Thursday, June 17, 2010

Feedback, both positive and negative, notable for writer

by Kim Evans for the Herald-Times

It’s hard to believe, but this is my 28th and final column. A year has blown by, and I find myself writing the parting words I knew I’d eventually be searching for.

I am not fond of good-byes; yet, the time has come. In doing so, I’d like to share some notable moments from my past year as a community columnist:

The online poster who threatened to report me to Child Protective Services after reading about me letting my toddler daughter play naked in the yard back in 2001, citing my poor upbringing by a mother who threw peanut shells down a man’s pants.

The gentleman who sent me letters warning against the elusive “I-me-my” syndrome, complete with clippings of my column in which each of these pronouns was circled and counted. I continue to wonder how one is supposed to express one’s opinion in the third person; however, I was flattered that this reader took the time to write and compare me to Bob Hammel, although I never broke his record “I-me-my” word count.

A large number of online comments followed my column about mothers balancing work and family. I was excited that I seemed to touch on a sensitive topic and stir a public conversation.

I gained confidence in writing about the poor public relations on the part of the Bloomington Area Arts Council and their dealing with the funding shortfalls for the Waldron Arts Center.

I thank the BAAC board member who invited me to meet and discuss my ideas for bridge-building, even though I did not accept the invitation. Suddenly, I felt the responsibility of having my opinion published in a public forum.

While the MCCSC budget cuts largely felt too overwhelming for me to tackle, I was able to write about my Bradford Woods memories. There are still columns to be written about the importance of art and music education in public schools.

It was fun to have my column about the long journey through the College Mall ending in a double rainbow linked online to photographs of the rainbow submitted by H-T readers.

My biggest honor came after my graduation address to sixth graders was published, and I discovered my words had inspired individuals to quote excerpts from this column at local life celebration and graduation ceremonies.

This is when I truly felt the power of connecting through the written word.

As I look back, I see a body of work I can be proud of.

This gig has allowed me to develop my writing voice, and for that I am very grateful to Bob Zaltsberg for the opportunity.

I also would like to thank the H-T editors for writing great titles for me on those occasions when I drew blanks.

A big thank you goes out to my writing community at Women Writing for (a) Change, whom often listened to these columns in draft form and continue to celebrate my words.

Also thanks to my Friday night women friends for all their support; and my family, particularly my husband, Trent, for his constant encouragement, and my daughter, Olivia, for her extremely helpful feedback on my drafts.

And finally, I thank the entire Bloomington community for helping this be such a great place to call home.

Farewell for now.

Starting in July, you can find me blogging monthly for the Poplar Grove Muse and here on Cozumel Dreamin.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

All encouraged to take advantage of the collective sigh of summer

by Kim Evans for the Herald-Times

By the time this column makes it to print, school will officially be out for summer. I can almost hear the collective sigh as backpacks hit the floor and bare feet touch the grass.

At least, that’s how it was when I was a kid. Now it might be more appropriate to say “when backpacks hit the floor and computer keys start clicking.”

It’s hard not to notice how much technology has shaped how our children spend their free time. Author Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” in his 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods.” He argues that the disconnection between children and nature is unhealthy, leading to behavioral problems and obesity.

I can safely say that I did not suffer from nature deficit disorder as a child. Some of my most rooted experiences occurred in nature when I walked for miles, all by myself, through the neighbor’s yard to the pine tree forest where I’d climb trees before continuing through the fields to play in Stoute’s Creek and the old barn in a field adjacent to Ind. 37. I’d spend hours in the summer on this journey, without a worry. My mother never worried about me; not that she was neglectful, but this was a different era.

Times are so different now. Parents think twice before letting their children camp out in the back yard, much less wander miles from home without supervision. After all, the back yard isn’t considered a secure place anymore, really.

Technology gives us the illusion that the world is much smaller than it used to be, and that means law-abiding citizens feel like they are in closer proximity to those who may do harm to their children. News channels emphasize sensationalistic crimes as they compete for viewer attention. It’s hard not to be fearful and we’re bombarded with bad news day after day. It’s safer to let kids stay inside and play electronic games. Instead of staging a backyard variety show, complete with costumes, choreography and scripts, kids can make videos and post them to YouTube for a worldwide audience to view and comment on. Instead of hiking, kids can visit other planets through Super Mario Galaxy.

