My name is Pam Heemskerk, and I am the Executive Director at Riverworks Art Center, a nonprofit arts organization founded by Sandy Wright and David Therriault. Lauren G. Koch is our Creative Director and together with our Board of Directors and Associate Artist Group, we are the people behind Riverworks Art Center. The founders and I share a distinct vision, that art has the potential to inspire, heal and be a change maker in the lives of our patrons, community, and environment.
I recently had a conversation with Lauren Koch, our Creative Director, about her creative path. I asked her to share her story with our community and to respond to these questions. When did you feel the pull of a creative life? Who helped you in your journey? How do you keep connection to your artistic practice?
The story begins with Lauren as a young child, sitting in a high chair, with a crayon in her hands.
Hi all, this is Lauren G. Koch, I’m the Creative Director at Riverworks Art Center. I am so very fortunate that I have been asked to be part of this wonderful place - to foster the growth of creativity and share in it’s healing capabilities, build appreciation for local history and nature, and most of all bring community together.
Pam asked me to contribute to the conversation on origin stories. As I thought about it, I realized there isn't a time I don’t remember being creative. My family recalls how serious I always was sitting in my highchair, holding huge crayons, an intense look of concentration on my face. I have always been fascinated by making things. I could not get enough. I wanted to try everything, painting, ceramics, metal work, carving... if it was an art form I wanted to learn about it. My interest in the arts didn’t not stop with physical creation. By age seven, I was begging to take piano lessons.
I had many piano teachers through the years, from church pianists to classical performers. Lessons were always an experience. I remember rolling up to an old farm house somewhere in rural Paulding County, GA, having to dodge chickens in the front yard and tiptoe over sleeping cats on the porch, to take lessons on a piano that was almost as old as the house. When I was 15, I was taking on my first students and playing at area assisted living homes, hospitals, and churches to share the soothing tones and to help generate memories for the residents.
In high-school, I started experimenting with songwriting and learning every stringed folk instrument I could get my hands on. Even though I started my bachelors degree studying music performance and pedagogy, I quickly found out that was not my hearts desire. In fact, the first week of classes, I marched into the art department and submitted an application to study fine art as well. A few semesters into my dual music & fine arts degrees, I found it harder and harder to continue in the classical music realm - I’m not much for staying inside a box both physically and metaphorically. I felt as if I were wilting, my creativity being stifled, every time I entered the gray practice rooms. Practicing in a room without windows, cut off from the outside world and nature, my source of inspiration and solace, was the opposite of why I started playing music.
Up until my final semesters of undergraduate work, creativity was purely a set of skills that I had to hone and cultivate - be the best I could be. I’m not sure why that was the case. Maybe it was my own deep curiosity and my appetite to learn new things. On reflection though, I’ve always felt I had something to prove. Maybe it came from being home schooled throughout grade school. I had plenty of time to do what I was interested in, along with traditional learning. However, it came with a stigma of being uncultured, uneducated, and antisocial. I was always an exuberant, tenacious child - I was the first to volunteer for everything because I wanted to learn and try IT ALL!!! As adolescence set in I became quieter and more reserved. I had learned the general public didn’t accept a high strung child. My music and art became EVERYTHING! In some strange way, looking back now, it was probably a way to make my mark and be loud - while remaining quiet and well-behaved.
Creating work was about defeating something, solving a problem, proving something and my early work reflected that. My work was purely for the enjoyment of others and to push myself out of my creative comfort zone. They did not have very deep personal meaning. However, several professors, in my undergraduate work, took the time to help me start developing my visual language
Kevin Shunn (my sculpture professor, chair of the UWG Art Department, and my boss at the time because I worked in the art office) would tell me to “breathe” on more occasions than I can remember. But through that process of learning who I was, I found a way to express myself when words failed me. The creative act started to become very meditative and cathartic.