Art Works Blog

What was your earliest experience with the arts?

Washington, DC

Edited by Paulette Beete

Denise Brandenburg of our Arts Education division as a four-year-old budding ballerina. Photo courtesy of Ms. Brandenburg.

You may have noticed in recent Art Talks, that we've asked our interviewees to share their earliest experiences with the arts. It seemed only fair that we pose the same question to staff (myself included). Here's what folks had to say...

Monica Ashar, General Counsel

My first big arts experience was a second-grade field trip to Allentown Symphony Hall to see Gian Carlo Menotti's children's opera, Help, Help, the Globolinks! I remember being enthralled from the moment I entered the historic concert hall. I knew that I was someplace special, and that something special was about to happen. When the lights dimmed and the musicians began to play, my excitement only grew. I've seen many shows since then, but I'll always treasure that memory of being seven years old and experiencing the magic of a live performance for the first time.

Victoria Hutter, Public Affairs

My very first experience, for which I have only vapors of memory, was a creative movement class at the Silvermine Guild in Connecticut that I took when I was six years old. We had scarves and ribbons and tambourines and there was lots of running around and posing a la Isadora Duncan. But my memory of the trip into ?The City? to see New York City Ballet?s The Nutcracker is a bit more vivid. It was me, my sister Stephanie, and our grandmother (a former dancer herself). After the party scene, when the Christmas tree grows, I remember getting goose bumps, holding my breath, and being transported as the tree grew bigger and bigger while the music built in grand waves complete with crashing cymbals and an urgently ringing triangle. The rest of the performance doesn?t stick as much in my mind but I do remember thinking afterwards, as I imagine so many little girls have, ? I want to do THAT, be a ballerina.?

Erin Waylor, Partnerships

I was hooked on musical theater when I saw a production of Rodger & Hammerstein?s South Pacific at age four. I vividly remember sitting on the top of the un-folded auditorium seat at DeKalb College (now known as Georgia Perimeter College) in Atlanta. I sang the chorus of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" for months!

Elizabeth Stark, Public Affairs

In elementary school, I made my stage debut as the Munchkin Lady and the White Cat in Bowie Public Library?s production of The Wizard of Oz. As Munchkin Lady, I had a hat made out of a giant piece of foam with paper flowers stuck to it and my mother made my cat costume, which I believe reappeared at Halloween. What I remember most about that experience are the librarians who devoted two months to creating this play and making each of us, no matter how small the part, feel like a super star.

Lois Fields, Finance

I don?t remember my first experience with/introduction to the arts. Seems like I always had paint and paper---and family who were involved in many different art forms. So I?d like to talk about fourth grade, because that?s when I remember it all coming together. My fourth-grade teacher used to bring interesting instruments in to class for us to try out. I took art classes and had piano lessons and remember going to chamber music concerts and to see my father in the amateur productions he participated in. At the end of the school year we took a road trip to visit my grandmother in Oak Park, Illinois. I believe that was the first time they took me on a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Oak Park, and when I learned that my grandfather had designed the family home. I was old enough to appreciate that a short trip on the el would get us downtown to the Art Institute where I fell in love with the Impressionists & post-Impressionists. Then we headed to upstate New York to visit my mother?s family. One day I tagged along with my favorite cousin to see what Junior High was like. I remember liking changing classrooms ever hour. My cousin remembers that once we got to her art class, I didn?t want to leave. Sometime after that trip,  my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told him I wanted to be the next Picasso. I?ve had to significantly lower my expectations for myself ---but will always have a pen or paintbrush in my hand.

Don Ball, Public Affairs

As no one who knows me will have any trouble believing, it was playing Scrooge in my eighth-grade play, A Christmas Carol. And I was wonderful; authentic you might say. Bah humbug, indeed. I was interested in art before that, but that was the first time I participated wholeheartedly in the artistic process.

Winona Caesar, Intern, Visual Arts

This might not be my first experience with the arts, but entering the Charles Street doorway of The Walters was like leaving Baltimore for another world.

I was in first grade on a field trip. As I climbed the steps within the museum, I was greeted by a naked statue! With my young mind, I immediately responded with an ewww, a giggle and then proceeded to look away while the teachers tried to keep the class in line.

However, what started as disgust, quickly morphed into love. Seeing more of the museum I approached the art work depicting Adam, Eve, and the serpent, which had a woman's head. At that point I decided that this museum was cool. Later, I would realize that the museum not only had European art, but it also included art from cultures around the world. They had very old and unique pieces that kept me fascinated the whole time. Also, the way the museum was planned out, the rooms made the art and the physical location an interesting place to occupy.

As I got older I became more interested in film and music, but the fine arts and museums still hold my attention. To this day, I love learning about the history of places and art works. I even minored in history during my undergrad years and traveled back to The Walters to do research for my papers on selected pieces in their collection. That little school field trip changed me, and I have often thought about the experience throughout my life.