The point of this column is not to say “technology: bad; nature: good.” If I had a Macintosh computer with simple video editing software when I was a kid, I would have been making movies, too. A Wii would have lured me away from the outdoors much more often than an electronic round of Pong. My point is to encourage parents to support their children in seeking a balance between the compelling pull of electronics and low-tech outdoor fun.

Bloomington offers so many great outdoor opportunities close to home. Use the extra hour of daylight to rent a canoe at Lake Griffy, go fishing, hike in Brown County or McCormick’s Creek State Park, or discover the waterfall at Lower Cascades Park. If you’re home during the day, turn on the sprinkler when the sun is at its hottest. Make homemade Popsicles by freezing fruit juice in ice cube trays. In the evening, poke holes in the lid of a jar, fill it with grass and catch some lightning bugs with your child to light up their bedroom for a night. Set them free the next morning and do it all over again.

Whatever you do, enjoy your summer. This next school year is going to be an interesting one.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

An elementary school graduation address to the class of 2016

Dear Sixth Graders:

So much attention is paid this time of year to high school and college graduations that your important transition from elementary to middle school is often overlooked. Yet this may very well be the most significant transition you will make during your school years.

Yours is the class who grew from Teletubbies to SpongeBob to YouTube. You now find yourselves at the halfway point; six years of school under your belt, and six more years to go. You may have seen the large headline on the front of Monday’s paper that read “Shining Stars: The Herald-Times salutes those high school seniors who are the best and brightest hope for our future.” You may wonder what you can do in the next six years to achieve such an elite distinction bestowed upon only one-half of 1 percent of your class.

This is the time of the year when outstanding students are honored. I don’t diminish their hard work and accomplishments at all. But at the risk of sounding cliche, I would like to present the idea that each and every one of you is a star. No exceptions. Our culture has this thing about identifying stars who stand out above the rest. We have this habit of separating and dividing ourselves into categories. You can certainly see this in our politics right now, and it’s an unfortunate reality in the academic world, too.

I invite you to take a moment at this halfway point to look at yourself and see your unique star quality. Each of us has gifts; by now, yours are probably starting to emerge. What activities bring you the most joy? What can you do well that feels effortless? What projects and creations do you enjoy sharing with others? Do you ever get so immersed in something that you lose track of time?

These are your clues. That secret something you have to contribute to the world is not outside of you, waiting to be discovered. It’s in you, and it has been since the day you were born.

Middle school can be crazy. Emotions and hormones run high. I remember my own middle school experience. Each morning, the entire student body gathered in the gymnasium before the first bell rang, and a fist fight broke out 90 percent of the time. Everyone would gather around to watch until the principal intervened to break up the fight. The reality of middle school can be raw and scary.

But you have your inner compass. Use it to help you navigate these rough waters. It will always help you find your true north. The sooner you claim your compass and learn how to use it, the better.

Life seems to run in cycles. Sometimes you feel like you are climbing up a big hill. You may enjoy a brief time at the top. Then you begin to fall down the hill, either joyfully or fearfully, or a combination of the two. You may stay at the bottom for awhile. Then you gather yourself to climb the hill again. But this time it’s a different hill, because you have the experience of the previous hill behind you.

Elementary school is rapidly becoming the hill behind you. Gather your friends and fasten your seat belts. Your parents, teachers and community are rooting for you. I wish you all the best as you prepare for the next phase of your school career.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Long journey through College Mall ends in double rainbow

Monday evening I was trying to maintain a sour mood when a double rainbow ruined my plans.

I had grown tired of seeing the hole in my husband’s back pocket worn through by his wallet, so we piled in the car and headed to the College Mall to find him some new jeans.

It was a beautiful evening — a welcome respite from all the rain — and I was second-guessing myself about spending time in the artificial, windowless environment otherwise known as the mall.

