Trash into Treasure (by Miles Dela Cruz)

Don’t throw that away! I can use it. recyclables

I like to take your trash and recyclable items and put them together for a new, repurposed use. Within our Art & Academic Workshops program, I facilitate two workshops that teach young scholars how to expand their creativity by building something new and original out of something old and used that they can be proud of. I like to teach them  to see usefulness where others see uselessness. We work to waste nothing and recycle and reuse anything and everything we can.

The thought of taking something absolutely torn, tarnished, and broken and turning it into something beyond beautiful may be hard to imagine. But that’s what has been done in us. It’s been done and is still being done in my life. Every day, God is taking my broken pieces and building something new from the wreckage. He collects the torn parts and redesigns my canvas. He is the Master Engineer and we’ve been created in His image.

In my Instrument Engineers workshop, we collect old cardboard boxes and cut them down. We cut new edges, paint on some new colors, and add some rubberbands. All of a sudden, we have guitars!
What else can we make?
We gather scrap blocks of wood and we raid the drawers of our bathrooms to collect old hairpins. We staple the hairpins to the blocks of wood and drill some holes for better acoustic design. Now we have thumb pianos, also known as kalimbas.
Can we make something else?
Carpet and flooring stores have big cardboard tubes that are used to wrap carpet around. These stores normally cut these cardboard tubes down and throw them away, but even those can be reused. So I collect several of these tubes and we cut them down to about a foot in length. Then we wrap one end with heavy duty plastic lining, paint on some colors, and now we have our own custom, homemade drums. Simple!
We create instruments from things that most wouldn’t think were intended to be used as instruments. Don’t be disregard your broken pieces. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. The Master Engineer creates beauty from the wreckage and constructs an instrument out of you  so your song will be heard. We can follow His lead and do the same with our earthly materials.

Taking the used and reconstructing it can seem very daunting, but just requires some patience and creativity. Don’t shy away from  it, but allow the wonder to take over and show you something you probably never would’ve expected.

In my Art of Magic workshop, I show scholars how to perform magic tricks with common household items. I doubt anyone expects me to be able to do anything interesting when I set an empty Gatorade bottle and a nickel on the table and tell them magic is about to happen. I assure them not to doubt the simple objects. Their skepticism always turns to amazement when I “magically” force the nickel through the bottom of the sealed bottle.2014 BDAY Miles

How did you do it?!” The scholars then learn how to create the prop. They’re surprised at the simplicity of the objects and the trick and are excited to be able to do something amazing with the everyday objects. We may complicate the things in our lives, but don’t limit the Master Artist. He works in ways that we can’t even imagine and wants to show us.

Open your mind to a world of new and old treasures and be a better steward of our planet. Use what you have to create something that is useful to you and inspiring to others. Then share your ideas. Find usefulness in something that others find useless and teach them what you have discovered.  We have the gift of creating. So do it! Create. Reuse. Reinvent.

Miles Dela Cruz (Development Manager, Visual Art/Music/Theater Mentor)


Do Not Give Up (by Andrew Gibson)

Art is powerful. As an artist, I think, feel, and relate through art. Songs come to mind as I ponder and pray. Scenes from movies play in my head when I am seeking encouragement or meaning. Last year, I actively sought art that shared a common theme, a consistent message that I needed and still need to hear and follow: do not give up. Ant do not give up

Personally and professionally, losses and letdowns have led to doubts and discouragements. Current events have strained some relationships, but strengthened others. So despite the trials, triumphs are still evident, yet I struggle with staying focused on the good. God knows this. I’m always amazed at and thankful for the very particular way that God communicates with us. He speaks to me through art: books, movies, and mainly songs. There were many songs that kept popping into my head last year and kept me going.  I have chosen four to share with you. If you need some encouragement of the same brand, I hope these songs can do for you what they do for me.

