A few years ago I found a matryoshka doll forgotten in a corner. It was quite possibly on a gloomy winter day like this, when the banality of hours spent at the computer made me restless for something more playful. I remember taking a picture with a random assortment of props and a backdrop. This started a weekly habit of me photographing her in front of different artwork, event set ups, and other various moments of life in a museum. Then I started to take her out and about in Fitchburg, enjoying an iced coffee or sitting in the flowers, or admiring the turtles on the Upper Common. I called her Natasha and soon people would regularly ask about her. She had fans on my social media. I even gave her a mask during COVID and used the whimsy of her photographs to get through some of those grayer days.
Natasha came with me to FCA. I bring her out once in a while at the studios, but I let the weekly habit fall away. I am an executive director now, so I have to be serious. Whimsy and fun waste time and thoughts that are needed for figuring out how to do important tasks. Focus on the serious work of celebrating and building enthusiasm around art, artists, and an art space.
And that is just what it became. Work.
Often the arts have a pressure to prove their worth, their value, their importance. So layering the idea of fun on them seems to detract from those concepts and reinforce the idea that the arts are frivolous. I let myself believe that. But the truth is, fun IS important. Allowing ourselves to have fun improves our mental health, our ability to sleep, our creativity, our mood, our ability to connect with others, our ability to deal with stress, and many more elements of well-being. And yet, we continue to resist the idea of arts being fun. We lean into perfectionism and the hustle and don’t take a lot of time to just stop, enjoy, and play in the moment.
Some of my favorite moments at Main Street Studios have been when I’ve glimpsed that youthful spirit or play. Like during the Civic Days block party when a young girl and boy spent hours here filling in a canvas with paint pens, delighting at the color of different shapes they made. Or the smile when anyone sees Gina, the carousel horse, when they walk through the door. Or last week when we had a room full of people singing their favorite Broadway songs.
And that’s what I realize our space is meant to be. We do have the brutalist architecture of a former bank headquarters, but inside we do have a carousel horse, chalkboard paint on the walls, a variety of visual art in the individual studios, orange chairs to sit in and have a conversation, a giant vault with Hamlet finger puppets, and plenty of spaces to make any type of art. We fill the space not only with these whimsical elements, but with you – our members, our friends, and our fellow creatives. We draw, we make crafts, we sing, we read Shakespeare, we share ideas, we drink coffee, we laugh, we see color. We have fun.
I hope you will join us. Maybe you will sleep better or get a healthy dose of laughter or get inspired. In February you can make a Mardi Gras mask on First Thursday, read The Tempest on Shakespeare Sunday, sing your favorite showtune at Broadway Karaoke, or sew/write/draw/paint on a Tuesday night. Or just stop by, sit in an orange chair, and enjoy the whimsy. Natasha will be waiting for you.