By Mariah Walton, CSU Summer Arts Communication Specialist
There are still openings and scholarship money available for Summer Arts 2019! Click here for course registration and scholarship information.
If you’ve never met Armen Bacon, her impeccable style and petite frame offer no clues into the literary powerhouse and community servant she truly is. The CSU Summer Arts (SA) program is lucky to have her as the current Chairman of the Community Board. She is a champion of the arts, well spoken, and a phenomenal author. It also helps that she is a regular student of the Summer Arts, so she knows what she’s talking about. As she leaves her position as Chairman this year, it is fitting to highlight her as a Featured Supporter.
In addition to Armen’s regular commitments to various volunteer groups, she also serves on the Board of the College of Arts and Humanities as well as the University Advisory Board at Fresno State. A recent interview with Armen revealed her passion for Summer Arts and the reasons she so strongly believes in it.
How long have you been involved in SA?
I was actually on the first community advisory group that rallied to bring Summer Arts to Fresno. We were successful! But it was years later (2008) that I applied as a student. I had this dream of writing a book and had scribbled hundreds of run-on sentences into a journal, and THAT summer became the catalyst for both my book-writing journey and second career as a columnist and author.
How did you get started?
Honestly, I think it was mostly blind faith. Fear. A pen, pencil and notebook from the Dollar Store. My life had been turned upside down four years earlier when my son died. Words had become my oxygen. I wrote like a mad woman in an effort to sort through the chaos, create a dialect for loss, sift through memories, and retrace my life’s stories. I knew the stellar reputation of Summer Arts and impulsively filled out an application. Dr. Doug Rice, course coordinator for Memoir Writing, was my first instructor and quickly became my role-model, mentor, teacher and hero. I still remember his early words: “Yes, you can!”
When did you enroll in your first SA class?
July 2008. Then again in 2009, 2010, and 2011. My first book, “Griefland,” was published in Fall 2012. Two subsequent books were published in 2014 and 2016 (“My Name is Armen – A Life in Column Inches” and “My Name is Armen – Outside the Lines” (University Press). I returned to Summer Arts in 2017 and 2018 and I am currently working on my fourth book. This summer marks my 7th year as a student. (Most people forget that Summer Arts was in Fresno for 13 unprecedented years. Then it moved to CSU Monterey Bay for five years; it is now back at Fresno State, thanks to the leadership of President Joseph Castro and former Dean, soon-to-be Provost Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval).
What was the first class you took? Favorite Class?
My first class was a Memoir Writing Class, which is my genre of choice, but honestly – each class is better than the last; the creative growth feels exponential – you learn to dig deeper, excavate trapped memories, exercise the memory muscle, in doing so – the writing becomes more honest, vulnerable and sacred.
Did SA help in the writing process of publishing your books?
Most definitely. It not only helped me with craft and technique, but it also helped shape my storytelling and style. Several guest artists wrote blurbs (testimonials) that now live forever on my jacket covers.
Why is SA important to you? The students? The community?
Summer Arts saved and transformed my life. In general, this program ignites and fuels the passion burning inside an artist’s heart and soul. It taught me how to risk and push through self-imposed boundaries. Summer Arts helped me find my true literary voice in a daring, imaginative way – all the while supported by brilliant and compassionate instructors, a supportive staff, and student colleagues who are now friends for life.
Summer Arts is truly a gift to both students and the community. For students it’s an intense learning environment where they live and breathe the arts 24/7, working with guest artists – the best of the best in their genre of interest, making friends and building relationships that will last a lifetime. For our community, Summer Arts translates into an extraordinary month-long festival celebrating the arts and bringing inspiring and thought-provoking lectures, music/dance/vocal performances to audiences.
What is the greatest aspect of SA?
The infusion of passion, inspiration, fearlessness, and friendship that together, builds confidence and a strong sense of community. It is here I feel safe to explore and experiment with my writing.
What is one of your favorite memories of SA as a student?
It was the night before our student showcase when each of us would be required to publicly share our work. Running on fumes, exhausted, our pens were literally running out of ink. Summer Arts is rigorous and demanding. We gathered between the Speech Arts and Music buildings to rehearse our readings under the stars. We heard faint music whispering out from the walls – these were music students also rehearsing their final projects. Our words, their notes – it was truly a symphony of Summer Arts. Pure magic. One of my best memories ever.
What is your role as Chairman of the Summer Arts Community Board?
For the past three years, I have chaired the Summer Arts Advisory Board – a small group of devoted community volunteers whose main purpose is to raise funds to support student scholarships and help support outreach efforts to make sure students know about the program and community members know about the July Festival.
How can others get involved or support SA if they aren’t taking classes?
The community is invited to attend the month-long series of Festival events beginning July 1 – July 27. Our guest artists perform, but the student showcase events are a fantastic way to support student success and see firsthand the impact of Summer Arts. And, of course, we greatly appreciate scholarship support and welcome financial support of any kind. For more information, call us at (559) 278-5858 or visit our website at www.csusummerarts.org
Knowing what you know now about SA what would you say or recommend to incoming students?
JUST DO IT. You will learn, grow, stretch artistically and study with extraordinary guest artists. It’s unlike anything else you will experience.
Why should students enroll?
Because Summer Arts is life-changing and transformational. The ambiance created here on campus is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. It’s artistic, inspiring, intense, demanding, supportive and enriching. Like the song says, you will be changed “for good.”
A great way for you to experience CSU Summer Arts is to attend one of the many festival events and student showcases.