That pretty much sums up what we all want to know at times, doesn’t it? On this occasion, the remarks were from one six-year-old to another as they admired the miniature parade floats they’d just created at the fourth annual family-friendly Mardi Gras celebration held by the Saugerties Art Lab on Saturday, March 5, at Dave’s Coffee House. The cozy space on Partition Street resounded with lively Cajun music as the kids enthusiastically decorated shoeboxes with seashells and beads, layering fabric and feathers and anything else they could get their hands on to emulate the famously decorative floats that parade down the streets of New Orleans at this time every year.
It took no small amount of glue to get the job done. Five-year-old Roan Johansen used the adhesive itself as an artistic medium, generously applying globs of it to simulate the flow of molten lava on his volcano-themed float. Okay, a volcanic eruption may not be the first image that comes to mind when you think Mardi Gras, but Art Lab is all about imagination. Ask any art teacher: learning to think outside the box (no pun intended) is an important part of encouraging creativity.
Roan’s artistic process was explained in detail by his more talkative brother, six-year-old Aidan, who admired how the “bumpiness” of the lava came across in the glue drops on his brother’s project. He then put the finishing touches on his own float. “I like Art Lab because it’s so creative!” he said.
Roan and Aidan’s mom, Jen Johansen, are big fans of Saugerties Art Lab and the programs it provides. They’re regular visitors to the weekly drop-in art classes, currently held on Thursday afternoons at the Inquiring Mind bookstore and cafe. “They’ve been excited all week about coming here today,” she said. Many kids were repeat participants in the event; for six-year-old Alan Rosenbaum and mom Michelle, this was their third annual Mardi Gras. Some kids, like six-year-old Ryan Curran who attended with his dad Mike, were new to the event but seemed to be having just as good a time.
One table held prizes for a raffle, and another was laden with food donated by local merchants - the Pig, the Dutch Ale House, Dallas Hot Wieners, and Lucky Chocolates - supplemented by homemade mac n’ cheese and cupcakes made by Art Lab board members. Moms and dads accompanying their kids could sit at Dave’s bar and enjoy a bit of conversation while the kids kicked up their heels to the Cajun rhythms supplied by Cleoma’s Ghost, a colorfully attired vocal duo comprised of Buffy Lewis on guitar and Roger Weiss on fiddle. Their joyful music had the kids dancing nonstop, and at the end of the day, the children made percussion instruments and joined in with the performers. The grand finale was a Mardi Gras-style parade up Partition Street, to Lucky Chocolates and back again, a trail of pint-sized revelers proudly marching their handmade floats up and down the street to musical accompaniment by the band.
Events like the Mardi Gras celebration help fund Saugerties Art Lab, a nonprofit organization that relies on grants and tax-deductible donations for funding. A team of volunteer board members guide the group, several of whom came to the organization through the involvement of their children in Art Lab activities. Vice President of the board Katie Cokinos has been involved with the group for about four years, having first discovered Art Lab at the Saugerties Farmer’s Market with her children Lula and Niko Rappoport, now ages ten and six respectively. They enjoy the Thursday afternoon drop-in art classes, and Cokinos cited the variety of activities offered by the organization, which includes bringing artists into the schools and holding walks to the Lighthouse that culminate in an artistic activity, exposing the kids to different facets of the arts. “The arts have been cut back so much in the schools; I hope we can keep it going,” she said. Secretary of the board Melanie Avallone, who also created the group’s website, said she got involved “because it filled a need in the community.” She also has two children who participate in Art Lab activities; Ivan, age six, and Olivia, age three.
In a time when the schools have cut back on or eliminated art programs, an organization like Saugerties Art Lab tries to fill the gap. Art Lab was founded in 2004 on the premise that embracing the arts builds stronger communities, and given the buzz in the room from animated kids and friendly parents, it seems that they’re on to something.
In the future, Art Lab President Katie Emerson-Hoss sees the group moving toward community forums involving parents and teachers.
“In this financial climate, the classes are hard to do,” she said. “There’s more bang for the buck in getting the community involved.”
For more info, go to www.saugertiesartlab.com.