A little more than one week ago I found myself in the library space of our art building at 221 East Clark Street in Bartlett. I was alone in the building that day, sorting through the books that were donated to us through the book drive, and dividing them up between the public library and the Bartlett ISD library. It felt symbolic to pull each book off its shelf — I remembered the moment we chose the shelves, and decided on how to lay them out in the space. I remember watching my dear friend Jozef Winemiller move them from another building into ours. I remember unpacking each and every book with Juliette Nickle, who has been more than an asset to our project. I could pinpoint the location of every single text in the room, and I remember who gifted them to us, and the circumstances through which they arrived.
It was hard — next to impossible — not to reflect. As I pulled book after book off its respective shelf, I remembered the sentiment of positivity and community in the air as friends and colleagues dropped off books that they had held onto for far too long — something some of us feel guilty of, no doubt.
We had such incredible hopes for the project, and indeed, as it developed, those hopes grew and evolved and became things that were totally out of our control — things that were dictated by Bartlett itself, moments when residents of the town were open and honest about what they wanted, and moments where we were able to make a difference. It wasn’t much; it wasn’t headline-breaking. But it was a difference, and it had the bigger impact in Bartlett itself, where people have felt it. Because at the end of the day it is Bartlett that is most important.
Yes, there was art in a building, but in the end it was only an exhibition. What many didn’t see were the ArtBreak workshops Emmy Laursen pulled together for summer school with the Bartlett Elementary School, also known as BARK Camp — a program that offered art workshops to elementary kids, offered a break in the day for Bartlett school teachers, and provided a paid opportunity for artist educators in our community. And what I wish you could have all seen was the joy and gratitude of Ms. Buchhorn, Librarian to the entire school, who received our books with excitement (and who knew exactly which students would benefit most from them). We were privy to the excitement and generosity of Rachel Fahrig, Director of Special Programs, who thinks about the well-being of her students every minute of her day. And I wish that you could all have witnessed the charisma of Superintendent Clevenger, whose commitment and drive is something I wish all public schools had in a leader. I am excited for the future plans for the school, and am grateful to have been invited to sit at the table and observe.
More than anything, it has been my pleasure to have the opportunity to meet people — to be at the school, to attend graduation and pep rallies and football games. To go to site-plan meetings and learn about the bond process in action. Thank you: For teaching me, for sharing with me, and offering the space to learn from you.
I wish that more of our audience had the opportunity to breakfast on Saturday mornings at the American Legion, probably one of my favorite activities in Bartlett. The commitment that the Legion has to the Bartlett communities is palpable, and Mr. Walt and Mr. Dan Ford both carry a weight of philanthropy and care that is heartfelt, warm, and welcoming. I am so grateful to the pair of you for befriending me, for sharing your stories with me, and for welcoming me to every single breakfast. Your generosity is something that will stick with me for a long, long time, and I can’t wait to share the next breakfast with you all.
To Josh and Sarah Perez who kept me fed, stayed in touch, shared bud lights and BBQ, and gave me the absolute best hug before I packed off to Europe: I just have infinite thanks. The pair of you became staples of my weekend and I truly miss you when I’m not in Bartlett. For those who visited but didn’t have the opportunity to try their sausage and brisket, you missed out, but I can tell you it’s worth every mile in that drive.
I wish you had all been there when I visited Red and White and talked with Emily about the food order for the opening day. And then when I doubled all the orders, just in case. It’s safe to say they are probably the most professional and pulled-together catering service I have ever worked with, and it was nice to say hello to the family during every visit to the store. Because that’s what Bartlett is. Family.
And at the end of the day, I am even more thrilled to say that Bartlett will be okay, with or without us there. Bartlett will be its quirky and unusual self, and it will carry on as it has, no matter if there is a developer pulling strings, a bunch of artists stirring things up, or a collective along for the ride. Without a doubt I have learned more from Bartlett rather than the other way around, and I am grateful for that, and I am grateful to Ms. Kathy Jones, Irma Burns, her sister Brenda, and her mom Ms. Patty who welcomed me into her home and sent me away with homemade tamales (that I did not share with anyone). Thank you, Mr. Paul, for so much space in the Bartlett Tribune; rest assured I will renew my subscription. And thank you Stephanie Romero, for your dedication to the town. Thank you to everyone at City Hall who answered my questions when I popped in at random times to say hello. But looking at you: Joseph, Rose, Alice, and especially Mr. Mayor Meese, who is the most thoughtful of mayors, especially when I’m being annoying.
Thanks to Chris for moving a mattress — twice — and for offering a spot on the couch when I started to feel the frustration, and who redirected my attention to fancy cars and motorcycles. And of course thank you to my friend Keith, who always kept an eye out for me, for drilling through locks, and joining for sidewalk beers. You are a dear friend, friend.
But I wish all of you had witnessed every second of the evolution of our time in Bartlett, because you would have seen a shift in perspective, a change in priority. Something happened along the way, and in the space — that last time pulling books and reflecting — I realized that we didn’t just make a show. We made some kind of magic, and it was all thanks to Bartlett, and that is what I will take away with me.