By SCOTT AUST
Ramona and Brian McCallum have been busy transforming their home at 508 N. Sixth St. into an artists cooperative workshop and creative retreat center called PowerHouse, an initiative intended to provide southwest Kansas young artists and authors with opportunities in literary and visual arts.
"I'm out to help young people recognize their own creative power," Ramona McCallum said.
PowerHouse will include both literary arts and visual arts components. In addition to planning for various writing and arts and crafts workshops this summer, the McCallum's are starting a literary journal called PowerHouse Magazine, which will feature the work of local youth and young adults.
The McCallum's have been married for 20 years. Brian is an instructor at Garden City Community College, and Ramona has worked as a substitute teacher, a detention officer at the Juvenile Detention Center and is a former gallery manager at Garden City Arts.
Currently, Ramona is in graduate school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in the Masters of Fine Arts and Creative Writing and Media Studies program. She recently completed the first year of a three-year poetry fellowship. As part of the fellowship, McCallum interned at UMKC's literature and arts journal, "New Letters," after which she is modeling PowerHouse Magazine.
The magazine is going to feature both visual artwork and literary works. Part of the reason for the literary magazine is that McCallum believes the creative talent of young people in the community deserves to be recognized.
"This is mostly a desire to give back to the community. Also I have a mission that I feel like if I don't follow through on it, I'm only half human. Poetry literally saved my life. I was at my wit's end and my rope's end," she said.
McCallum explained she was reluctant to identify herself as a poet, despite a creative writing degree and a few publications under her belt. She credits the influence of Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, the 2009-2013 Poet Laureate of Kansas, in helping her to embrace her talent. In 2011 Goldberg called for submissions from Kansas poets for a poetry book she intended to publish and selected three pieces from McCallum.
The recognition led McCallum down the path of pursuing her master's degree, attaining the fellowship and thinking about the idea for PowerHouse.
Plans call for publishing the literary magazine twice per year, on the autumnal and vernal equinox. The first edition of the journal, "PowerHouse Presents...Being Here," is to be published Sept. 22. Submissions of short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction essays and memoirs are being accepted for consideration. Writers and visual artists of all ages are invited to contribute works.
The McCallums are pursuing 501c3 status, which will allow them to accept charitable donations and secure seed money to improve the magazine.
Brian McCallum said the goal for PowerHouse is to provide a creative outlet for youth and young adults, especially targeting at-risk populations and providing a space where they can realize their talents. Right now, they are offering the use of their home for the center, but in the future they plan to turn the home over to the center entirely and not use it as a residence.
"As music and arts are being cut from school programs, there's no doubt that at-risk youth benefit from creating things, but also from having a platform for their voice to be heard," Brian McCallum said. "I've witnessed firsthand the transformation of some of the at-risk youth who were involved with Ramona's program at the JDC, and how much it meant to them that someone cared enough to listen. It's important to young people to be listened to."
Ramona operated a creative writing program at the JDC for a period of time.
In addition to the literary magazine, PowerHouse will offer several programs.
Each Saturday in July from 10 a.m. to noon PowerHouse will host arts workshops.
On the first Saturday, July 5, the arts and crafts workshop will be focusing on extraordinary uses for paper and cardboard by making paper fans, handmade cereal box books, and other things.
Later this month, PowerHouse will host two authors, both UMKC graduates, in a free writing workshop. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 28, poet Brian Clifton and short story writer Paige Lockhart will lead workshops in fiction writing and poetry writing.
On Nov. 1, Taylor Mali, an internationally acclaimed slam poet and humanitarian/arts activist, will conduct a workshop at 10 a.m. and make a presentation at 3 p.m. at GCCC Pauline Joyce Auditorium.
"It's sort of a trial run to get people interested, get people excited," Ramona McCallum said of the Saturday workshops in July. "The whole thing about PowerHouse is it can't just be about me and Brian being generous and opening up our house. It really has to be something the community joins in and has a say in. For years we've had many teenagers come over and be part of our family, so it just feels right to open it up even bigger, have it be arts and literarily focused and to really make something out of it."
Several youth are on board already.
Eric Maxwell, 18, who will be a senior at Garden City High School this fall, called it an "awesome" idea. Though Maxwell doesn't consider himself very good at visual art, he knows there are tons of youth in the community who are really creative and talented.
"I'm better at literary art and acting. But that's what's cool about PowerHouse is you can express yourself. If something like PowerHouse is going to work anywhere in Garden City, it's going to be at this house," he said.
Max McCallum, 17, one of Ramona and Brian's sons, plays guitar and is more into music than, say, visual art or writing. Max has had a front row seat for the development of the PowerHouse concept.
"It's kinda cool. I've always had all my friends over here hanging out. My mom's been good at enrolling us in the idea of what PowerHouse is and how it can help people. I really see how it can help, and I'm excited to see how it goes," he said.
Justin Walker, 17, said the environment at PowerHouse is very welcoming.
"I've always been able to express creativity around here, essentially as I please, as long as you're not damaging property or hurting people," he said. "They're very welcoming people. You can always ask them for help, and they're always there.
Walker, a student at GCCC, enjoys drawing, music and also does some writing.
Jesus Lozoya, 22, a graphic design major at GCCC, is the associate editor of PowerHouse Magazine. He said he became involved after hearing McCallum talk about the idea during an art club meeting at the college and thinking it sounded interesting.
"So far we've made a little 'zine, a short magazine," he said. "We placed an example of a poem and a sample of art that will be featured in the magazine. We also included information on how to get in contact."
Lozoya will be involved in putting together the magazine using inDesign and Adobe graphic programs.
The location for the PowerHouse house is historic as the former home of Ciddie Stevens, a pioneer artist from Garden City, who was the wife of John Stevens, one of Garden City's founders and builder of the Windsor Hotel.
"Her essence is still here," Ramona McCallum said. "It's a creatively designed house. It's just very fitting that it's close to downtown, close to Stevens Park. It's really the perfect location to have this operation."
Ramona McCallum said she's looking forward to the community contributing whatever they want to PowerHouse.
"It's all about conscious community building, creative and conscious community building," she said. "There was a recent TED Talk about the significance of poetry in today's world and it's basically when we're dead what do we leave behind? We leave behind our words, we leave behind our art, and we leave behind the effects we've had on other people."
For more information about PowerHouse, including upcoming events and how to submit works for consideration in the literary magazine, contact Ramona McCallum at (620) 640-7963, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions may be mailed to PowerHouse c/o Ramona McCallum, 508 N. Sixth St., Garden City KS, 67846. They are also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/powerhousezine.