Michael Faubion, Office of the Senior Deputy Chairman

My first memory of an arts experience (and this will really date me, since the arts are now being offered in schools in an increasingly limited way) was in elementary school. Austin?s Casis Elementary School (K-6th grades) was fortunate to have visits to afternoon concerts of the Austin Symphony Orchestra at the city?s Municipal Auditorium. I have a vague recollection of educational selections of works such as Peter and the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals as well as the Austin Civic Ballet?s seasonal productions of The Nutcracker. Although I don?t know how these programs were funded, they were a regular and expected part of the school curriculum during the 1960s.

In junior and senior high school, I attended productions of musical theater works during the summer months at Zilker Park, next to Barton Springs. The programs were presented in an amphitheater by the Austin Parks & Recreation Department, with city funding I suppose. These were my first exposure to live musical theater works such as Oliver, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and The Princess and the Pea.

Finally, during college I attended many touring productions featured as part of the University of Texas?s Cultural Entertainment Committee?s roster. The highlight I recall as the most outstanding was a standing-room-only concert by Leontyne Price at the city?s Municipal Auditorium in about 1970. The 3,000 seats were not enough for the capacity crowd, so folding chairs were brought in to fill the atrium. I was lucky enough to relate this experience to Ms. Price at the NEA Opera Honors awards ceremony in fall 2008.

Alyce Myatt, Media Arts

I?ve known my friend Jackie since I was 10 days old. Our mothers were friends and our grandmothers were friends. As children, she would always remind me that she was the oldest (by six months) and I savor the sweetness as I remind her of that now. Both our families moved a lot and on the occasions when Jackie or I recall a particular event, we use where we lived at the time as a reference to determine how old we were. I was three years old when we lived on Fulton Street (I lived on Lexington Avenue at two, and in East Orange at four). Although I?m not sure which came first, I have two distinct art memories from when I was three.

Jackie?s mother, Dolly, an artist in her own right, gave me my first set of paints that included four plastic cars. I remember not wanting to paint them solid colors and not being able to figure out how to do that; Dolly showed me.

My second art memory seemed to have larger implications. I thought any empty space was there for me to fill. This included paper, the flyleaves of books (the Funk & Wagnall?s was a particular favorite), and especially walls. Big blank spaces were irresistible but drawing on them always brought a spanking. I remember one evening sitting at the kitchen table with my brother when my father came in the back door with an easel-based blackboard. I had been liberated!

My father died in 1979. The night before his funeral, during the viewing, a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said he had been our landlord when we lived on Fulton Street. He went on to say how upset he would get because I would always draw on the walls. I paused, reflected, and then smiled. I told him that I was still drawing on living room walls but now as a television producer/director.

Andi Mathis, Partnerships

This is the first time I've gone public with this. I stole. For art. When I went to nursery school, I discovered crayons of the most beautiful and entrancing colors. Colors I had never seen before. Colors I could do so much with.

So, I did it. I held two crayons back when it was time to clean up from drawing time, hid them the rest of the day, and palmed them while being driven home by Mrs. Galt, the teacher. She never knew. Scammed by a scheming four year old. Ha!

Unfortunately, thievery didn't go over well with my parents. I was dumbfounded that they didn't appreciate the beauty and magnificence of the amazing colors. They drove me back to Mrs. Galt's house that evening and made me confess my crime and return the goods. I'm still a sucker for a good color.

Terry Liu, Arts Education

Around the age of three, I remember standing in front of the record player and ?conducting? with a Tinker Toy stick symphonic orchestra recordings, in particular the New York Philharmonic conducted by Arturo Toscanini performing the Andante from Symphony No. 101 in D major "Clock" by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Jason Schupbach, Design

I was a total and complete band geek (marching band included) from the moment they let us try instruments in Ms. Uzell?s fifth-grade class.  I luckily ended up on trumpet.

Paulette Beete, Public Affairs

I grew up in Queens, and I have vague memories of my mother taking my three-years-younger sister and me into Manhattan for kids concerts at Lincoln Center. I also remember seeing a production of Big River---possibly the one Rocco produced?---and later seeing a production of Anne Frank on a school trip. When I was four, my sister and I moved to Trinidad to live with my grandparents for about a year. I was enrolled in Miss Ahye's Private School, a school a few blocks away from where we lived at which kids from about three to 12 all studied together in one great big room full of tables and chairs. Around Christmas, we took a field trip to a radio station, where my class performed "Away in a Manger" on a radio show for kids. (I later performed on that same show as a 10 or 11-year-old, winning first prize for a piano performance. I think my sister received second or third prize for singing a duet with one of the neighborhood kids.)

What was YOUR earliest experience with the arts?


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