December 09, 2023

‘A bright spot in this community’

Artists Blake and Bailey Fry-Schnormeier selected as Creston’s 2020 Volunteers of the Year

After more than 4,050 collective hours by 72 volunteers, Creston is earning national attention as ‘that art town’ due to the leadership of Blake and Bailey Fry-Schnormeier, Creston’s 2020 Volunteers of the Year.

Upon learning about the selection, Bailey said she was shocked.

“I know there are a million people doing great things every day, so I didn’t really think much about it. I was really surprised when Ellen (Gerharz) called,” she said.

Blake and Bailey first met in art class at Southwestern Community College in 2002. They later married in June 2008. Together they have two children – Austin and Leona.

Creston High School Art Teacher Bailey Fry-Schnormeier and her husband Blake Fry-Schnormeier, who helps operate Create Creston, are often recognized as the town’s most prolific art advocates in terms of how many volunteers they rally, to the amount of funds they raise and the number of works of public art they help produce.

The Fry-Schnormeiers have been involved with the Creston Arts Council for more than a decade. During that time, They have served as instructors for a youth art camp hosted at Creston High School, coordinated volunteers for the Fourth of July Chalk the Town event, and have volunteered their time setting up and taking down art shows at Creston Arts Gallery inside the depot. But this year presented new challenges: How would they gather the community to take part in the arts?

According to one nomination, Bailey and Blake sought to bring to the community what they felt was missing – and it wasn’t just public art:

“This summer started weird. Bailey and Blake had already spent over 100 hours writing grants, making plans, and communicating with artists and volunteers. They had simple goals, but with complex plans. They wanted to implement the principles of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion into a public art project.”

Bailey said growing up in a community that values art allows a space for, especially youth, to get involved.

“I think that, as a high school art teacher, that’s something I really value and would want for my own kids growing up in a community,” she said.

Creating safe platforms for self-expression and development of a sense of purpose is important to the Fry-Schnormeiers.

Bailey gave the example of a woman who she said is a respected member of the community. The woman had complimented a student who was completing community service hours.

“’I just saw you in the paper. You’re doing such great work, I’m so proud of you,’” Bailey recalled. “That was a really awesome rewarding moment for that student. It wasn’t just us. It was the youth and community seeing how supported they are.”

Blake said the project gave students, volunteers and community members a heightened sense of pride.

“It was nice to see them bringing their parents by and saying, ‘I painted that’ and claiming that mural as theirs. It’s fun to see the community saying, ‘That’s my mural, too,’ because it’s next to their house or on their business,” he said.

The summer mural project was a powerful way to show students that art can lead them down many paths in life – both both creatively and professionally.

“With that, more youth are going to see the arts as a path in their life, whether it’s through graphic design, interior design, or if they’re muralists or community planners,” she said. “This is the type of thing that they can see the importance of art and have that opportunity meet guests artists and work with different artists, learn their stories and the paths they took.”

Bailey said “volunteerism is super important as a parent and as a teacher to model.”

“Our community is what we make it. I think, what I’ve shared with my students over the years, ‘If there is something that you wish there was in Creston, create it. Do something about it,’” she said.

With more than 800 hours between just the two of them, Blake and Bailey told each other midway through the project, that as soon as it was complete, they needed to take a break. For them, finding a balance and self-care is key to making big changes while still focusing on their family’s needs.

“You really need to take a break to recenter and refocus where our time and energy needs to go,” she said. “This summer we hit volunteerism really hard, which is very exciting and because we were able to work together and work with our daughter, son, it did have that family connection. But it really is important to find that balance, so to find time where it’s going to fit into your life so it’s not going to take over.”

While the amount of energy and hours the Fry-Schnormeiers dedicated to the summer mural project is equivalent to more than that of a full-time job, it didn’t always feel that way for them.

“Definitely do something you’re passionate about,” Blake said.

For those thinking they don’t have the time to give back or serve their community, he said, “It’s about finding what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about and build from that. I think that’s a great way to start.”