Cultivating Creativity

Together we can care for our most precious gifts: the earth itself and the children who live on it. 

The word ‘culture’ comes from the  Latin word cultura – with literal meanings tied to agriculture, and figurative connotations of care and honoring. And, from past participle stem colere which means “tend, guard, cultivate, till”.


The development of culture takes constant tilling, constant caring – it is the “garden” that we can grow especially through teaching and caring for younger generations. Each seed that we plant through the art and science projects provided through the Garden of Fire program has the potential of blossoming into a deeper understanding of life in a young person’s mind and heart. As “gardeners” leading the project forward, staff from the nine partnering agencies are working together to create a model for a collaborative and creative culture.

It is crucial for young people to understand that they are not alone in their experience of daily life and it is only with this awareness that the healing of individuals and society can take place. Collaborative art and gardening activities can lift spirits, promote communication, improve common understanding and boost social skills. Through collaborative projects, a structure for building community emerges.


The Rockwell Museum, which serves as the lead agency for the Garden of Fire program, is embedded in local history and connected through its images and objects to many cultures of the United States.  Through the Museum collection, the American experience in all its complexities comes alive. With education at the heart of our mission, The Rockwell is dedicated to serving youth that may not have other alternatives for arts education by opening boundaries between museum, school and community.


Our work with schools and non-profits is designed to help ensure that all children have successful experiences as they grow up in our community.   In the face of a rapidly changing world and ever more prevalent societal crises we are committed to creating opportunities for people of all ages to delight in, and find solace in, the truth, beauty, and joy of art and art making. It is so energizing to have partners in these endeavors through the Garden of Fire program!


It is my hope that the model program we have collectively created will spark the imagination and action of other communities to build their own Garden of Fire. Together we can care for our most precious gifts: the earth itself and the children who live on it.

Gigi Alvaré
Director of Education
The Rockwell Museum

The World is Your Garden – Enjoy It!

Standing in a circle with over a hundred children who have just built an art installation out of entirely natural materials, I couldn’t help but feel elated.

Students created an art installation as part of the Garden of Fire Festival.

The entire year before this moment had been spent planning: writing grants, meeting with a diverse group of organizations, and finally implementing the arts and science programming that we’d worked so hard to create. While, as a member of The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes, I had played only a small role in it all, I was still exhausted! Yet, in that moment we’d worked so hard to achieve, I experienced a sense of purpose that energized me. The structure the children created used so many of the things they learned over the summer – mathematics and physics, the natural sciences associated with the garden – as well as teamwork and resourcefulness.

Students worked together to create beautiful mandalas and sculptures from natural materials.

There is much discussion these days on the importance of science and technology in education, especially for under-served youth. There is no disputing that. However, there is less emphasis on the role that the arts play in cultivating the skills that scientists (and other citizens) require. Collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking can never be understood solely from lectures or textbooks. They are learned through implementation, through experience, by the trial and error of making something. This is part of why art is so important in the life of a child. And, this is why the Garden of Fire was created.

The joy of drumming!

The ARTS Council advocates for arts inside the classroom and outside of it. That is one reason we are proud to be members of the Garden of Fire.  Art, however, extends beyond utility into the sheer joy of beauty. That moment with the children was more than fulfilling, it was beautiful. Nothing captured that transcendence more vividly then, while listening to the children drumming on handmade drums, I looked up to see a monarch butterfly sipping nectar from the blossoms the children had looped into strings in the installation.

Dr. Connie Sullivan-Blum
Executive Director
The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes

More photographs from the art installation: