Creative space

Photo by Rachel Bush

Art Strong Butte County instigator and Inspire teacher Jarrah Myles.

Last Friday (Dec. 7), dance teacher Jarrah Myles and her students from Inspire School of Arts & Sciences piled onto buses and headed to Gridley, where they performed musical and dance numbers at rallies to celebrate the reopening of schools post-Camp Fire. The performances were a morale booster, not just for the audience of students and teachers, but for the Inspire kids, too. “They performed their best work that day,” Myles said in a recent interview. “They needed to put their focus into something positive and they did it very well. And moments like that make me realize, ‘OK, this is what we need to be doing.’ It drives the mission even more.”

The mission at hand is to rebuild the educational arts community in the aftermath of the fire. In addition to the homes and businesses lost, a rich history of arts was also seriously impacted. At least a dozen schools were damaged or destroyed, displacing more than 5,700 students; art and performance spaces, such as Dance Evolution Studio and Norton Buffalo Hall, are gone; and many artists lost the tools of their trade, not to mention their life’s work. With the encouragement of Butte County Superintendent Tim Taylor, Myles met with a group of students and educators to brainstorm ways to rebuild the distressed art scene, and after several talks, the idea for Art Strong Butte County was born.

Art Strong is an initiative that aims to create spaces and opportunities to integrate the arts within all Butte County schools—from pre-K through 12th grade—while also celebrating the healing power of art.

“We know that rebuilding shelter and getting food is important, but you can’t spend 24 hours a day focused solely on that,” Myles said. In using arts as a means of catharsis for those in need, Myles said they’ve been calling themselves “second responders.”

The grassroots movement is in its infancy, but it’s already gaining momentum.

Myles kicked it off by creating a GoFundMe page, and hopes to raise $10 million by next summer. “It might sound extreme, but if you break it down to $10 a person, it’s really doable. We just need this to go viral!” Art Strong also has teamed up with community leaders, such as local arts advocate (and Butte County Supervisor-elect) Debra Lucero, president of the Upstate Community Enhancement Foundation/Friends of the Arts, who will help seek out grant funding.

“The money that is donated will specifically be going to supply classroom needs that teachers have, and to fund the events where students/artists will present their work. And those events would raise additional funds for Art Strong,” Myles said.

After getting support for arts in the schools—as well as for educational arts organizations in the community—in place, the long-term dream is to build a county educational arts complex that houses various studios, rehearsal spaces and a theater, where all forms of art could be taught, practiced and showcased. “Butte County has desperately needed this kind of space for a long time. Maybe now is the time to build it,” said Myles.

“Art makes others feel understood, it creates vulnerability and that’s why its so crucial for healing,” said Matilda Krulder, a 17-year-old singer and Inspire senior whose family’s home was destroyed in the Camp Fire. Krulder is among the students who have joined the Art Strong cause, and to start the healing, she’s hosting a benefit concert tonight (Dec. 13), 7-10 p.m., at Farm Star Pizza—with performances by her piano-vocal duo ALL CAPS (with Oliver Moore), plus the Meraki Quartet and vocalist Samaria Grace.

“With a tragedy like the fire, there are heightened emotions, but from that comes expression,” said Myles, who pointed to the resilience of Krulder and artistry of the students as evidence that the arts can make a difference. “I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of impressive work come out of this community from all of this.”