There is a very special place for our island’s children in Avon Village.
Antoinette Gaskins has converted her retail gallery, Kinnakeet Clay, into a unique not-for-profit, creative, healing space for Hatteras Island’s young people.
It began when she realized there were multiple opportunities for our youth to participate in athletics, but not much for those who were not inclined to sports, but instead had a creative drive.
This is despite a “renaissance” of sorts on the island. The Cape Hatteras Secondary School (CHSS) has an amazing award-winning band and two excellent school theatre productions a year, but otherwise, there are few creative outlets in the community.
Antoinette said that drive and that talent needs nurturing; that it is difficult for those young artists without outlets, encouragement, and training.
Her mother, Denise Gaskins, (who is an artist herself), added that when you have that creative need, and it is unfulfilled, it is difficult to function and creates other problems for development.
Antoinette sold her gallery stock and turned her retail space into another kind of space dedicated to offering young people good options at no cost.
It came to be when she was working with some kids in her clay studio and saw their positive responses. She started asking them what else they might like to learn. They answered, “learn to sew, make block prints.” So that is where she started.
She saw her longtime friend, Jennifer Price, roller skating along the street and stopped her to discuss her idea and Jennifer made a quick and very definite commitment to help.
Jennifer had been asking herself, “What would I do if I won the lottery?” She recognized that Heart Space is exactly what she would do. It allows her to share her love of textiles and art and to pass on her sewing and needle skills.
The first formal workshop was block printing with Tricia Cutler. The kids created such good prints they looked like they had been doing it for a long time and, importantly, had a wonderful time. The Open Studio was soon born.
Heart Space had to purchase supplies to the extent of $290, a stretch for them. On the day of the workshop, a neighbor walked in and made a contribution of $300. Prayers answered!
This is not so unusual. There are often remarkable gifts exactly when they are needed in the local community. When they started searching for a heat gun, one was anonymously left on the porch.
All ages are welcome, and they found that the older kids enjoyed helping the younger ones, and each other. There is always laughter and joy at Heart Space as new friends work together and old friends strengthen their bonds, try new experiences, support each other; not to mention the freedom of creative expression they are encouraged to enjoy in a safe gathering space.
Their chatter and laughter are the best rewards for Antoinette and Jennifer. And there is a distinct absence of electronics, including, yes, phones.
Health is as important as creativity and the young people have been responding very well to activities with that element. They have really taken to Qigong, an ancient Chinese mind and body exercise, yoga, meditation, and Sound Healing, utilizing crystals, gongs, singing bowls, and chimes, which they all loved. They will soon be introduced to mindfulness.
Heart Space has enlisted the help of community members who are also willing and eager to give their time to inspire our youth. They offer some unique training for them too, including valuable life skills. Example: embroidering designs that include buttons. So, they learned how to sew on a button, but not in a boring manner.
Maddie Chandler was an early enthusiast who remains a valuable contributor, despite moving to New York. She handles social media from there.
Vic Lowe came to participate in their holiday market and got so involved in a studio art project with the children, that she ignored her sales. She is now including Pom Poms, (that she learned to make there with the kids), in her highly respected and successful textile art.
Since Heart Space opened in March, they have benefited from 12 volunteer instructors, some of whom didn’t wait to be asked, but came up with ideas and offers to help. As a result, more than 50 Open Studios have taken place. Nino’s Pizza has been delivering pizzas for lunch, free of charge.
Studio time is appropriately called “Open Studio.” This year, sessions have included painting, printmaking, jewelry making, yoga, meditation, sewing, embroidery, and journaling, including art journaling. They have also ventured more into literary outlets with poetry, flash-lit, and zines, and would like to expand on that branch of the arts.
They even participated in a three-part Open Studios project to make their own bathing suits from fabric selection, to cutting from a pattern, to sewing machine skills, to the beach! Next will be pajamas.
A Heart Camp is being planned for the end of February. It will be a day-long program that includes Qigong, art, yoga, mindfulness led by Amberly Dyer, and a healthy lunch.
They have received an amazing array of gifts for the project: piles and piles of textiles, sewing machines, boxes of beads, yarn, and threads, among other assorted arts and crafts materials.
They do, however, have to buy some art supplies, like paints and brushes, and to keep the utilities on so monetary contributions are welcome.
There is a sponsorship program where donors commit to a monthly donation to Heart Space, P.O. Box 328, Avon, NC 27915.
They have applied for non-profit status that will make them eligible for grants and tax-deductible donations, and are also under the umbrella of Outer Banks Buddies, a non-profit that can receive donations for Heart Space.
In the works are fundraisers in the off-season that will include Adult Sessions for a fee, and hosting birthday parties, also for a fee. All other programs remain free of charge.
The attitude is so positive: “We are here, and we are doing it. We have to figure out how to stay funded.” They will, because they believe, “Investing in these kids is so worthwhile.”
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