But I persisted, Macy’s coupon card in hand, strolling past the pedicure place with the heavenly massage chairs that called me like a siren’s song, past the food court, mostly empty on this night, past the video game store with boys staring at video screens while punching control pads like rats in a psychology experiment, past the barking puppy in the pet store who was about to be fed, causing me to wonder if they display the puppies in those stark cages so you feel sorry for them and want to buy them, past the Deb store, no longer displaying prom dresses in the window, much to my daughter’s dismay as she was hoping to find one to wear to her sixth grade dance next week (she wants to make an impression), past the kiosk that sells colorful cell phone face plates to suit every personality — I was especially drawn to the one with a rendering of Capt. Jack Sparrow — past the shoe store with multi-colored Chuck Taylors on display in a pyramid formation, past (yes, we took the long way) the Japanese massage place, which oozed Zen more so than usual, past the store formerly known as Kirlin’s Hallmark, strangely gone after so many years in its corner location, past the ultra-bright Pink store, and finally to the white star on a red background also known as Macy’s.

Shopping for jeans with my husband is an anti-climactic affair. He knows his size, and he knows his style. He tries them on to confirm the fit, and he’s done. He wasn’t tempted by the pink-striped dress shirts or the pastel checkered Bermuda shorts on display near the checkout counter. He just paid for the jeans and was ready to go.

On our reverse journey, we picked up some subs (an evening off from cooking was my perk for the excursion). As we finished our meal, we were surprised to hear rain hitting the dome over the food court. We approached the exit and saw it was indeed pouring outside. We decided to wait out the rain for a few minutes, and soon, the sun was shining again. The conditions were right for a rainbow. And sure enough, it was there: a glorious double rainbow — two complete arcs over the Target store, a vivid inner arc with a more faded outer one. Several people gathered to take in the sight. We agreed it was the best rainbow any of us had seen in years. I snapped a photo and promptly uploaded it to Facebook. Soon photos of the rainbow from all across town appeared.

Maybe the rainbow was of the secular variety, marking the grand opening of Target’s expanded grocery section. Or maybe it was a sacred welcome rainbow for the Dalai Lama’s upcoming visit. Or maybe this rainbow was an early Mother’s Day gift. Whatever the message, it lifted my mood and gave me something to write about. And for that, I am grateful.

Kim Evans is a Bloomington native and IU graduate who moved back to Bloomington in 2005 to open her graphic design studio, raise her family and circle back to her writing. She can be reached at

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On this night, a life lesson took priority over school research project

By Kim Evans for the Herald-Times

Parenting for the past 12 years has proved to be an ongoing lesson in improvisation. Take Monday evening for example. Much to my daughter’s chagrin, I found myself pushing her to spend time on a school research project. With the project due in two weeks, I was trying to impart the wisdom of spreading out the work rather than waiting until the weekend before to cram it through, which is always painful.

We’re in the thick of our battle of wills when she decides to step out on the back porch. A moment later I hear, “Mom, there’s a hurt bird out here!”

My eyes immediately find the guilty-looking cat across the room.

I had left the porch door open. My husband had been laying a concrete stoop outside the back door all weekend, and the door had been off limits while the concrete set firmly enough to step on. This was the first evening our pets were enjoying the rediscovery of their passageway to the Great Outdoors — a little too much. Bird feathers were scattered over the new concrete.

So the homework was put on the back burner in an attempt to help the bird. A shoebox was found, air holes cut in the lid, and cushy socks were stuffed inside to form a bed. The bird, a beautiful medium-sized robin, had an injured wing, and there was blood on its tail feathers, which corresponded to the blood on the cat’s chest.

It seems like we have to relearn this lesson all over again each spring. Don’t let the cat outside. I forget over and over again that our sweet cuddly kitty named Morgan is an expert huntress.

My daughter placed the robin in the shoebox and found a safe haven in the garage. We decided if it survived the night, we would deliver it to WildCare in the morning.

She worried about the bird, checking on it frequently. I was touched and a little surprised that she hasn’t yet outgrown her tender heart toward animals, a tenderness that she has acted upon many times over the years, from raising tadpoles to rescuing worms from the sidewalk to persuading us to adopt the very cat who captured this bird. It was clear to me that she wasn’t using this as an excuse to avoid her homework, so I decided to stop worrying about the class project and rode out Mother Nature’s lesson with her instead.

