On Friday, Feb. 1, Fort Carson army base welcomed some new members into their community: Sam I Am and the entire cast of Dr. Seuss’ renowned story, Green Eggs and Ham.
In participation with the local non-profit, Concrete Couch, Mountainside Elementary School on Fort Carson has hosted an annual marionette construction project for the past five years. Just one of Concrete Couch’s many diverse community projects held throughout the year, the giant marionette activity at Mountainside Elementary involves two weeks of construction using recycled materials to create an installation for the school’s main foyer.
“The teachers at Mountainside chose Green Eggs and Ham because they were seeing low linguistic abilities in their students,” said Lisbet Rattenborg, Creative Community Service Coordinator for Concrete Couch. “It is a very accessible book for the younger students and a book that can be used to encourage a lot of conversation.”
Utilizing their professional staff, including director and Colorado College Alumnus Steve Wood, along with teachers at the school and volunteer help, Concrete Couch worked after school hours with students of all ages to design and execute the Green Eggs and Ham installation that will remain in the Mountainside foyer until the end of the semester.
Senior art major and Concrete Couch volunteer, John Christie, reflected on his experience working with the non-profit and the marionette project. “I think Concrete Couch does a good job of getting people to work together with a positive goal,” Christie said. “I think creativity is essential to getting that sort of momentum of working together, and getting a vibrant and positive interaction with all sorts of people.”
Striving to create communities through creativity, Concrete Couch makes their projects possible by using recycled or donated materials. This results in low production costs for both the non-profit itself and for the organization hosting the project.
“We have a mission to show people that you can do things without having very much cost to the planet and material cost,” Rattenborg said.
The marionette construction project allows members of the Mountainside Elementary community to directly participate in the development of the school, something that is rare on an army base where the population changes frequently due to military obligations.
“The base has been really supportive of us coming in, which in some ways is kind of surprising since we are a group of alternative artists, but in other ways I think they must recognize the value that it has for people that are there… the kids are certainly in need of anything that can draw them closer to other kids in the community and to their schools,” Rattenborg said.
In addition to working annually with Mountainside Elementary and other elementary schools in the area, Concrete Couch addresses a diverse range of communities, including TESSA, the Myron Stratton Home, the Wounded Warriors Battalion, and Cheyenne Village. Furthermore, Concrete Couch conducts the Summer Creative Arts and Mural Program, which allows families in need of summer activities as well as those needing community service hours for food stamps or alternative justice programs to help beautify the downtown area with art.
“The city has been really great in recent years,” Rattenborg said. “At this point since they have such little funds, it saves the city money if they let us do a project. If we put up a mural than the city is not going to have to pay to send someone out to paint over the graffiti…it will make the city look better as a whole.”
While no two projects look the same, involving everything from music making and dancing to erosion control and environmental service programming, Concrete Couch continues to emphasize the same message: the power creativity can have in uniting and strengthening communities.
“Our goal is to get deeper level community involvement,” Rattenborg said. “A project looks successful if at the end participants are talking to each other more and at a deeper level than previously.“
Additionally, Rattenborg acknowledges the positive impact Concrete Couch’s projects have on the lives of their volunteers: “A lot of our volunteers are people that are sort of disconnected with their community… people that are free within that 9-5 range… and sometimes are a little more isolated. One measure of success is if our volunteers are a little bit more excited about being out in the community.”
As an art non-profit, funding continues to be the biggest source of struggle for Concrete Couch. However, through participation in the Indie Give as well as support from the Bee Vrandenburg Foundation, the El Pomar Foundation, and donations from private organizations, the staff of Concrete Couch is able to continue providing creativity to the Colorado Springs greater community.
For more information on Concrete Couch visit concretecouch.org