A creative fire has burned in Erica Larsen-Dockray throughout her life. Since 2013, she’s been working to ignite the creativity within Nebraska students.
“I never really ‘fell in love with art,’ per se,” she said. “It’s just always been a part of who I am and what I do.”
Larsen-Dockray currently teaches and creates animation in Los Angeles, but was born and raised in Scottsbluff. She attended CalArts where she received her masters in experimental animation and integrated media. When planning a trip home in 2013, her sister-in-law, Monique Larsen, suggested she host an animation workshop. They decided to promote it on Facebook and around a dozen students showed up.
Larsen-Dockray said she “literally strapped webcams to milk crates to make downshooters and piecemealed computers from the Vistabeam/Inventive media stash. We had so much fun, and I knew right away that it was something I wanted to keep doing.”
She figured she’s already teaching students in LA, so why not teach the young artists growing up in the Panhandle? The following year, she brought two animators she’d taught with at CalArts with her, and it began to snowball. For awhile, the Calibraska Arts Initiative was in an empty office in Mitchell, but Larsen-Dockray wanted to do more. She began a tour, hitting Lincoln, North Platte and Scottsbluff.
It wasn’t just the students who benefited, said Larsen-Dockray, but many of the artists had never been to Western Nebraska. Some had never been to the Midwest.
“Each year, I became more invested in the program because of the connections being made and the excitement in the classroom from the artists and students finding commonalities in each other, while at the same time equally energized by their differences,” she said. “It also makes me think about what a game changer something like this would have been for me when I was a kid. It all is such a beautiful thing to witness.”
Larsen-Dockray is an advisory council member of the Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at UNL and Calibraska is supported in part by funding from the Johnny Carson Foundation, she said. Over the years, artists from various acclaimed arts programs, including those at Harvard, CalArts and the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. They’ve worked for big names such as Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, with art being features in movies, TV shows, theatrical productions and festivals.
“This is such a wonderful opportunity for our artists interested in learning more about animation and vital technical elements used in media and entertainment today,” said Laurie Richards of the Nebraska Film Commission.
In February, Larsen-Dockray was finalizing the plan for this summer’s monogramming as everything began to shut down because of COVID-19.
“In a matter of days, I realized the only given regarding the program and way to preserve our offerings was to take the whole thing online,” she said.
She began teaching online courses in March, as did many of the artists who are participating this year, allowing them to practice and figure out who to get the most out of online learning.
Growing up, Larsen-Dockray participated in 4-H, and last year partnered with the program for an animation workshop at the organization's Big Red Summer Camp. This year, the partnership has strengthened with 4-H supporting the platforms for classes, registration processes, outreach and other vital parts of summer classes.
Thanks to the virtual move, Calibraska has also been able to expand its programming.
“When I think of ‘art,’ I automatically include music, theater, dance, writing, fine arts, and time-based arts,” said Larsen-Dockray.
This year, there will be improv, stand-up, hip hop, acting, storyboarding, costuming, music, literary and puppet theater classes, among others, she said. Registration is currently open for the classes, which cover an age range from seven through adulthood, as well as various levels of experience.
Art is something that benefits everyone, said Larsen-Dockray, both through the creation and the enjoyment of it — jamming to a catchy tune, watching a movie or admiring a sculpture can be uplifting.
“It can engage all of the senses to convey concepts, emotions, actions, stories, etc. and move us in ways which are often impossible otherwise,” she said.
Although the finished product is always satisfying, the creative process itself can boost a person’s mood. Larsen-Dockray pointed to play theory, where play is defined as a cycle and part of that cycle is the “play flow,” which is where children become so involved and engaged in play, that the rest of the world fades away for a little while.
“This state of mind transcends child's play though, or better yet, is still play but us grown-ups don’t dare call it that,” she said.
She believes play, whether its painting, telling jokes or dancing in the kitchen, can be therapeutic saying, “it creates a safe space to take risks, it can be healing, cathartic, rejuvenating, exciting and calm all at the same time. Getting in the ‘flow’ is even better because then we can really get out of all our ‘chatter’ where a lot of stress lives. I think we all could use some of that.”
Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at email@example.com.