-object scarecrow and stuffed raven in the corner. “There is inspiration everywhere here.”

As I look around, beyond and over the 15 girls, ranging in age from 11 to 14, who are working at the centrally placed tables, I see her point. In nearly every nook and cranny, there is something related to making art. Pease directs me toward a sculpture she made last week with guest artist, Miki Harder. On a hunt for things to use in making found-object sculptures, Harder led the girls on a hike through alleyways and into Horse Gulch. Once back in the studio, the girls used wire, hot glue and other attachment devices to craft creatures and whimsical objects. Most sculptures sported rusty metal, painted cardboard and other imaginatively used detritus from the streets. Judging from the girls’ excitement when asked about their sculptures, the project was a big hit.

A two-week summer arts and leadership program, G.O.A.L. – Girls Opportunities in Arts and Leadership – as it is now called, began six years ago under the name Georgia O’Keeffe Art and Leadership program. Inspired by a curriculum developed at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, G.O.A.L. was initiated as a joint venture between the DAC and the Women’s Resource Center. Though now run solely by the Education Program at the DAC, the program maintains its commitment to girls’ artistic and emotional development through mentoring by women artists.

Each year, under the steady guidance of local educator and artist Jane Steele, a theme is developed that brings continuity to the various arts being explored. “The Gifts We Bring” is this summer’s theme, and for the last two weeks, pastel artist Lorraine Trenholm, writer Maureen Keilty, dancer Beth Roberts, as well as Steele and Harder have shared their gifts and talents with the girls. Sandy Bielenberg, recently retired elementary school art teacher, presented the leadership workshops, which combined games, discussions and yoga to facilitate self-discovery. “In our discussions, we have reflected on the idea that we each have unique gifts to share and that we can celebrate each others’ gifts as well,” Bielenberg offers.

“You can just be yourself with art,” says Emily Muller, an eighth-grader and returning G.O.A.L. participant. She tells me that making art is important because it teaches creativity and problem-solving skills. “Art shows me that there are different angles to see things from, it just depends upon the situation,” she says. “If you make a mistake, you can figure out how to make it a ‘happy accident,’ as Miss B (Beilenberg) says.”

Several participants in the G.O.A.L. program work in pastels at the Durango Arts Center on Monday morning./Photo by David Halterman

Supporting the program’s goal of nurturing each girl’s creativity and self-discovery, Steele uses a book-arts project based on the theme of home and family. Each girl is busy applying colorful hand-painted paper onto a house-shaped cardboard template to be used as the book’s cover. As I watch the girls working, I see their individuality speaking through their choices, though an age-specific trend became apparent: purple painted paper was an almost unanimous preference.

To make her “cover pop out,” 11-year old Emily Wieser chose a dynamic combination of red- and blue-painted papers for her artist book. “My home is special, it’s a nice place with special people in it.” Art has been a love of hers for a long time. “It let’s your spirit go thoroughly through the world – it’s so cool what you can do with colors and designs,” she says.

Friends Sabine Lindler and Brooke Ellis chat as they work, talking about the things that pre-teen girls share. They agreed that art is an important activity in their 21st century world because “you can’t really do it wrong” and it helps to calm them during stressful times. This sentiment is echoed by Wieser who offers, “If I get really mad, doing art calms me down.”

Nicole Ferguson, a senior at Durango High School and avid artist, and Kelly Fetchenhier, also a DHS student, volunteered as interns for G.O.A.L., assisting the girls and guest artists with whatever needed to be done. Ferguson knows how much drawing and painting can mean to young girls as they grow up. “Making art helps self esteem because it’s something you can be good at.” She discovered her own love for art at about the same age as the girls she now mentors. “Art is an important form of expression as a young person. It’s a good outlet for alleviating stress. Things only get harder in high school.” •

The public is invited to G.O.A.L.’s closing ceremony, today, June 26, from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Garage Art Studio at the DAC. Seeing the lively and insightful creations by our future leaders is quite reassuring! Afterwards, head over to the grand re-opening of Open Shutter Gallery at its new location, 735 Main Ave., to view “Street Photography: From Classic to Contemporary” featuring traditional black-and-white darkroom photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Craig Semetko.



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows