Ogden • Darden Smith has played guitar and written poetry since the third grade. But in his Texas hometown, most kids thought such activities were weird, so he felt uncool.
"Has anyone ever made fun of you for something you like doing?" the Austin-based musician, now 51, asked a group of Ogden students during a sing-along Friday morning.
A handful nodded yes in response.
The Be an Artist workshop is part of a bigger push to foster creativity in students, which in turn creates a sense of belonging, said Amir Jackson, founder of Nurture the Creative Mind, one of three nonprofits that sponsored Friday's event at Ogden's Odyssey Elementary School. The Weber-Davis Boys & Girls Club and Youth Impact also helped sponsor the workshop that included mostly elementary and middle-school children.
Jackson said identifying as an artist helps youngsters feel important and feel they belong to part of a larger group.
Smith is known for a sound that incorporates folk, rock and pop. He has released about a dozen albums, tours nationwide and leads workshops for students, war veterans and others. He is an artist in residence at Oklahoma State University's Institute for Creativity and Innovation.
During the hourlong event, Smith called out questions to help the students write their own song. It started off silly:
Heaven is a box of chocolate and cheese, they sang.
Then the ideas got even crazier, saying it looks a lot like Candy Land, with sour patch kids and cookie monsters.
"Don't be afraid to make mistakes or try new things," he counseled students, some of whom came in monster truck pajamas. Others brought kick balls and sports drinks.
Later, Smith asked "What's something that's really scary," that we should add to the song?
"Homework!" the group replied.
The need for events like this one is growing, said Cindy Bray, a school counselor at Odyssey Elementary, because school districts nationwide are paring down arts and music programs to fit tight budgets.
Kimbryanna Smith, 14, and unrelated to Darden Smith, said the chance to sing drew her to the event, where she performed an a cappella song for the group.
"I think you could sing about anything," she said. "As long as it makes you happy."
Smith will perform a rooftop concert Saturday
Where • Alleged Bar, 205 25th St., Ogden; 8 p.m.
Cost • $25