Passion for ProgressOct 01, 2017 ● By Amy Richmond
In 2009, when Cooper Damm was in third grade, he lost his dad to brain cancer. This sparked a passion in his now-single mom, Tyra Damm, to honor her late husband, Steve, by starting a pay-it-forward kindness campaign on his birthday every year. Her community bolstered her through the heart-breaking journey and, in turn, grew stronger and more compassionate through her passion.
Around the same time, a pianist and violin teacher, Tammy Meinershagen, was asking her realtor, Jeff Cheney, about fine arts in Frisco. She had moved from the Chicago area in 2004 and saw little emphasis on the arts in Frisco. He encouraged her to join the Citizen Bond Committee and use her passion to help shape the remaining 40 percent of undeveloped land in Frisco. “It was a big transition for me, coming from this culturally-rich city and then coming to Frisco,” Ms. Meinershagen explains. “The biggest thing people leave Frisco for is the arts, and we need to change that.”
Her dedication to the arts and desire to “create a home for the arts in Frisco” and “actually have a hub and a world-class facility to inspire our use for the arts just as much as we do for the sports” eventually led her to be voted in as the executive director of Frisco Arts, a community-based arts advocacy organization.
Ms. Damm and Ms. Meinershagen happened to live in the same neighborhood in Frisco, but did not really know each other yet. However, when Cooper’s sister developed a passion for the violin, Ms. Damm reached out to Ms. Meinershagen to inquire about violin lessons, and a fortuitous connection was made.
In middle school, Cooper developed some passions of his own. Boy Scouts continued to be a strong presence, but he also discovered his love for “learning new music and playing in concerts” when he joined the band, just like his late father had done. So, when it came time for Cooper to choose an Eagle Scout project, he wanted to do something to support the arts. His mother connected him with Ms. Meinershagen to explore ideas and the wheels of change began to move.
That same year, Ms. Meinershagen had initiated a shift in Frisco Arts’ focus, moving from building management for the Black Box Theater, a performance facility with maximum seating of 120, to actively advocating and advancing the arts in Frisco.
She started with an inaugural 2016 Frisco Arts Walk to celebrate Craig Hall’s collection of contemporary sculptures. “It is the largest collection ever assembled and available to the public in Texas,” Ms. Meinershagen explains. “Craig could have used all of that land he had at HALL Park for parking, a gas station or another building, but, instead, he built into his office park several lakes, trails and commissioned art by some of the best Texas artists. It was corn fields and cow pastures, and he decided to put contemporary art in Frisco. That kind of commitment really takes passion, and we are so appreciative of his stamp on the community.”
Live painters, street musicians, singers and a mobile app with artist interviews brought the collection to life and was a resounding success. So, an even bigger, second-annual Frisco Arts Walk is scheduled for October 7.
With each successful event, the need for volunteers began to grow. This is when Cooper inquired how his Eagle Scout project could help advocate for the arts. “He stepped in at the perfect time,” says Ms. Meinershagen. Cooper’s Eagle Scout project and his hard work throughout his entire 2016-2017 sophomore year at Reedy High School resulted in the creation of the Frisco Arts Youth Council (FAYC). “It is a group of high school students who are passionate about the arts and how the arts can impact others in Frisco,” Cooper explains. “We contribute to Frisco Arts by providing a volunteer base, as well as insights of the youth of Frisco.”
The FAYC officially formed in June, and according to Ms. Meinershagen, the door is open for these students to create their own events and direction for the organization. “We advise on what youth would like to see,” Cooper elaborates. “I like that youth are being able to lead in something. They can start this from the ground up and experience project planning, contribute to events and fundraising and see the exposure kids can have to the arts.”
Cooper’s efforts have resulted in a diverse FAYC Council and volunteer base, spanning multiple high schools, ages, backgrounds and awards too numerous to list. Each member has their own unique talents, passions and goals, ranging from nuclear energy, dermatology, culinary art, engineering and more.
One FAYC member, Nikki Naghavi, an award-winning musician and a Centennial High School junior, explains why she joined, saying, “It is quite difficult to find a group of high school students filled with bright and creative minds yet diverse backgrounds working together toward a common goal. The FAYC offers lots of community service opportunities, diversified arts experiences and it is such an easy place to make friends!”
Grace Zhang, the FAYC vice president, an award-winning artist and a Centennial High School senior, adds, “The FAYC is a chance for students to become more involved in the arts community, while meeting all sorts of new people and gaining service hours. There is nothing to lose from joining.”
Jessie Yu, the FAYC marketing/media chair and a junior at Jasper High School in Plano, knows how those service hours can add up. She is the first FAYC member to receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award for volunteering 250 hours in one year. With her passion for public speaking and numerous awards for her weekly interpretative performances, Miss Yu says, “Art is literally everywhere. It is not just visual arts like most people think. Not having art in the world would make it a pretty boring place.”
Jessica Nguyen, the FAYC president, a Centennial High School junior and an award-winning artist elaborates, saying, “Having art in our community is very important because it is like a whole different language that brings people together. Art takes an interest in everybody.” Along those lines, Miss Nguyen adds, “Anyone can join the FAYC. It is a great way to meet new friends and be inspired. As long as you appreciate the arts, you are welcome to join!”
Ansh Jain, an FAYC member and a Reedy High School senior, concludes, “My favorite aspect of the FAYC is the cohesion and determination. The organization is composed of many students in similar stages of their artistic careers who feel the same passion for the arts, so it is easy to connect with them. On top of that, students are determined and focused on making a difference in the community, which is what will give this organization a lot of power.”
Thank you to all the youth in our community who are focused on expanding the influence of the arts and sharing their talent in Frisco. If you want information about joining the FAYC or to see a calendar of upcoming events hosted by Frisco Arts, visit friscoarts.org today!