Arts workshops encourage adults to be kids again

by Jordan Green

The Church of the Covenant, a 1914 Neoclassical Revivalstructure designed by Greensboro architect Harry Barton— also responsible for nearby Aycock Auditorium on thecampus of UNCG — still has a Presbyterian congregationon Sundays, but during the week its labyrinthine hallways areanimated by a spirit of social improvement that recalls mainlineProtestantism’s best days.

A group of young, Hispanic mothers were meeting in a fellowshiphall on the fi rst fl oor. After Gateway, a nonprofi t day programfor adults with multiple or severe disabilities, received clients atits suite of oŠ ces facing Morehead Avenue. And Bent Tuba Studiooccupies a classroom on the third fl oor.

Tracy Hart and her partner in this endeavor, Nicki Deyton, opened theirshared studio space to the public in March as Deyton was undergoingradiation treatment for breast cancer. They had one goal inmind for the 90-minute workshops they o’ ered: a judgment-freezone for adults to come make art in a joyous and playful settingfree from any expectation of perfection.

Battling cancer drew Deyton’s priorities into focus. Ratherthan go inside herself to pursue an artistic vision, the experienceprompted her to fl ing open the door and create a creative communitywith Hart’s assistance.

“Cancer can kick you in the patootie,” Deyton said. “I have alwaysbeen someone who likes to be around other people. In grad school,you have to spend a lot of time working on your own, and that’sokay. But I like to be around people to re-energize. I get ideas fromother people.”

Hart added, “She’s a teacher and a storyteller. That’s a hugepart of who she is.”

The spacious classroom was bathed in mid-morning sunlight.A large table covered in brown paper sits in the middle of theroom. Drawings adorn the walls, and a workbench is stocked withscissors and other art supplies. A pile of rubber stamps carved outof erasers, including one with a leaf pattern and another bearingthe words “go make art,” lie about the table. Also among the studioartifacts are homemade books with various bindings: French fold,origami and accordion.

“I don’t pretend to know everybody’s motivation,” Hart said. “It’sjust fun. It’s playtime. As adults we don’t get that.”

Deyton and Hart’s model is Elizabeth Layton, an artist who begandrawing at the age of 68 by making “blind contour” self portraits inwhich she avoided looking at her paper except for reference.

“She’s no better at it than you,” Hart said. “But look how much joyshe got out of it. And look at how great the images are.”

Deyton and Hart believe that creativity is innate in all people, butmany adults are discouraged from accessing it because of the crushof day-to-day responsibilities. They also believe creativity is vitalfor people to experience the fullness of life.

“You look at prehistoric people,” Deyton said. “We’re storytellersand mark makers. We’re reintroducing people to that. Diving backinto that process helps us fi gure out who we are and where we fi t.”

Hart added that art helps people ask a question that societytends to discourage: What do you want for yourself?

“One of the long-term goals is that we teach people to be creative,”Deyton said. “There’s permission to take that into all areasof our lives…. You allow other people to be creative in the process.Hopefully it has a positive ripple e’ ect on all aspects of our lives.”


Beginning this month, Bent Tuba Studio will o’ er 12 workshops, including needle-felted birds, torn-paper collage, papier mache bowls, aspiration cards and journaling. To learn more, visit