Creative Clay is Here!

By Sheila Cowley

A Collaborative Performance
to Celebrate Creative Clay

NEA/Pinellas Recovers Grant Update

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The Sparks Collaborative Ensemble I lead with choreographer Paula Kramer is a working group of all kinds of artists who create performances aimed at inspiring people to look up, to look around and see the world in brand new ways.

I’m reminded of our focus every time we start a project with Creative Clay, whose member artists and teaching artists are a vital part of our ensemble. Creative Clay makes the arts accessible, and teaches adults with neuro-differences to be professional visual artists. Their artwork always wows me and it’s dangerous for me to walk down the hall that’s lined floor to ceiling with colorful art, as our home’s already bursting with Creative Clay’s vibrant paintings.

Creative Clay is known for visual art and Sparks has collaborated with them on illustration projects since the start of the pandemic, when artists were working from home and gathering on Zoom. But it’s been clear from our first performance project, Airlift, in front of the MFA in 2019, that Creative Clay’s visual artists love dance, music, theatre and words.
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is a short script I wrote thinking of Creative Clay – a celebration of being spectacular and being seen. “I love this,” I was grateful to hear CEO Kim Dohrman say. “It just speaks to the whole fight of not being visible.”

The first rehearsal was this week and the performance is part of their Spring for the Arts fundraiser on May 20. The ensemble for this project features actor Jan Neuberger, dancer Helen Hansen French, choreographer Paula Kramer and every Creative Clay artist who wants to join in – whether by performing, by creating the billowing fabric art that’s part of the performance, or by cheering us on at rehearsals.
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Creative Clay’s artists know and love Helen, Jan and Paula from previous projects – people didn’t want to start ’til Paula got there, Jan got an enthusiastic welcome and Helen got a cheer when I said she’d join us partway through since she was teaching. This was the first rehearsal Paula’s ever missed, since she had a cold and Creative Clay is very careful about masks indoors and social distancing.

The focus of this first rehearsal was to explain the project and let Jan read the script out loud, so everyone can get an idea of the possibilities. It turned into more than that when Jan got everyone shouting out their lines and then held out the microphone and invited anyone who wanted to, to say their name on mic.
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Jan Neuberger leads the way in “Billow”

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Some artists were a little shy and many weren’t. Stacy, in the front row, introduced herself and gave a short and moving speech. “I’ve been working on my masterpiece here. Thank you for giving me a job and being so positive. I’m a strong woman – and I’m gonna be in your play!”

Kim Dohrman shared three gorgeous fabric flags the artists had been making, inspired by the words, and Jan handed them to eager volunteers, to fly.

Helen slipped in after a teaching session at Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, and whispered that she hadn’t had a chance to talk with Paula about what she wanted for the movement. I told Helen that I trusted her, as ever, to draw whatever movement she felt was right, from the words.
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Helen French helps everyone discover the movement in “Billow”

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Jan read the script again and even more Creative Clay artists got up and joined in, or spoke up from their seats. Jan asked everyone what their favorite part was – and many people said the flying section. Helen said she liked the line about embracing the Moon, and said that made her think of movement like a hug, and reaching for the sky.

She demonstrated, and our performers joined in. Helen took us through the lines she felt inspired movement and encouraged everyone to find their own gesture that says, “I’m here, and this is me!”

She got everyone exploring what “spectacular” feels like to them. And soon a couple dozen artists were flying around our outdoor space, moving like a rainbow.. . .

Creative Clay’s Spring for the Arts fundraiser is
Friday, May 20 at Nova535 in St. Pete.
You can find the details at

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Creative Clay is a recipient of the Pinellas Recovers Grant,
provided by Creative Pinellas through a grant from the
National Endowment of the Arts American Rescue Plan.
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Disclaimer: Sheila Cowley serves as the Managing Editor of the Arts Coast magazine

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