We kept rethinking what would be best for the bird. We talked about the pros and cons of releasing it back to nature versus keeping it safe in the shoebox. She checked on it again. This time when she lifted the lid, the bird was able to jump out of the shoebox, but it wasn’t able to fly. This confirmed our decision to keep the bird in the box overnight.

We took a break to walk our dog, and when we returned, the bird had died. I found a flashlight and accompanied my daughter to the garden shed to find a shovel. She wanted to bury the robin — whom she named Fawkes — under a tree in our back yard.

As she gently placed Fawkes in the grave and said her good-byes, I made note of how her actions on behalf of the bird were so much more effortless than the research project. Life’s best lessons don’t always come from books.

And I hereby resolve to keep my cat indoors for the remainder of the season. You hear that, Miss Morgan?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

‘Kids Compose!’ program magically brings student melodies to life

by Kim Evans for the Herald-Times

It’s not every day that an elementary student has the honor of hearing a melody she wrote performed by an ensemble from one of the top music schools in the nation.

But this is Bloomington, and magical things happen here, magical things such as the “Kids Compose!” program that allowed my daughter to experience this honor last week.

Kids Compose! was started here in Bloomington in 2006 by Debbi Ponella and Ruth Boshkoff, and it is a wonderful example of the university reaching out to the community in the name of music education.

Here is how it works. In the fall, elementary school children from grades two through six are invited to submit original melodies for consideration. In my daughter’s case, she collaborated with two classmates to compose a melody on the xylophone during music class. Her music teacher, Maggie Olivo, provided support and assisted the girls with notating the melody on the page.

The winning melodies were selected and given to talented IU Jacobs School of Music composition students to arrange into fully-scored compositions. My daughter’s melody was woven into an arrangement by Max Grafe, and performed by the Indiana University Concert Band, under the direction of Paul Popiel.

This concert was last Wednesday at the Musical Arts Center for an audience of MCCSC second graders. When announcer Sally Nicholson asked how many audience members were visiting the MAC for the very first time, many small hands shot into the air. I enjoyed watching smiles appear on the faces of band members as they entered the stage and looked out at their young audience. Throughout the concert, the audience members squirmed and moved in their seats but remained quiet and attentive to the performance. I was impressed at the efforts of students and teachers to maintain a respectful atmosphere for the hour-long performance.

My daughter and her good friend/musical collaborator sat patiently in anticipation of hearing their melody. After an excellent performance of symphonic repertoire, the Kids Compose! portion began. The winning composers were invited to the stage to meet their arrangers and hear how they adapted their melody into a full piece.

After the composition students briefly described the creative process behind their arrangements, the melodies for each piece were played in their original form by a solo instrumentalist. Then the full ensemble played the piece as arranged by the composition student. It was fun for my daughter to hear her melody played on the tuba, then jazzed up for the band arrangement.

I’m not sure if the significance of this experience has fully sunk in with my daughter yet. It’s easy to forget that we have a world-class music school in our back yard. I can’t count how many times my husband and I, both products of public school music programs, and in my husband’s case, a Jacobs School graduate, have sworn to attend more musical events at IU, so many of which are free.

But it is nice to know programs such as Kids Compose! exist and have managed to escape the budget cuts that are plaguing arts education. Special thanks go out to all involved in this program: Dean Gwyn Richards from the Jacobs School of Music; Ruth Boshkoff and Debbi Ponella, program coordinators; Max Grafe, IU composition student; Paul Popiel and the IU Concert Band; and Maggie Olivo, music teacher at University Elementary school.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Break trip renews college memories, reveals Mayan wisdom

by Kim Evans for the Herald-Times

I’m writing this column fresh from my spring break trip to Mexico. My family and I went on a cruise through the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula where we visited the Mayan archaeological site of Chichen Itza and the beautiful island of Cozumel.

This was my third trip to the Yucatan. I think it’s my favorite place in the world, and it made me reflect back over my previous trips there.

When I was a psychology student at IU, part of my degree requirement was a “culture study” component in which I took a block of courses related to a specific culture of my choosing. The culture I chose was Mesoamerica, which included study of the Olmec, Maya and Aztec civilizations of Mexico. This is how my fascination with these cultures began.

