Art Works Blog

What was your earliest engagement with the arts?

It starts with a spark. Whether that spark is a school field trip to see a production of one of Shakespeare’s plays, listening to classical music with your parents, or—as in the case of one of our NEA National Heritage Fellows—dancing for the Maharaja of Baroda (!), there’s that moment when we first connect with the arts inspiring a lifelong love affair, and sometimes even a career. We asked our Facebook fans to share with us their earliest memories of engaging with the arts. Here’s what they had to say…

At my elementary school in San Francisco, a local artist was brought in to help the kids renovate the school. We made and painted birdhouses and a crayon picket fence. It was wonderful to my little eyes to see the transformative power of creativity on a space. —Élire D.

The year was 1958, I was 11 years old living in Arlington, Virginia. Van Cliburn had just won the Tchaikovsky Competition and was performing with the National Symphony. My mother and I went to the concert and I can remember it like it was yesterday. Out walked this very tall, thin young man with the longest fingers and mesmerized the audience with his performance. It was that moment that I knew I wanted to be involved in the musical world. I was taking violin lessons at the time, not working very hard at it. After the concert, I started taking lessons more seriously and still play. When I don’t feel like practicing, I try to recall that concert and play my violin and it always makes me happy. I heard Van Cliburn perform one more time with the Houston Symphony and it was still a magic moment for me. — Janis L.

I was five or six years old, and I was performing for The Maharaja of Baroda, India for his birthday, and The Maharaja and Maharani were sitting in the front on their royal chairs and there was a beautiful lamp next to them on a table. My complete attention was at the lamp and thinking it would be so great if I could get the lamp. My father, my Papa rewarded me for the performance with a beautiful doll as tall as me that he had brought from his trip, that made me so happy! I still try to think what pieces I really performed that day. Not sure but,I remember hearing the applause! — Anjani A., 2004 NEA National Heritage Fellow

I resided in Wurzburg, Germany, on a field trip to the theater to see Henry VIII. Although I was a third grader at the time, fresh from Stateside, the elegance, the delivery from the Actors and the lasting impression they have me last to this day! In a strange way, that is why I’m in the arts! Love it! — Randy Davis

My mom is a pianist and I remember sitting underneath the piano while she would practice and in rehearsals I was able to go to with her. I loved how loud and consuming the sound was underneath the piano, like I was in a totally different world and was mesmerized watching her feet on the pedals. I grew up playing the piano and violin and am now the Executive Director of an organization that provides resources to arts organizations in our community (Charleston, South Carolina) so they can continue giving people experiences like all of these! — Maggie H.

Probably listening to my grandmother’s records (she had a collection of 78′s) of Walter Gieseking Playing Debussy Preludes — and then imagining in my head what kind of music I would write, had I the means, the talent and the ability. This would have been at around the age of three. — Randolph P.

I was knee-high to a grasshopper. I could hear Miles Davis faintly playing from the window in the background while my granny made her pastries. I was slightly anxious knowing that once my parents returned I’d be in a heap of trouble for leaving my things out where they don’t belong but in that brief moment, the collage of colors glistening in the sunlight from my melted crayons was enough for me to realize that art could be found in anything. — Scotchy von S.

When I was about four years old, I would use the high-gloss black pillars of our living room window seat as the backdrop for my ballet Colorforms instead of using the board it came with. I used the pieces intended to dress ballerinas to make my own designs. It was my version of coloring outside the lines. I realized early on that I could create art anywhere I wanted, without rules or limits. I work mostly in found objects and collage, and it all started with a $1.98 set of Colorforms. — Dana G.

When I was a young child, my parents gave me a second-hand 45 rpm record player with two records: Nutcracker Suite, and Brahms’ Lullaby. Played them over…and over…and over. — Glenn V. Williams

When I was a little girl my mom took me to see our high school’s production of Godspell. I was hooked and went home singing all the songs! Now I’m a music teacher who tries to inspire that same magic and love into my students! — Mariann F.

It was the first day of Kindergarten and my teacher gave me the choice of playing a game or hanging out in the craft section—which was the most magical place in the world for a kids. More buttons, macaroni, glitter, and cloth pieces than one kid could handle! — Michelle P.

My mom and dad took us to see many ballet folklorico (Mexican folk dancing) performances. They were also accompanied by wonderful mariachi groups! I just remember feeling like I was floating in color and music.— Anner G.

Painting a picture in elementary school and getting praise from my teacher. — Corliss R. Wall

A field trip in grammar school to see my first play, A Christmas Carol at Fontbonne College. After watching it and the audience reaction, it made me want to take up acting. Years later I had been cast in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale and during final rehearsals I realized I was acting in the same theater and I was on the same stage that had inspired me. I had come full circle! — David R.

My earliest memories stem from my mother Pam Stukenberg. I used to lay under the piano while she would play for hours. Eventually, I begged her to let me take lessons. — Jessica D.

Grade school trips to Orchestra Hall (Minneapolis). I think every child should experience that!! — Michelle G.

