My name is Steve Curtis. I am a post-war boomer born into a middle-class family in Kansas City, Kansas. It was 1949 and all was good. The boys were home from the war, entering the workforce, getting married, educated and employed. They bought nice affordable homes, cars and swing sets for the kids. Dad worked all day and drove the only car while mom worked at home all day and us kids either walked, rode bikes or took the bus.
It was a good life. People were friendly, not into big of a hurry – they grew flowers, vegetables, and even had fruit trees. They shared what they had with their neighbors and tried to help out when they could.The old folks called our moms for knocking their apples down or because we bumped their car playing football in the street but they also fed me sandwiches and cookies and told me long amazing stories about the old days. My great grandmother lived across the street. She would tell me about the Civil War and Jesse James then cheat playing Chinese checkers with my sister. Now and then my uncle would bring her a can of beer and they would both start telling jokes and cursing.
They made me go upstairs at my aunt’s house but I could hear them through the vents. I loved my Granny. I cried all day when they took her to the hospital never to be seen alive again.
The 60’s brought about a lot of changes. We moved to the suburbs, I got a draft notice joined up and went to Vietnam. Not something I would choose to do again but learned a lot in those years. Came home and went to school. Became a Respiratory Therapist, Clinical Instructor, Residency Coordinator and a Staff Development Director for 50 staff therapist. Lectured 300 hours a year and loved it all but one day I decided I wanted to be a photographer-like Ansel Adams of course.
I left the Medical Center, lobbied for 2 years, got involved in various local, state and national political campaigns. Only to return again to the idea of being a photographer. I visited all the pros in town and when I found the one that i thought was the best at what I wanted to learn – I offered my services for a minimum fee. Unfortunately, they “didn’t need anyone of my skill level – at the time” so I called them every week for 6 weeks and finally closed the deal by offering to clean their floors for free – DEAL! Before I left 3 years later I had been given the opportunity to do just about everything and learned the valve of doing it right the first time.
My wife and I opened a studio, in an old neighborhood confectionary the year our son was born, I quit smoking, cut back on partying and tired to be a good husband and father. We lived within the confines of the neighborhood for the next 12 years. Work, the school for the boy, church, community – is a beautiful way of life. One day in a conversation with my son I discovered that he wasn’t getting art in school and I thought about how much Art had changed my life so I went to work for an organization that provided enhancement programs to intercity schools. I taught at 3 schools – that’s about 400 middle school kids a week. They were very culturally diverse classrooms with way too many students in such a small space and very limited resources – we survived. I still see many of the kids these 10 years later. Carrying babies, driving cars and being all grown up! I don’t remember half the names but I remember every face and get the greatest feeling when someone says”Mr. Curtis do you remember me”? It really is the little things that matter.
About 2005 or so I got a call from a teacher in White Mountain, Alaska. She wanted to know if I was interested in coming to their village of 150 people or so to teach photography for a few weeks. Without much thought, I said yes and soon began the dance of trying to get equipment and supplies to a small village 70 miles east of Nome. After a full day and four airplane changes later I arrived on a snow-covered hilltop in below zero temperatures and suddenly a question popped into my head “What the hell am I doing?” I realized that I was totally dependent on people I didn’t even know to take care of me in an isolated village under extreme conditions. Thank God for good people and community. It was one of 5 more Alaskan adventures including trips to the Matanuska Valley, the Kenai Peninsula and the far-off Pribilof Islands of St.Paul and St.George – the most amazing experiences of my life!
I returned to teaching workshops, coping art for fellow artists, doing photography for myself, working a garden and enjoying life – being Steve. Then 2 people came to a Friday morning coffee I had at my studio and offered me a job as a Community Organizer. I resisted, I rebelled, and mocked my narrow view of what that actually meant. Then I heard the magic works “what would you want to do”? It has been 7 and a half years since that day and 5 of those years as the Director of Community Building & Engagement for CHWC. It has been a wonderful opportunity to use everything I have learned and experienced all these years down that long twisting path and able to focus it on a street level. A homegrown grassroots level of incorporating Art, Health, Gardens, Photography, Adventure and Exploration of the everyday.
Today, I find myself leaving behind all of the great projects and programming the CB&E team put together during my time at CHWC but it is time to move one. There are other obstacles to overcome, freedoms to be experienced and new people to meet. The next phase has just begun.