My favorite class was in Fine Arts, a study of Pre-Columbian art. I was captivated by the symbolism of these people. We studied stone carvings of the jaguar, feathered serpent and human forms ranging in size from colossal heads to tiny figurines carved from jade. The architecture of these civilizations was amazing as well. The 90-foot tall pyramid of Kukulkan in Chichen Itza was designed so that twice a year, on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the shadows and light play down the side of the pyramid to give the appearance of a serpent descending into the ground.

Immediately after graduating, I was compelled to take a trip to Mexico to visit some of these mystic places. At age 23, it was quite a journey to take on my own. I made my home base in Cozumel. From there, I booked excursions to the ancient sites of Tulum and Chichen Itza. I recommend a trip like this to any young woman after graduating from college. It was a rite of passage for me into life after college.

The next time I visited Cozumel was on another cruise with my parents, husband and 5-year-old daughter. We swam with the dolphins at a marine park.

And this time our trip was more educational. Our daughter had just finished studying the Maya and Aztec cultures in her sixth grade class at University Elementary, so we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to bring her classroom learning to life.

On the bus ride to Chichen Itza, our tour guide told us about the Mayan calendar. Of Mayan ancestory himself, he mentioned the prophecy of 2012 that Hollywood and others have depicted as a doomsday event. His take on 2012 was much different. To the extent I can recall the lesson he gave us on the Mayan number system and the sophistication with which they measured time, he simply said Dec. 21, 2012, is the date when the Mayan long count calendar ends. No fear. No freak-out. Simply the end of a cycle.

My take on it is this: What humanity does with this transformative time is up to them. It is an ending, but it is also a beginning.

And so I’m back home in Bloomington. The first thing I checked was my daffodil garden. They had thick buds ready to pop, but none had opened yet. Two days later, they bloomed. I was happy they waited for me to get home.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring comes to Bloomington — not a moment too soon

by Kim Evans for the Herald-Times

Last night the geese came back,

slanting fast
from the blossom of the rising moon down
to the black pond. A muskrat
swimming in the twilight saw them and hurried
to the secret lodges to tell everyone
spring had come.
And so it had.
By morning when I went out
the last of the ice had disappeared, blackbirds
sang on the shores. Every year
the geese, returning,
do this, I don’t
know how.

(excerpt from “Two Kinds of Deliverance” by Mary Oliver)

This is a challenging time for a columnist. Let me rephrase that — this is a challenging time for this columnist. Why, you ask? A simple, one-word reply sums it up nicely:


This week the sun, warmer temperatures and birdsong have made it tough to concentrate on anything but the outdoors. V-formations of warbling Sandhill cranes have been flying overhead in their northerly migration. I recall seeing and hearing the cranes flying south on the day after Thanksgiving. And now they’re coming back. Those few months went fast.

But then again, they went oh-so-slowly. It’s been a long winter.

Like the muskrat in Mary Oliver’s poem, people are in motion, shaking off the winter dust. Driving in Bloomington has been erratic recently. In some ways, we are newborn colts eager to balance on our legs so we can run free. Traffic signals and lane markers are less important in times like this. Extra vigilance is called for when traveling through town.

So this column isn’t about the Waldron or education cuts. My mind cannot find words about these topics, as important as they are, when my heart is enamored with the daffodils sprouting out of the ground.

It’s simply time for a break.

Many of us who are traveling for spring break will be thrust into a drastic change of scenery. My family of three will be traveling opposite the migration patterns, southward to a warmer climate and ocean waters. We decided a blast of summer would help us get through the last few weeks of winter.

Those who stay home will witness more subtle changes. Trees and flowers are budding; the Earth is waking up. Not wanting to miss a minute of this transition, a part of me wishes we were staying home to watch spring come to Bloomington.

After break, we begin to eye the end of the school year. We begin making plans for graduations, reunions, summer vacations, camps, and home improvement projects. My husband and I will begin planting our garden. I’ll plot to repaint the chairs on our front porch. We’ll rake the flower beds and seed the lawn. The birds we have been neglecting all winter will have seed in their feeders again.

But first, we rest. We soak up the sun, visit new places. We find time to slow down and catch our breath before the rush into summer begins.

