by Elsabeth Hepworth, EIAA board member since 2017
and Matthew Hepworth, EIAA volunteer since 2015
Earlier this week, my husband took on the project of digitizing some childhood home videos – many of which, it turns out hold footage of gigs with his high school band. These home videos show a young Matthew is in his element. He’s immersed in the thrill that comes from standing on a stage before a crowd of his friends and gains confidence from their excitement.
I married a man who picked up a guitar in adolescence and never really put it down. Our basement is home to heaps of music and recording equipment. Quite often, he’ll slip downstairs and moments turn into hours as he converts an idea into a line of music; while there are times it’s annoying, it’s also an incredible talent.
When I look back to when I was 14 or 15 and just trying to get started - my resources were really just a few peers fumbling around with songs and gear, guitar magazines, surly music store employees, and the murky depths of what the internet was like in the early 2000s. Even if you had some formal music training like I did, you're still not really encouraged to mess around with your instrument much - it's very much 'play these notes, this way, when I say to, and don't touch anything else or else you'll probably break it,' and that's not really conducive to creativity or expression. And so it can be pretty discouraging, because you're afraid of doing something wrong even as you're trying to join this secret club that doesn't want to tell you how to become a member and has its own foreign language and in-jokes.
It wasn’t long after we moved to Cedar Rapids that Matthew stumbled upon the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy. With the studio just a few blocks from our house, he began volunteering on weekends. I ventured down one morning not quite knowing what to expect and was amazed to find the building brimming with young people, music, art supplies and laughter. EIAA offers a safe haven for young people to lean into emotions and explore their creativity - to channel some feelings and let go of others
The thing is, some of the coolest or most enlightening stuff comes from being able to get hands-on, tweaking knobs and making noise and having someone there to answer your questions or explain how things work without you feeling like you're wasting their time or being a burden or disappointing them. It's already a vulnerable time of your life and art itself is inherently opening yourself up to be more vulnerable - which is also what makes it so rewarding! - so you really need an environment that encourages that. Even in the best of home circumstances, that's not always going to be an option. That's what's great about EIAA - this is inherently a place for that kind of discovery and creation.
Adolescence is rife with equal parts emotion and potential. For students that possess the gift of expressing themselves through the arts, EIAA is both a haven and a refuge. The Academy gives students in our community permission to test boundaries, explore emotion and express themselves creatively. Today, I am a proud member of EIAA’s Board of Directors and feel privileged to serve an organization that offers students of all ages and backgrounds a supportive and safe environment to discover their passions and refine their skills.