under construction at Sunflower Creative Arts in Delray Beach.
Taylor Jones/The Coastal Star
Susan Caruso has loved teaching since she was a youngster. “When I was in second grade I was the kid who volunteered to help the kindergarten teachers,” she recalls.
These days, the 62-year-old Boca Raton resident has come full circle. Caruso, the founder and executive director of Sunflower Creative Arts, is getting ready to begin her school’s 23rd year. And the school — which offers children of all ages and their families hands-on learning opportunities through play, nature and the arts — is moving into a new, larger facility in Delray Beach. There is an open house planned for Aug. 8, and classes for children from infancy through age 13 — as well as parents — will begin Aug. 24.
The new venue will include sensory, vegetable, butterfly and edible gardens and a plethora of trees. “Our renovations will allow us to be a licensed child care facility while keeping the beautiful, warm heart of the historic home,” she says about the venue that was hand-built in 1949.
“Our program offerings will more than triple to meet the needs of many more families. We will have one of the first nature playgrounds in Southeast Florida and a special wing with its own mini nature playground for our parent-and-child and after-school programs.”
That makes it even easier to continue the school’s mission, “to give children the freedom to discover their unique passions and the support necessary for each one to develop a strong personal voice.”
The arts are an important part of Caruso’s life as well.
“I taught flute lessons all through high school and college and was very involved in band, orchestra, jazz band and musical pit orchestra as well as theater in high school,” says Caruso, who graduated cum laude from the University of Miami with a bachelor’s in music with certification in education.
She plays the flute and also enjoys theater, films, travel, museums, history, gardening, yoga, architecture and food. And, for those who thought they knew this mother of two: “I played a wicked tenor sax and piccolo in a Latin dance band in Queens in the late ’70s.”
— Linda Haase
Q. Where did you grow up and go to school and how did it influence you?
A. I grew up in Glassboro, a small college town in southern New Jersey close to Philadelphia, the Jersey shore and the Pine Barrens. Lots of trekking around in woods, farm stands with incredible tomatoes and peaches, the freedom and responsibility of walking to school every day no matter what the weather created my strong connection to and love of nature. I attended fairly progressive public schools due to the college and had quite a few exceptional teachers who were wonderful mentors.
Q. What professions have you worked in? What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
A. In New York I worked in music publishing and retail at Charles Hanson, Carl Fischer and Frank Music. I also played flute and guitar duo and chamber music in Central Park, Greenwich Village, SoHo and many different venues in the city. Before Sunflower, I taught music enrichment and Mommy and Me classes at a dozen different preschools in Broward and Palm Beach County. I was the music director at Pine Tree Camps at Lynn University for eight years. I am most proud of creating Sunflower Creative Arts and couldn’t be more thrilled that we now have a home of our own in Delray Beach.
Q. What are some highlights of your life?
A. Spending four years in my 20s living and working in Manhattan, five springs in Paris and being the mother of two wonderful sons.
Q. What are your biggest challenges [at Sunflower Creative Arts]?
A. Making sure every family and potential volunteer who would love our unique philosophy is able to find us! Also, now that we have our own space and the ability to meet the needs of so many more families, I want to grow our scholarship fund so that financial status never gets in the way of a family participating.
Q. Who have been your mentors?
A. There are so many, but I would have to put Bev Bos at the top of my list. Her advocacy for children and her Roseville Community Preschool in Sacramento nurtured and inspired me to create a truly child-centered play, nature and arts-based program for children and their parents here in South Florida more than 22 years ago.
Q. How did you choose to make your home in Boca Raton?
A. Seventeen years ago I fell in love with a wonderful Chicagoan who just happened to live in Boca. I’ve lived here since I sold my little house in Delray in 2008. Waking up each morning to the sun rising over the ocean always amazes me.
Q. What music do you listen to when you need inspiration? When you want to relax?
A. When I need to get something done it can range from Bach to Stravinsky to Dave Matthews. For relaxation and creativity I love to play my silver flute and improvise on my Japanese bamboo flute.
Q. If someone made a movie of your life, who would you like to play you and why?
A. Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep, because they are fantastic actors and can portray strong women and their convictions.
Q. Who or what makes you laugh?
A. Children of all ages playing freely, running, climbing, pretending and getting messy outside always makes me smile. And Mark Rylance’s portrayal of Olivia in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Absolutely hysterical and brilliant.
Q. Do you have a favorite quote that inspires your decisions?
A. “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” — Socrates
The school offers two programs free to the public. Regular tuition ranges from $204-$11,599 per year depending on sessions chosen. An open house will be held 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 8 at 227 N. Dixie Blvd., Delray Beach. For more information, call 482-3412 or visit www.SunflowerCreativeArts.org.