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Where the Magic Happens: Bandon Arts & Culture Club

Geneva Miller for Southern Oregon Artists Resource

It’s four o’clock in the afternoon. The Harbor Lights Middle School gymnasium is thrumming with activity. Young men sprint across the floor, balance a basket ball on their fingertips, reach for the perfect arc between arm and basket. Next door, the art room hums with a sympathetic energy. Here there be dragons, inspired by Chinese mythology and brought to life with crayons, paper, rhinestones and glue.

The Bandon Arts and Culture Club is reconvening after winter break. Art instructor Vicki Affatati demonstrates techniques for creating sinuous mixed media dragons. Students form a huddle around her. Last year, members of the club contributed to the Year of the Rabbit art exhibit on the Bandon boardwalk. In 2012, Affatati tells students, the boardwalk show will celebrate the Chinese Year of the Dragon.

Swish. Nothing but net. Students cheer, pump their fists. Bunnies may be cute, but dragons are fierce.

“The kids show up excited and ready—for snacks, of course—but open to any project I have in mind for them,” said Affatati. “They’ve formed these creative friendships with each other around making art together. It’s a dream come true.”

Bandon Arts and Culture Club. Photo by Geneva Miller.

Bandon Arts and Culture Club. Photo by Geneva Miller.

Bandon Arts and Culture Club offers after school enrichment for Bandon’s middle school students. Now in its third year, the program is filled to capacity with students on a waiting list. The club is supported financially by grants and donations and benefits from dedicated volunteers. Harbor Lights Principal Deborah Greenfield encouraged Affatati to launch the program for students who were not interested in sports or other extracurricular activities then offered at the school.

Greenfield says the club helps students feel connected and positive about their middle school experience. “When students feel that connection, they have better attendance and increased achievement,” she said.

Students confirm that the Arts and Culture Club is more than an invitation to hang out after school. The club allows them to study and learn beyond the regular school day.

“I show up week after week because I like art,” said Mazy. Mazy is a sixth grader at Harbor Lights. Lately, three dimensional media such as wax and clay have captured her interest, in part because the club is the only place she can get her hands on sculpting supplies.

In 2011, director, actor and playwright Mike Dempsey introduced club members to theater arts through improvisation. At the students’ request, improv and comedy workshops continue this spring with instructors Neal Davis and Jackie Lawrence.

“We gave students an overview of basic improvisation, with the goal of honing their listening, verbal, and creative skills,” noted Dempsey. “The improv skills and games gave them tools to rein in when they get over stimulated by focusing more on supporting each other within the context of the exercise.”

Listening and focused verbal communication are tools Dempsey hopes benefit students in daily life. “This is definitely a participation course—there is no sitting back on the sidelines. The kids get to be themselves in a safe and fun environment, with strong, non-judgmental feedback from their peers.”

Helping students claim ownership of their art outside the confines of the classroom is an integral part of the club’s mission and its success. “It’s my overarching goal,” said Affatati, “because the arts have always attracted diverse audience participation.”

Out in the community, students paint murals, stage drops and shop windows, or spruce up their own school grounds. Their creative relationships grow to include the club’s instructors, parents and volunteers—all of whom boast rich life and work experiences. Affatati watches, listens, as art provides the catalyst for conversations between young people and adults. She hears the echo of her students’ discoveries when she washes paint brushes and prepares for the next lesson.

“That’s when the magic happens,” she said.

Look for Bandon Arts and Culture Club exhibits at Coos Art Museum in March, Bandon Public Library in May and the Port of Bandon boardwalk from Memorial Day through September.

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