As new members of our Chatham County community, Chatham Park is powering our Go See This series this year because art is an integral part of Chatham County’s identity. They join us in inviting you to Go See This . . .
With virtual learning still a prominent part of students’ lives in Chatham County, many local artists have pitched in to provide online art and writing resources. Barbara Hengstenberg from Bear Creek is one such artist. Putting her education background to good use, Barbara created Creativity Sparks, an online resource that is proving to be an invaluable resource to teachers, students, and parents.
“Creativity Sparks is a free online resource with a myriad of materials,” notes Barbara. Elements include virtual creativity workshops, children’s book reviews/virtual read alouds, downloadable coloring pages, and a gallery of participants’ artwork. Each workshop is created by Barbara and consists of a 15-20 minute video geared toward tapping into one’s creativity, educator notes, objectives, and downloadable resources. The target audience is children, but many adults have also participated. “Parents and grandparents enjoy creating with their children, and teachers are using Creativity Sparks and Read Alouds as supplemental lessons in their classrooms.”
Barbara’s background in education led her to this project. “I am an artist, writer, and a former elementary school teacher, and as such, my heart goes out to students, teachers, and parents during these tumultuous times.” Pulling from her knowledge of education and combining it with her connections in the art community in Chatham County, the program began to take shape. “Over the summer, while I was pondering how to give back to the education community, I received a message from Cynthia Raxter of Bynum Front Porch, asking if I’d like to create virtual workshops through their recent AARP Community Challenge Grant. I’m grateful to Cynthia for sparking this idea and helping me to create our initial episodes. I’ve continued to develop and produce this series in my WildesArt studio here in Chatham County. Since moving to North Carolina in 2015, I’ve created and hosted in-person creativity workshops through WildesArt, my online community of creatives. With my husband, Bill Hengstenberg’s background in video production and editing, it seemed a natural fit to move these workshops online, especially now during the pandemic.”
For the book reviews and Read Aloud with Barbara segments, Barbara is particular about choosing an independently-published children’s book, and ones that include themes that align with the program. Each of the book reviews/read alouds include a virtual reading of the book, educator notes, author/illustrator bios, and how to purchase the book. “I am always on the search for independently-published children’s books that meet these requirements: promote positivity and kindness; promote/inspire creativity; reflect and promote diversity and inclusiveness; and are of high-quality writing and illustration.”
Also embedded within her program is an element called Book Squad, through which an inspiring book is chosen monthly to give to participants in Creativity Sparks and to classrooms and children who have been identified as having a need for the featured book. Reasons may include financial difficulties or the fact that the book is very relevant to their lives and would support them in their situation. Barbara has partnered with The Alliance NC in Siler City to provide these books at no charge to participants. Recipients of the Book Squad books currently include classrooms chosen by Communities in Schools, classrooms of Sparks participants in Connecticut, as well as active individual “Sparklers,” as Barbara calls them.
As use of the program continues to grow, Barbara has been receiving an increasing amount of feedback. “My heart grows every time I hear from parents, teachers, and students about how Creativity Sparks has inspired them. I’m also receiving feedback that students love seeing their artwork featured in videos and in our online gallery. I’ve received hand-written thank you notes from children, who tell me they’re reading their Book Squad books with their parents at night. But what touches me most is receiving artwork from children. What surprises me the most is that many adults enjoy these videos and are happy to share what they’ve created after watching a Spark. With the world in turmoil these days, they are finding the Sparks to be a welcome creative outlet and somewhat meditative. I’m honored that my short videos are touching such a variety of lives.”
The CAC and the North Carolina Arts Council are proud to support artists like Barbara as part of the NC CARES for Arts grants. “I am grateful to the Chatham Arts Council for their grant support of Creativity Sparks, and for their unending promotion of our work. I am also grateful to Stephan Meyers/Breadfoot, a local Chatham County musician, for providing the fun theme song to our episodes.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, Barbara is hoping to promote Creativity Sparks to a wider audience of classrooms and individuals. “With so much emphasis on test scores and a focus on fitting in all the necessary academics during this pandemic, my fear is that time to think creatively and time to actually create will take a backseat to core curriculum,” notes Barbara. “I look at Creativity Sparks as a respite from the hectic day-to-day routine, with workshops including topics such as writing autobiographical poems, creating admiration webs, drawing your day, tracing the natural world, mapping a special space, and free-range doodling, to name a few. Most Sparks are designed to inspire creative writing, memoir writing, art, and overall creative thinking. It is also my hope to expand our Book Squad program to include more independent authors and to get more high-quality, positive books into the hands of children.”
Looking for a new creative outlet for you or your kids? Check out Creativity Sparks today!
- What: Creativity Sparks!
- Where: Online at http://www.creativitysparks.org/
- When: New episodes are added regularly
- Cost: Free