And the daffodils will still be here when I return. I wonder if they will bloom while I’m gone.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Camp songs and cold hot dogs:
Bradford Woods memories last a lifetime

by Kim Evans for the Herald-Times

"I have lost my underwear. I don't care, I'll go bare. Bye, bye long johns..."

1977: I learned this song (to the tune of “Bye, Bye Blackbird”) as a fifth grader at Bradford Woods. I’m sure my Arlington Elementary classmates remember our counselors teaching it to us on the first night of camp in the dining hall after dinner.

“Oh, they were so dear to me, tickle me, hee, hee, hee. Bye, bye long johns ...”

We also learned how to square dance and tap maple trees for syrup. During crafts, I personalized a leather bracelet by pounding my name into it with a mallet and metal letters. I wore my hair in a bandana all week. My group had to stay in one of the old cabins, while the lucky ones got the new cabins with reading lights built in to each bunk. My friend showed me a letter she was writing to her best friend in Ohio. I wrote to my family. I treasured one whole week of adventures in the woods, snoozing in my Campbell’s Soup sleeping bag each night.

“Oh how I miss that trap door there behind me .”

1984: Fast forward to my senior year of high school, when I had the opportunity to return to Bradford Woods as a counselor. After meeting the girls in our cabin, I wondered if I was this small, curious and excited only seven years ago. One of the privileges of being a counselor was getting to stay up late with a teacher and listen to the IU vs. North Carolina basketball game on the radio. Not wanting to wake the girls, we stifled our cheers as IU won the game and advanced to the next round of the NCAA tournament.

“If you see them you’ll know where to find me .”

2008: Fast forward again. Now, I help my daughter roll up the old Campbell’s Soup sleeping bag, which I’ve saved for this very occasion. I deliver her to the gymnasium at University Elementary, where she learns of her cabin-mates and meets her counselors. Even though the Bradford Woods program has been cut to two nights only, it’s hard for me to let her go. She’s done sleepovers before, but this fifth grade camp thing feels more like a rite of passage.

“I have lost my underwear. I don’t care, I’ll go bare .”

Two days later, I hear joyful laughter from the buses as they return and pull up to the curb in front of the school. I wade through the sea of luggage and parents reuniting with children to find my daughter, stepping off her bus as happy as I’ve ever seen her, singing a new song she learned at camp.

She’s full of stories about how they got drenched by a surprise rainstorm on their first night, eating cold hot dogs on the hiking trail because the fire wouldn’t start, learning archery and having to get out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to raise the flag.

“Long johns, bye-bye.”

1977: After our last meal, we heard a commotion outside the doors of the dining hall. Our craziest counselor came running in, waving a pair of underwear on a branch. His underwear was found. Laughter erupted, followed by wild cheers and a memory was sealed in my mind forever.

And now this unique program is on the cutting room floor. I hope our community will support a referendum or another funding source can be found to save the Bradford Woods experience for future generations.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Winter storms shift life to an interesting state of suspension

by Kim Evans for the Herald Times, Bloomington, IN

It’s Monday night. Snow’s in the forecast again.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be listening to the radio as they run through their list of school closings. Bartholomew...Bedford/North Lawrence...Brown County...Eastern Greene...Richland-Bean Blossom...Martinsville... and ... and ... time stands still...will they say Monroe County schools?

If they do, the decades-old snow-day-butterflies-of-joy will resurrect in my stomach and flutter a happy dance once more. When I was a kid, MCCSC was always the last to declare a snow day.

As a self-employed mother of a sixth-grader, I have the benefit of flexing my hours when needed, which means a snow day offers the opportunity for a slower morning pace, more time under the warm covers, and the opportunity to reminisce about winters past.

I was a sixth-grader when one of Mother Nature’s biggest snowstorms, the Blizzard of ’78, moved through Indiana.

This was an exciting storm. My family and I huddled around the news broadcast on the small black and white television in our kitchen. A little “Blizzard Warning” box was a constant reminder in the corner of the TV screen. I was enthralled. I never wanted that little blizzard box to leave.

Campus was shut down, so my parents got to stay home from work. They joined my brother and me for a marathon session of Monopoly on the card table in the living room. We kept the game going for the duration of the blizzard, taking breaks only for meals, sleep, to check the weather report, or to gaze out the window. I think each of us bounced back from bankruptcy at least once, borrowing Monopoly money from one another to get through the rough patches.

