The Adventure Begins


The Story Lab gang takes to the outdoors to celebrate its first year of multi-arts programming



Wow. The Story Lab celebrated its one-year anniversary this winter. The occasion had me beaming and also feeling a bit reflective. We’re one year in, which means our journey as an organization is taking shape. After a year, we know more fully what the community needs, and what exactly we can offer to have the most meaningful impact. I thought I’d share with you what is, from my perspective, the spirit and the heart of our program.

Let’s start at the beginning. It might sound a bit odd to some, but I began the Story Lab adventure for the same reason I imagine someone would decide to hike the Appalachian Trail or kayak the Atchafalaya. The mission called to me well before the program existed. Like a far-off place I needed to explore. The desire to journey into the yet-unknown is a mysterious, subtle force. But a powerful one. Before it had even begun, the Story Lab pulled at my spirit. In the same way that, every once in awhile, I need to leave the city for the woods. 

Nature is one of my greatest loves. One of my most fundamental needs. I long for the expansive sight of the forest, the invigorating air of the pines, the music of freshwater springs moving over stone. I need to hear the animals and the wind and feel the elements surround me. In the outdoors, I find myself. I heal. I remember what’s fundamentally true for me. That being alive is something altogether miraculous. That being human and conscious is an honor and, I think, a responsibility. In the outdoors, I feel connected, alive and fully present. The Story Lab called to me in the same way the woods do when it’s been too long.

You see, the arts have always been one of my greatest joys. Creativity was something I naturally gravitated towards. I drew as a child while I listened in school. I danced in the kitchen while my father cooked us dinner. As a youth, I stayed up late after everyone was asleep to write. I wrote poetry, scenes for film and excruciatingly long essays on whatever topics had captivated my adolescent mind. I was, like a lot of children, creative.

Over the years, the time I spent with my love of the creative arts declined. What I've learned is that, sadly, this isn't an uncommon occurrence for developing students. Well-meaning adults and mentors at various times in my life discouraged my focus in the arts, offering all kinds of advice they thought practical. Some considered the arts unmarketable, unwholesome or frivolous. Others thought it self-centered and anti-social. I probably don’t need to remind you of all the reasons the creative life is discouraged or unsupported. But there are plenty out there. And it’s a shame, because so many of our gifted youth are getting derailed at a young age. Before they’ve fully explored themselves through writing, painting, photography, or whatever medium speaks to them.

I obviously course-corrected and rediscovered my love of the arts. You can bare a life that is not your own for only so long. If you are creative, you will need a creative lifestyle. If you love the arts, you will need to make a space for it in your day. For me and many others, it’s a non-negotiable. And, to my understanding, this is simply how it works for us humans. We must be allowed to fully emerge into our truest selves, or else we will not experience personal wellbeing – much less collective wellbeing.

Like the outdoors, creativity is a space where I reconnect and remember the beauty of being alive. It’s a space where I am free, and at one with something larger than myself. From somewhere deep within, the Story Lab demanded to exist. Not just for my personal growth, but so other artists, young and old, could embark on the creative path together and explore its lessons. It was time to leave the city for the woods.

To celebrate a successful first year, and to reconnect with the spirit of adventure pervading the start of our programming, the Story Lab crew and some local youth took to the outdoors this winter. Our day was photographed by photography mentor, Jessi Arnold, and hosted by Gabe Giffin of LDWF and Louisiana Conservationist. We had several of our favorite families join us, including the Tommy Talley clan.

We set out for a day on the bayou in late November. It had rained all day, so the woods were sleepy and perfectly enchanting. Our gang of young southerners timed it just right to enjoy a canoe adventure right before sunset. The landscape of mossy cypress and duckweed-covered swamp was as inspiring as I had hoped. We let the scenery bathe our senses and speak to our inner storyteller.

The winding trails of the uncharted woods reminded us to bravely explore and allow our inspiration to guide us.

We let the dreamy bayou speak to our imaginations of mysteries yearning to be discovered.  Of destinations to be reached. 

And after a long day of exploring, we sat together by the fire and remembered the importance of sharing and celebration. 

Needless to say, we enjoyed our day in the swamp. Its imagery was the perfect metaphor for any creative endeavor. 

It’s such a pleasure to be exploring both the southern experience and creative expression with our youth. What a joy it is to put cameras of all sorts in their hands and ask them what they see. To give them a pen and ask them who they are. As they discover themselves, we will discover who and what the south is becoming. 

For those of you who have joined us on this journey- thank you. You help me remember why I have fallen in love with the human spirit and the story of the south. I look forward to all of the beautiful things we will create together. Where we are going as a region remains to be seen, but my hope is that we will continue to evolve into a place where full expression of the self is a priority. A place where all paths are honored. Because, simply and undeniably, we all have one to take, and it is up to each of us to find it and heed its call.

The Story Lab mission is simple yet vital to those with aptitude or interest in the arts. We are a space for the creative path to be explored. With guidance and nurturing. In joy and in community.  This work is our pleasure. We welcome all who are called to it.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of that which you love. It will not lead you astray.
— Khamoosh

Virginia ArcherComment