“The world is so insane, I got to maintain, nothing is easy here. Stand tall through the rain, my heart will never change, I got to persevere.”
That’s the hook from a song called “Persevere” by Robert Glasper Experiment. Snoop and Lupe go on to expand on that idea, but the simple hook and rich groove resonate with me. Despite the difficulties of this life, I must persevere and continue in the vision. If you have a goal or a vision, you have to persevere through all the opposition you will face. From the internal to the external, from the seen to the unseen, there will be opposition, especially if you’re doing something positive. Just look to my friend Nehemiah. You’ve got to maintain. You’ve got to persevere.

Raise the Banner
For your children, for your neighbors, for your communities, follow the banner. Everybody, unashamed, lock your arms, plant your feet. Look around, they need you. Follow the banner.”
The end of the hook of “Raise the Banner” by Propaganda has imagery that could not be more timely. The image of raising the banner or carrying the flag is powerful and vivid. The final scenes from Glory and The Patriot come to mind. Soldiers would carry the banner or the flag through a battle to rally the troops and keep everyone pushing forward. Sometimes that flag would fall, so someone had to pick it back up and keep moving!
That someone has had to be me.
I look around, but it’s me that has to pick it back up. I’ve finally accepted that.
And I want to do it. I want to live that life to glorify God and serve the people.
I do it for my wife, my brothers, my sisters, my friends, my community, the staff and scholars of Freedom Arts, for my future children, and simply because God has called me to. It’s my role. It isn’t easy to take the hits and keep on moving, but it’s necessary. I’m thankful for the people I have that will lock arms with me and follow the banner towards victory.

We Shall Overcome
Oh deep in my heart I do believe, we shall overcome someday.”
This old protest song may have vague roots, but the message is anything but vague. This song has been ringing through the streets of St. Louis over the last six months, and perhaps the most touching moment for me came following a march on January 18. It was a unity march down Grand in honor of Martin Luther King and in remembrance of the lost lives of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the other tragedies of our recent past. Three of the Freedom Arts scholars urged us to take them along, so we did. Tysean, Lanora, and Stanley came with us. All three of them marched, chanted, prayed, and sang with hundreds of other people. The march ended on the steps of a church where we sang this song. On the drive home, Lanora requested that we keep singing “We Shall Overcome.” Her little voice carried on from the backseat, declaring this hopeful message. All I have to do is think of her small voice, sincere heart, and the words of this song, and I know it’s true.

Eyes on the Prize
Hold on, hold on. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.”
I probably tell myself this every day and listen to the song about every three days. This song is the namesake of the most recent Freedom Arts newsletter and is another relevant song of today. Mavis Staples growls out this proclamation over a dirty groove and a defiant guitar line. Referencing ancient stories of visionary people with great faith who stayed focused on the task at hand amidst challenges I will never face, this song reminds me that tunnel vision is not always an impairment. We’ve got to deal with problems, but we cannot let them be in charge.

2014 was revealing. The movement altered many relationships in my life but also secured my focus. The grind broke some backs. Voices broke some ears. I was broken by the truth and subsequently put back together by it. True stripes were shown and loyalties were made known. The users and abusers revealed their motives, broken by the grind. The soldiers and supporters stood taller, forged by troubled times. So hold on. Persevere. Raise the banner and get through the troubled times. Have defiance against evil and all that seeks to turn you around. Have reliance on God and all that keeps you pressing forward. What happens when you refuse to give up? You develop a backbone as strong as an oak tree. You get an infusion of steel in your spine. It gets harder and harder for evil to back you down. You get to where you don’t have to dodge bullets. You get to where you can take a lot more than you used to be able to take. You develop endurance and strength. So have faith. Stand together. Push through. Do not give up. Let your back be strengthened and your heart remain open. Persevere. Raise the banner. Overcome. And keep your eyes on the prize. Do not give up.