It was a sad transition for me when the storm finally passed through our part of the country and the news station removed the blizzard warning box. But the next phase of discovery was about to begin. We ventured outdoors to explore the pristine Arctic landscape left behind.

Getting the door open was our first challenge. A snow drift reached halfway up the door. Once we dug out, it took several hours just to shovel the sidewalk, resulting in snow banks up to my shoulders on either side. The wind had sculpted interesting curves and drifts in the snow around our house and trees. My brother and I couldn’t resist jumping into a drift by the house that reached over our heads!

Our house sat a quarter mile from the highway, and with pioneer-like determination, we trudged our way to the road to survey the scene. We finally arrived, only to discover the highway was no longer discernable. I remember the odd sensation of playing in the road, eerily silent, without a care of traffic.

Eventually the roads were cleared and life slowly resumed its normal pace. The string of snow days had reached a total of nine, and returning to school was like returning from a long vacation break. Teachers sent home thick “snow packets” filled with make-up schoolwork. It was time to shake the snow out of our heads and get our minds working again.

We now fast-forward up to 2010. By the time this column makes it to print, we’ll know if the 5 to 8 inches that was forecasted actually made it to the ground. For now, life is in a temporary state of suspension; a nice break from the normal routine.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bloomington loves the Waldron, but do we trust the BAAC?

By Kim Evans

The Herald-Times, Bloomington, IN

OK. The cat’s out of the bag. The Bloomington Area Arts Council has been operating on a deficit averaging $183,000 for the past six years.

It’s strange how this has been kept relatively quiet, until the latter part of 2009 at least, when the red flags began flying as the arts council suddenly announced a drastic increase to rental rates for performance spaces at the Waldron Arts Center.

And now we have the sudden announcement that $120,000 must be raised by March 1 or the Waldron’s doors will close.

One thing that can be surmised with certainty is the current BAAC is great at making big, jarring, sudden announcements with regards to finances. As a result, they have created a public relations nightmare.

The people of Bloomington may be hard-pressed to find anyone who is willing to step forward and help bail out an organization that has failed to maintain consistent leadership, adequately manage the Waldron or make efforts to forge good relations and transparency with the people and arts groups it serves.

The current BAAC board members insist they inherited the management troubles. In their recent seven-page press release, they reveal that they have been doing some homework and have mapped out a viable action plan. They are correct in their statement that “.it is therefore essential that opportunities to generate more income from building sources are leveraged at the same time the fundraising activities are pursued.” But do we trust this particular organization to follow through on this mission, while maintaining good will with the public? At this point I would say no, unless some serious bridge-building takes place. Fast.

Arts and business make strange bedfellows. It’s in our biology: Creativity and analytics reside in opposite sides of the brain. This separation is precisely what is being played out in this scenario. And the creative side — in our culture, anyway — is undervalued, which leads to a perceived imbalance of power.

Perhaps this imbalance is what led the BAAC to feel justified in laying the hammer down on the arts community, only offering an explanation in hindsight. And perhaps this imbalance is why the realities of the finances have been swept under the rug for so long (“it’s just for those crazy artists, anyway .”).

We are definitely in a new era of accountability.

It does makes sense that the rates for arts education and space rental at the Waldron need to be raised. It also makes sense that some serious fundraising efforts need to occur — pronto — so that patrons don’t have to completely foot the bill.

People do need to realize that the city subsidization of the building ended when they gifted it to the BAAC. The space needs to be self-sustaining. And it is not cheap to deliver arts education and services. I know this from my own experience in shared leadership of an emerging writing program in our community.

Whatever entity ends up managing the Waldron after March 1 needs to understand how crucial it is to develop and maintain solid relationships with the public. If this occurs, my sense is that while people may not be eating out of the palm of the organization’s hand, they will make an effort to understand and do their part in sustaining the gem we know as the Waldron.

And I won’t even enter into the debate about the necessity of the arts in society. They are necessary. Period.

Kim Evans is a Bloomington native and IU graduate who moved back to Bloomington in 2005 to open her graphic design studio, raise her family and circle back to her writing. She can be reached at .