Making Art in the Cracks

I’ve come to realize that most of my really valuable artistic experiences have always happened in the cracks.

Growing up I did a LOT of community theater. It was a magical, safe place where I could be myself with a similarly odd group of people and also spend a large amount of time pretending to be someone else. My first experiences with this magical world were in the rehearsal space. It was the top floor of an old fire hall. To get upstairs you had to wade through the downstairs garage which was full of old set pieces and painting supplies. It always smelled of a comforting mixture of sawdust, paint thinner and glue. Once you got to the back you made your way up the creaky wooden stairs to the second floor. The space was a large, dirty room full of thrift store furniture and folding chairs. The plaster was cracked everywhere and in the corner sat the most ancient piano I think I have seen to this day. But in that musty, dirty space we made art. We created things. We expressed things and we had creative fellowship. I still think fondly of the many, many hours spent in this filthy but endearing environment.

Then there was dance. I studied dance for a few years in the house of a woman who built a small studio in her basement. The ceiling was so low that the grown-ups had to worry about hitting it every time they did a leap or grande jete. When the owner passed away and a new family bought the studio, we moved down the street to a building that used to house a print shop. The walls were so covered with black residue from ink and fumes that they had to scrub them down before we could move in. Later I also studied with an incredible Russian ballet dancer who taught me the best technique I ever learned out of the back of a hockey rink and in a church basement.

Then there was college. When I visited my school for the first time it was love at first sight. In the heart of the city, was this old, cracked building with makeshift dance floors and peeling paint. The wooden floors were crooked and had holes. The walls had chipped plaster and each room was full of thrift store furniture and folding chairs. It’s no wonder I fell in love. It felt like home. For the next 4 years, we made magic and art. We danced, we sang, and we occasionally punched holes in the wall. We strived, we cried and we grew up. Shortly after I graduated they tore the building down and moved down the street to what would become a state of the art theater school with the best of everything. My alma mater today is very sleek. Today the kids who graduate are used to high-tech everything. Looking today at the empty lot where our building once stood, you’d never know the cracked, old, musty building even existed where many of us wept, sweated and earned our degrees.

As I am introducing my own kids to experiences I have this internal struggle. I feel like I owe it to them to give them the best of the best of everything. I have pinched pennies, made sacrifices and taken them to museums and signed them up for classes in state of the art, squeaky clean best of the best places. It is amazing to know that your child can go to an art museum and during their first class they can sit in front of and contemplate an ACTUAL Picasso. It is amazing to dance in a studio that has air conditioning and a well designed web site and state-of-the-art email marketing. It is amazing to play sports on perfectly weedless, mowed fields and to take music lessons on a shiny, baby grand piano in a school with a recording studio. Isn't it what we all want for our kids... the best of everything?

Lately, though, I have begun to seek out something different. What I am coming to realize is that sometimes the most valuable learning happens in the cracks. Sometimes it is not the quality of the building, or the equipment, or the supplies that matters. It is what happens inside the building that is important. In these run down, makeshift places – more often than not – you find strong, resourceful, creative and passionate people. Sometimes it is the absence of “state of the art” that drives true creativity. Sometimes it is the cracked paint, the varnish fumes and the dirty floors that open your mind and heart to the possibilities, help create the drive within you to create whatever it is you need to express, and get you to wherever it is that you need to go.

For better or worse I am drawn to the cracks. I love the dirty floors and the crumbling walls and the passionate, resourceful people. Even though the world now has this crazy drive to make sure everything is "perfect" and pristine and wonderful all of the time, for me it will always be about the cracks.

Because I believe that it is within these places that you find the space to find yourself. I believe that it is within the cracks that the true creativity lives.

© 2016 Krysta Bernhardt. All Rights Reserved.