Andrew Gibson
(Executive Director, Music Coordinator, Music/Academic/Visual Arts Mentor)

Cherish Your Mistakes (by Andrew Gibson)

Nobody that I know enjoys making mistakes. Mistakes can be ugly. Mistakes can be messy. Mistakes can embarrass us. cherish your mistakes

That’s one of the things I love about art. It’s a safe place to make mistakes. I don’t remember the last time I got through a performance without making a mistake. A huge part of my teaching is about how to recover from mistakes and how to keep mistakes from taking over your performance. I talk to my students all the time about this. I tell them that it is okay to make a mistake and that it is not helpful to try not to make mistakes during a performance.Why not? Mainly because that makes the performance a fear-based one.

Though part of the mission of Freedom Arts is to help young people realize and utilize their God-given talents, we are careful not to shy away from flaws and mistakes. Mistakes are indicative of the learning process.If you are making mistakes it means you’re learning! It means you’re trying something new and you’re struggling with it. That is a beautiful process. Mistakes indicate a weakness. Weaknesses keep us humble and remind us that there is so much more for us to learn and know. The journey to creating or conquering is what makes the end goal so rewarding.

Have you ever heard the expression “trial and error?” What does that really mean? It means trying something and messing up. Yes. By messing up, you are on the road to succeeding. Think about it. By trying, you are ruling out what does not work. By trial and error, a child learns how to walk. By trial and error, a child learns how to ride a bicycle. And by that very same process of trial and error, the Wright brothersz3 made that bicycle fly.

Einstein supposedly said he often thought and daydreamed in music. I often think and daydream in baseball. I love everything about baseball. One of the things I love is how forgiving baseball can be. A batting average is a statistic that refers to a player’s hitting ability. A .300 batting average is considered very good, but that means that in 10 at bats, the player only got 3 hits. That’s a 30%. 30% is failure in everything else. If I finished a season with a .300 batting average – or in other words, failed at the plate 70% of the time – I would be thrilled. And I know all about failure in baseball, but I’ll save that for another post. z4

Art is not far removed from this either. You have to make mistakes to create what you see or hear in your mind. You have to confront your weaknesses to work towards mastering your crafts. One of my favorite songwriters of all time is Bill Withers. He once said “It’s okay to hold out for wonderful. But before you get to wonderful, you’re going to have to go through alright.” You have to begin. Then you have to go through the beginner level before you can get to an intermediate level, and then the intermediate level before you get to the advanced level. In cherishing that climb, you will find happiness in the climb and not just on the mountaintop.

Accomplished artists understand the beautiful value of z5mistakes. People who are truly successful in anything and are conscious of how they reached their goals are cognizant of the tribulations they encountered, why they encountered them, and how they conquered them.

Here is an inspiring passage from a book by music producer Quincy Jones called Q on Producing:
“You have to treasure the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes. Because the more mistakes you make, the more you’re going to learn. And at some magical, unexplained moment, all of those mistakes, with Band-aids all the way up to your neck, morph into experience. When you have a lot of experience and have made a lot of mistakes, you have something to offer.”

And here’s what master drummer Jack DeJohnette said at a clinic of his at PASIC 2009 when asked if he has any weaknesses in his playing that cause him to make mistakes: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Sometimes the best ideas come from things you didn’t mean to do.”

That parallels what musician and writer Kenny Werner said in his book Effortless Mastery (which has some material I cannot vouch for, but is overall pretty good) about removing fear from your aspirations: “Just as fear pollutes the environment for creativity, it also inhibits effective study. Fear takes away the strength of what you are doing.”

Cartoonist and writer Scott Adams said: “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

2 Cor 12.9And what did Jesus say about making mistakes and weaknesses? 2 Corinthians 12:9 says: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

We must not fear mistakes. We learn from our mistakes and can teach others through our mistakes. We also will never succeed at anything if we are afraid of making mistakes. Mistakes keep us humble and remind us that we are human. Mistakes are how we figure things out!

But most importantly, the power of God works best through our weaknesses. Cherish those ugly, messy, embarrassing mistakes. Work hard! Play hard! Create freely! Fear nothing! Be humble and give the glory to God ALWAYS!Image

Andrew Gibson (Executive Director, Music Coordinator, Music/Academic Mentor)