My mother’s preparations for a local production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado (she was Katisha). I was four or five… We kids were allowed to attend the dress rehearsal. During the dress rehearsal, Mum’s wig fell off—so my early memories are enhanced by the oft-repeated family story of my cousin saying “Auntie Lilian sang so hard her hat fell off!” My mother’s love of music enhanced my earliest days and gave me a wonderful grounding for the rest of my life. — Beth S.

In second grade we visited Ontario Airport. When we returned to school we all drew pictures of planes on the runway. All my classmates made their compositions with planes… in the foreground and the runway with either or both the sun up in the top third a.d some kind of blue streak across the top for sky. I did all that also, except I made my blue sky extend down to meet the horizon line. We did show-and-tell and i was complimented for depicting what i saw correctly… — Steven D.

I was barely four, and my mother was making Christmas cards—–India ink line drawing of glass ornaments, one broken one. I watched transfixed as an ordinary black line on cream paper transformed into something magical, something I already recognized, a broken Christmas ornament. When she added the yellow mirroring inside, the globe shape came alive. Something I recognized. It was magic. I was drooling on the table and on the cards too apparently, because the spell was broken when she told me to stop drooling on them. Then and there, I fell in love with the power of the contour line. I said I was going to be an artist too when I grew up. And so it happened. I haven’t stopped drawing since. — Maureen H.

My first box of Crayola 64s. — Quanda H.

My family is totally non-musical. One day in elementary school we were all rounded up and herded to the gym, where the local orchestra was having a “try the musical instruments” day. Three decades later, I’ve now helped run countless musical instrument petting zoos myself. I hope that the kids we visit are just as inspired as I was. That day changed the direction of my life. — Shannon C.

I attended a private fundamental Christian school. We had limited creative activities in elementary. None in high school. My first grade teacher had lived in Japan. In first grade, we had a play— aJapanese version of Little Red Riding Hood. I played the lead & wore a kimono. The arts are the most powerful part of our educational experience. — Grace S.

When I was a little girl, my mom took me to the Kennedy Center and we saw pianist Andre Watts perform. We were up in the balcony I and I could see his hands flying across the keyboard. After that I begged for piano lessons and thought of him as I practiced my Mozart — Shannon F.

Being fascinated by the covers of one of the first books I’ve ever read, Goosebumps. Tim Jacobus was the king in my eyes, I’d try to draw my own monsters and book ideas for the series. One of the coolest memories still to this day for me, seeing the details and the way he captured the particular book’s adventure.— Ryan C.

Going to museum and falling in love with the experience leading to a lifelong museum goer where I live and when I travel. — Deborah G

Going to see Peter Pan with Mary Martin on Stage in New York, 1955. — Aaron M.

I remember taking an art class at the Milwaukee Art Museum one summer. We painted sailboats on the lake and I made a picture of my nightmares. I also took a pottery class on Friday evenings at a neighbor’s house. — Ann A.

My preschool teacher brought in a tutu to show the class and I went home and asked my mom for lessons. I now have a degree from Juilliard and title of Artistic Director. — Karen K.

My parents made me wait until I was six years old to go to our community symphony concerts in Fort Collins, Colorado. I guess they figured that was the age at which I could be quiet. I was so excited, and I loved the concerts. Or, I guess you could count when I was three years old and danced in the aisle of the movie theatre to “Hi Lili, Hi Lo” during the movie Lili” starring Leslie Caron. I guess I just had a thing for music! Still do. I became a musician (folk singer) and now sing in a community choir. — Elaine T.

Fiddler on the Roof. Original cast production. Zero Mostel. It spoke to me right then and there as to what I wanted to be when I “grew” up. — Lewis S.

DMy mom always encouraged us (my sister and me) to draw when we were young. I was the only blonde in my family so I was convinced that, one day, a black town car would roll up to my house and members of British royalty would knock on my door and ask me to resume my royal duties (very Princess Diaries, I know). If you look at my drawings from the ages of about 4.5-6.5 or so, they’re literally all just blonde-haired princesses. — Danielle C.

In the first grade, I was chosen to do the murals for our class. I drew and painted black boys and girls playing ball, flying kites… I was especially good at painting trees with intricate limbs and branches… loved it! — Alice P.

I was about four years old when I sneaked the family’s supply of toilet tissue out to the street gutter after a heavy rain. Pressing the tissue onto the wet concrete, I drizzled food coloring all over the paper, letting it blossom and bloom into new exhilarating patterns. I carefully transferred them to the sidewalk, where they dried into light patties of pulpy colorful paper. I remember being very satisfied with my creation! — Alison P.

My neighbors in Nebraska would create a circus every year in the Thelander yard. We would do baton twirling, balance on a horse (the kind with springs that can buck you off). Also, we wore costumes, sang songs, played records, danced, and wore our mom’s make-up. We also charged people for admission. — Katherine W.

 Want some more art-full first crushes? Head over to the NEA’s Facebook page to hear from some of our discipline directors on how they fell in love with the arts!

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