We had our first field trip at the garden with sixty 4th and 5th grader students from Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School in New London. They came to see how the mosaics they made contributed to the garden design. From a classroom, it’s hard to see how an individual’s tiny piece of artwork will fit into the whole, but it makes sense when they are all together in the garden. While we weren’t able to install the mosaics in the amphitheater in time for their visit, we were able to grout their works of art and shine them up for the kids to see. They found their mosaics on the table and “oohhhed” and “ahhhhed” over them. We took them on a tour of the garden and showed them the amphitheater space. We had even carved their school name of a piece of granite and named the space the Arts Amphitheater in their honor.
Despite forgetting their picnic lunch back at the school (oops!) the kids had a blast running around the site and getting a couple different tours of the Avery Point sculpture walk and the art gallery in the Branford House. We had great weather, too, so it was a perfect day to be out of school and in nature! I went with the group that did the sculpture walk and loved seeing the joy of freedom as they ran up the boulders, touched the different sculptures to figure out what they were made of (one of the questions on the scavenger hunt created by my psychology mentor, Jamie Kleinman, and Christopher Platts, Curator and Director of the Alexey von Schlepp Gallery at Avery Point), and viewed the grounds and setting of the Art Walk. They were amazed to learn that the Branford House was once a private residence and the grounds were once someone’s yard.
The other group saw some of the artwork in the gallery and then took an expedited walk back along the water, passing the sculptures on their way back to the bus. Alas, there wasn’t enough time with so much to see and do that day but hopefully they will come back on their own later, perhaps bringing their families to share the experience. Most didn’t know that the Avery Point campus even existed or that it is open to the public. Hopefully this was an opportunity to see something beautiful and extravagant and to spread the word that this is a community space.
Fast forward to last Friday at the Connecticut Family Festival in New London where many of these same children performed on the stage, singing a cappella and dancing. I was there as a featured author, reading a children’s book that I wrote, “How Nature Makes My Brain Grow.” When I went up to read, several of the kids from the Art Everywhere class recognized me and filled the seats to listen to my reading. They were such a great group of supporters, with many of them waving at me from the audience. It made me so incredibly happy to see their smiling faces.
Designing the garden, building the garden with volunteers and donations, and publicizing the garden is a lot of work. Going into the schools with the kids to create the artwork for the space is also a lot of work but comes with these extra special experiences that make all of it worthwhile. In the end, we will have created not only a fabulous garden and a stronger community but, at least for me, cherished memories that will last a lifetime.