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Creativity—The Irrevocable Wealth

Kirsten Kichenstein

Growing up a child of divorced parents living on either coast, I spent the school year with my mother and the summer with my father. Living in a single-parent household, money was tight. Very tight.

How I looked forward to those summers…I’d leave the west coast to spend hot Alabama days visiting with my dad and grandparents. I remember farmers markets, beefsteak tomatoes, juicy peaches and bee-stung watermelon.

I was always partially wet from a recent dip in my grandparent’s swimming pool and enjoyed magical adventures in the vacant lot down the road. Mostly what I recall from my Alabama summers is feeling more creative in those two months than at any other time of the year.

My father and his parents were artists. My father a guitarist, my grandfather a pianist, my grandmother a sculptor.

My grandparents’ home was filled with original works of art—paintings, sculptures, and stacks and stacks of books. There was always beautiful music playing either from the stereo or resonating from my grandfather’s attached piano studio. If my family wasn’t creating their own artwork, they were enjoying someone else’s. It was their life. It still is. Creativity was a family value.

Every day I was surrounded by beauty and opportunity. My grandmother would present an array of art materials and give me the space, encouragement and time to create. She’d set up a clay station on the deck or an easel in the backyard, turn on an aria and get out of my way. I didn’t know what I was hearing or even what I was doing, but I felt possibility all around me.

I thought my grandparents were rich. One day, I asked my grandmother that question. “Grandma, are you rich?” She laughed. “No,” she replied.

As I grew up, I gained perspective and a deeper understanding of my family dynamics. My grandfather was a professional pianist and a very successful one. He played with Liberace and Dick Van Dyke. He was a highly respected piano instructor. His students traveled across counties to study with him and even though he is gone now, his piano arrangements continue to sell. My father is an incredible guitarist and writer. My grandmother is a well-respected artist. Her clay figures portray opera’s finest and would continue to sell if she would make them.

They were working artists.

They were not wealthy. Not in the financial sense—as a matter of fact, they struggled. Their lives, though were very rich. In many ways they had it all—beauty, creativity, possibility and joy.

They had the kind of wealth that cannot be taken away in a down economy.

I say all of this as yet another argument for why it is imperative to advocate for keeping the arts alive in our schools. For so many children, school is the only place where they will get this kind of exposure that will inspire lasting creativity.

Once it’s sparked, really sparked, it cannot be extinguished, but something has to trigger it. Had I not had this exposure, I wouldn’t know creativity and all of its possibilities. I would not know real wealth. Everyone should experience such richness.


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