Following my passion? I might surprise you.

Urban Dilemmas - Digital Art by BZTAT
“Urban Dilemmas” Digital Art by BZTAT

Many creative people in mundane jobs dream of quitting and following their creative passion. You may think I was one of them. But really, it did not happen in the way that you would expect.

I never really dreamed of being a full-time artist. Well, OK, I might have done that back when I was in art school and the first 6 months of post academic reality. But truly, I had a stronger passion than being an artist. I had a passion for making a difference in my world in a way that was essential somehow.

My first 6 months of post academic reality showed me that I did not have the artistic or personal maturity to make a difference in a way that felt essential through my art. So I went back to school and became a counselor for children and families affected by serious emotional problems. I then spent 20 years making a difference by helping people improve their lives and by advocating for systemic changes on their behalf.

After 20 years, though, I felt myself slipping. I was losing battles to cultural changes that were out of my control. Suddenly behaviors that once were considered “disordered” were commonplace among all youth. Parents were resisting taking responsibility for parenting roles. And funding limitations were leading to bad policies and service cuts from agencies more concerned with their own survival than they were with helping people.

I no longer felt that I was helping in an essential way.

As this evolution was occurring, my creative passions were becoming more of a force in my life. I began to blog on some political websites and I became involved in political dialogs and movements. I protested the Iraqi War before it was cool to do so. I created artworks that were very political and somewhat harsh to express my inner dialog about changes going on in my world in a visual manner.

I eventually moved away from the general political discourse, and my artwork returned to more pleasant themes, but I continued with my passion for making change in the world. My move to the Canton Ohio Arts District was following my passion to create change in my community. I was inspired by Robb Hankins, new CEO of Arts in Stark, to create community change through the arts.

I quit my job as a counselor because a tension grew between the private nature of the counseling relationship and the very public nature of being an emerging artist helping to grow the local art scene. It was obvious to me that the artistic passion, and the passion for making a difference through my art was eclipsing my role as a counselor. It has been a very uneasy financial choice, but it was one I had to make.

And we did it! We built a FABULOUS arts district that has become the centerpiece of the city!

Except for one thing…The Albatross.

What seemed like a good idea at the time has turned into a real challenge to the sustainability of the arts district. A call center business purchased the building directly across the street from my building, and they have rapidly increased their workforce in a way that has created significant problems for the residents and other businesses downtown.

It seemed like a good idea to bring the jobs and growing business to an empty building. But it was soon evident that the building itself, parking resources, and city services were totally inadequate for the large increase of people, many whom have highly unprofessional behaviors. All of this was thrust upon a very vulnerable community that was just getting its creative legs.

The call center jobs are not high income ones, and they have drawn a work force that is full of people who behave in a manner consistent with the behaviors of the wayward youth I use to counsel. The behaviors are basically going on unchecked all the time.

Loitering, parking, employees’ smoking, poor security and traffic jams have made it a huge challenge to remain positive about the district. All of the problems I shared in this post in May have grown exponentially.

The fact that these problems have grown steadily over the past year have put a huge strain on the downtown businesses. It has affected me personally and professionally, as I cannot escape it. I live and work across the street from this constant and disruptive commotion.

To say that it has affected my psyche is putting it mild. I have gone from anger and frustration to complete pessimism to wanting to escape at all costs back to optimism and then back down again. I am quite often miserable, and my attitude is frequently negative. I really despise feeling this discouraged.

Prompted by the company’s public celebration of hiring their 1000th employee, that old passion to make a difference in my world arose in me again. I wrote a letter to the editor to my local paper, and I spoke out at my City Council’s meeting about the lack of attention to the problems facing downtown businesses and residences.

To my surprise, I got a response. My pessimism leaves me wondering if it will truly make a sustainable difference, but I have to at least try. I am meeting with the President of City Council next week, and I received a phone call from the Operations Director of the Company. A renewed urgency to correct the problems has been voiced. We will see if it is followed by action.

The Canton Arts District arose somewhat organically with some planning, but with more of a “lets throw it all out there and see what sticks” mentality. Private entities led the effort with the city government looking the other way. Not having the City as a partner all along seems to have been a flaw in the development, looking at it in restrospect.

If you are a part of a similar effort in your community, take heed. One choice could potentially derail your whole train.

I am hoping that we can get our train back on the track. I will let you know how it all rolls.

Life is an Adventure!