by Adam Burger
As long as I can remember art and music have been a major part of my life. I can remember when I was a student at Johnson Elementary, being so excited to go to Mrs. Miller’s art class to create a clay dragon that would be part of a collage in the stairwell on the north side of the building. I can also remember the feeling of anticipation when it was “keyboard” week in music class. I loved just putting on the headphones, sitting at my own keyboard, exploring the notes and making up my own songs. Those were my first experiences with artistic expression and creativity. I didn’t know it at the time, but those moments created the foundation of creative arts experiences in my life that helped shape who I am today.
In first grade, a community member by the name of Slayton Thompson pulled up to Johnson Elementary and started unloading drums from his big blue delivery truck. A bunch of my peers grabbed them and started playing in unison, as one large group. I was awestruck, at that moment I NEEDED to play the drums. As a kid my family didn’t have a drum set, but we did have a piano. Given that drum sets are very expensive, my parents politely informed me that I would need to take piano for a few years to learn how to read music and prove that I can be dedicated to learning an instrument before we could discuss getting a drum set. Four long years later in fifth grade I was lucky enough to start taking lessons from local drum legend Dennis McPartland. From that point forward, through middle and high school, drums and percussion were an integral part of my life. All through grade school and into college, I played the drums every chance I could get. Whether concert band, show choir band, jazz band, marching band or rock band, the drums became a part of my identity; they were my artistic expression.
After college, I spent most of my time just trying to pay bills and find a good job. During this time, my concentration was on business and I started to lose touch with my creative side. However, I was lucky enough to re-connect with my middle school choir teacher, Mr. David Griffin. My mother, a language arts teacher at McKinley Middle School, informed me of this really exciting new after school program he was starting called the East Side Arts Academy. She said that he needed someone to run the sound board for the Show and Grow Series that the Academy was putting on and wondered if I could help? Undoubtedly, I took him up on the offer. The opportunity to be involved with the Academy in any capacity was a chance to re-ignite that creative part of my life that I had been missing. Fast forward a few years later, I had established my career here locally in the corridor, the East Side Arts Academy had evolved into the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy and once again I found myself looking to be involved in any way I could. I was informed of an open board position and eventually, as fate would have it, I was lucky enough to be voted onto the EIAA Board of Directors and given the opportunity to officially serve as part of this amazing organization.
Looking back at all of my experiences with music and art throughout my life, I think about how much those experiences shaped who I am today. As a kid, I was fortunate enough to have access to a piano and eventually to a drum set. Also, my parents were able to afford paying for music lessons. Not everyone is as fortunate as I was and that is where the Academy steps in. I think the single greatest thing that the Academy does for the community is provide access to creative arts experiences. Having a space where kids from all different backgrounds can come together and be on equal footing is why I am so passionate about EIAA. It is a place where opportunity and creativity coincide, people who normally may not have the means or ability to encounter these experiences on their own are now able to. The access provided by the EIAA shapes lives, whether it’s the foundation that jump starts someone’s artistic journey or another building block that strengthens their desire for more artistic expression. I am 35 years old and I can still remember the feelings that having access to arts gave me in first grade! From elementary school on, I began to realize that artistic expression in any form is the great equalizer. Regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender or disability, we all share the ability to express ourselves artistically. Art is as uniquely individual as the person creating it and when shared with others it creates a unifying experience that has to be felt to be understood. The access provided by the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy has a lifelong impact on our students. I love to think that I am involved with an organization helping facilitate the next generation of creative minds, artists, musicians, singers, song writers and ROCK STARS! Together, We are the Arts!