The "Art" of Community Building

Laura Baker believed that an important part of her students’ wellbeing was community acceptance. Acceptance comes with education and familiarity. At a time when many individuals with developmental disabilities were separated from society in large institutions, Laura Baker’s vision was revolutionary. In the early days, Ms. Baker used the arts as a platform to help her students get to know neighbors and townspeople, helping her students feel part of the community where they lived. She utilized music therapy and would often host music performances for the broader Northfield community.

More than 120 years later, LBSA’s Creative Arts programming is alive, well and seeking new collaborations. Music Therapist Jenny Solar and Arts Specialist Bridget Novak ensure that Ms. Baker’s legacy of using the arts to facilitate community engagement endures.

Bridget started at LBSA as the Arts Specialist in October 2018. As part of her role, Bridget facilitates different art sessions and projects within the various LBSA houses. Thanks to a grant from the Groves Foundation, Bridget has also been developing new collaborations with community artists and organizations in the area. In January, Bridget organized a Paint Night for LBSA clients and members of the Northfield Union of Youth. The session featured the group painting together on a giant canvas. Bridget hopes to continue this collaboration in 2019.

Collaborations are reaching beyond the studio arts. Earlier this year, Bridget contacted Northfield Poet Laureate, Rob Hardy, to bring poetry to LBSA clients. Rob has worked in several LBSA houses already and plans to do more. Typically, Rob will read a poem out loud to clients as a warm-up exercise. From there, they pick an idea or concept and LBSA clients will share words and phrases. Rob then takes their feedback and turns it into a poem. In one recent session, Rob read the poem they created together back to the group and one of the residents responded, “that was really beautiful.” From Rob’s perspective, poetry can positively impact wellbeing. “For some people it’s a way of holding on to humanity.”

Thanks to a grant from St. John’s Lutheran Church, LBSA began facilitating monthly arts events at the church. The focus of these events is to build community through arts-based activities. Jenny, who started at LBSA in October 2016, helped launch the collaboration last April. Each event has a different theme, integrating some type of music or art. Past events have included instrument night, karaoke, caroling, music & art technology, painting, valentine making, and music games. Attendance has grown in recent sessions and Jenny enjoys the spontaneity of the events. “During our valentine making, we were singing ‘Love Me Tender’ as a group and Mark (a client who loves Elvis) got up and started dancing with his staff.”

Collaborating with other artists and community members has multiple benefits. It’s a great way to provide a wider variety of experiences for LBSA clients. Bridget says, “Bringing in a new person can get you out of a rut or routine.” She adds that new community members and artists bring new experiences that can stimulate individuals’ brains in different ways. These experiences also provide an opportunity for members of the community to get to know LBSA clients, helping to break down stereotypes and myths.

Thanks to Jenny, Bridget and the generosity of community artists and organizations, Laura Baker’s vision of community building through the arts continues. More than 120 years later.



A poem by Aldrich House and Rob Hardy

Love is blooming
coming alive
birds are singing
snow melting
warmth —
baby rabbits outside the window
rain cleaning the earth
seeds growing into flowers
bumble bees come to visit.