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Brocton arts program promotes learning, culture

Community canvas

A group works on painting last March before the pandemic.

BROCTON — Outside of being a student in high school or at one of the colleges in Chautauqua County, finding cultural enrichment in the small towns of the surrounding area can prove difficult. While research can be done online, learning about other cultures often stops for people once they’re out of the classroom. Hand in hand with that, artistic expression stops for many people as well. Or at least, so they think.

Lucy Andrus coordinates the Art Discovery program in Brocton, through the Tri-Church Parish, and she’s made it her goal for adults of the area to find themselves through artistic expression and cultural exploration.

Prior to starting Art Discovery in 2019, Andrus had originally created the LARC — the Literacy in Art, Reading, and Culture — program which takes place at the Ahira Hall Memorial Library in Brocton. Because of a Tri-County Arts Council grant and support from Tri-Church, she was able to expand the presence of the arts and culture in Brocton and surrounding communities.

“It’s such a unique program on a few different levels,” she said. “It’s something I wanted to do and the Church’s Administrative Council along with our pastor agreed to be the host. People are loving it and wanting more. A few churches offer some kind of art program but they aren’t normally as comprehensive as this program. Tri-Church is discovering new benefits of art that are synonymous with church values of such things as bringing people together, creating a sense of belonging and well-being, and engagement in the community. “

In Art Discovery, Andrus teaches weekly classes in 10-week semesters each spring and fall. The curriculum content is college-level but classes are accessible to anyone regardless of background. Her ‘students,’ who range in ages from their 40s to their 80s, get to explore their inner creativity and learn about the arts and world cultures.

A small group works on a People Living in Poverty quilt before the pandemic.

“I personally have goals for the program to expose people to art, build cultural experiences, and bring people closer together,” Andrus said.

Andrus only advertised the program for one semester, where she had 13 people show up. The next semester, she went up to 17 people with the only advertising being that of word of mouth. Some of her initial clientele were her fellow churchgoers, but some were just members of the community who were interested. While Andrus didn’t necessarily know all of the people, she was more than willing to welcome them.

“Truthfully, I didn’t know how many people would sign up,” Andrus said. “The 13 people that showed up originally felt like a high number for a small program in Brocton and then we kept getting more.”

As she crept closer to 20 students in her class, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which caused a shift in how she had to run her program. “COVID-19 dictated that we could only take 12 or 13 people to accommodate social distancing,” Andrus said. “I have to have a waiting list now. I may have to say no to some people who want to return to bring new people in.”

Even with the program being different because of the pandemic, the outcome has been just as successful. Her students are still getting to accomplish the goals Andrus set, they just have to be 6 feet apart while doing it. And the people taking her class are really embracing the cultural aspect of Art Discovery.

Quilts represent calls for racial and social justice.

“We’ve been trying to make a greater presence of arts and culture in our small community,” Andrus said. “A goal is to encourage people who would not think of themselves as artmakers to give it a try through our program. There’s a general lack of awareness and resources and I wanted to help fill that need.”

Cultural enrichment and artistic expression are two things that are very near and dear to Andrus’ heart. Prior to her program in Brocton, she was a professor at Buffalo State for over three decades. Her inspiration for the program in Brocton came from her years of being an art educator and an art teacher educator in a city setting.

“I’m blessed to have had this experience,” Andrus said. “I have training in art education, art therapy, and diversity education. All these things continue to inform my work. My outreach program in Buffalo was called Art Partners, and for 23 years, I took my college students into inner cities to work with children and teens in diverse settings to help get them over fears of teaching in an urban school. That was one of my greatest goals and hopes for these future teachers.”

Taking a program like this from a city like Buffalo, which features a significant amount of culture and diversity compared to a small place like Brocton, was an interesting concept, but Andrus did her best to make it work with her original program at the library in 2012, and now her expanded program at the church. And worked it has.

The class is more about just sitting down and making stuff. Andrus really wants her students to have a few deeper things to take away. Each class begins her group viewing interactive PowerPoints that include knowledge of master artists and exploration of art concepts. Then the artmaking inspired by this preliminary experience begins. Classes Andrus taught this past year included learning about diverse world cultures including: Exploring West Africa Textiles Arts and Adinkra: Visual Symbols that Tell a Story, Celebrating the Diwali, the Festival of Light, and Exploring Haudenosaunee Culture, Lifeways and Artistry.

Quilt represents childhood hunger.

The very first class of 2020, Quilts of care and Compassion: Social Action through Art — inspired by the art and social action of Faith Ringgold — centered on social problems in the world “where participants identified pressing social issues needing our collective attention,” Andrus said. “In response, they created mixed media quilts to represent the issues, give information about them, and offer do-able actions and solutions for everyday people to implement in helping to solve the problem.”

“It’s been a goal for me personally to help create greater appreciation for the arts and cultural diversity because resources are often lacking in rural communities,” Andrus continued. “Especially now with everything going on in the country and the world, it’s really important to create greater awareness, and one effective way to help people examine or put down stereotypes and biases is with personal experience. Providing such awareness and exposure through art and working together does remarkable things.”

Outside of teaching people about cultures, Andrus has another main goal: To make people understand their own forms of artistic expression. She believes that everyone has the ability for creative expression in them, and she wants to do her best to bring it out of people, if only by just being welcoming to people who want to try.

“I always find that if you are invitational and non- threatening and invite people to try art as a medium for self-expression, they will find themselves often being amazed at what they accomplished”. I knew opportunities here were smaller than those in Buffalo,” Andrus said. “I thought that if I’m going to make my life here, I need to bring this to a rural community and see what challenges there were. I’m so impressed with our participants and their work. The arts really are universal. If you can provide the right kind of opportunity, even a person who says they can’t do it will find they absolutely can.”

Andrus has certainly faced her share of challenges with the program, from persuading the church to embrace it, to challenges with funding, to the pandemic, but she has been able to accomplish her goals so far of helping people learn and express themselves. Though it’s certainly extra work for her, especially due to the pandemic, it’s proven thus far to be a labor of love and a personal blessing.

While room for the program to grow further is a new challenge due to the pandemic, Andrus wants to offer the best experience possible for her students and the community. Because of her, her students, and the leaders in charge of the places she holds the programs, she’s been able to make her classes accessible, engaging, and enriching, all without having an entry fee.

If you are interested in the Art Discovery classes and/or viewing the current exhibits, contact Lucy Andrus at 716-792-4834, or luna5186@aol.com. Her next semester will start at the end of February or beginning of March and will last for 10 weeks. Classes meet Mondays at Tri-Church from 6 to 8 p.m.

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