I took three hours out of my busy AmeriCorps Program Director work day to participate in this panel presentation on art and healing. I was one of three writer/artists to participate, although I have twenty academic years under my belt as well and could easily have worn that hat — but I am glad I didn’t. I find so much more meaning in telling my own story (as egoistic as this may sound) because my story is also the story of the underserved by art individuals I have been able to help through offering them opportunities to visually tell their own.
The artists present were invited to bring samples of our artwork, and I automatically chose the healing artworks I created between 2009 and 2013 that helped me by illustrating my misery, my grief and finally my ability to celebrate my transition from traditional college art professor to teaching artist to the underserved and during a time when many painful memories and truths were being revealed. As a result I will most likely be showing that series of artworks for the first time at a local Richmond, KY gallery — and won’t that be empowering!
Many thanks to Melinda Moore, psychology professor and leader of the Survivors of Suicide group at EKU for inviting me to speak and share my healing through art story.
Five years ago, a newspaper article was written about me and my efforts to help the homeless through visual art experiences. It never would have happened if I hadn’t walked into that shelter at the right time, and met the right kind of executive director who believed that the homeless have gifts to share with the community — and believed in me.
When people believe in you, you can move mountains, and I felt like I did during the three years I devoted time, effort and care to the homeless in my community by working directly with them, building trust, encouraging them to engage and take artistic risks when they spent most of their days being told by others what to do and how to do it — or else. I helped the homeless engage in three fundraisers (not just be the recipient of proceeds); I created an art-based economic empowerment project that for a short period of time helped the homeless earn while making art AND made them feel part of the community via art sales in local galleries; I made for them a peaceful, safe artistic space separate from the stress of the day shelter; and last but certainly not least, the homeless helped ME create a beautiful mural that I hope will stay on that smoking yard wall to remind staff and guests that the homeless have abundant gifts to give, if we just offer them the tools, and the chance.
Five years later, after almost three years living in a new community in Kentucky, I am finally feeling the urge to be engaged again. There are a lot of reasons for what caused this lengthy delay — such as the death of a marriage, the death of a loved one by suicide, health compromises, and what it takes to recover from those traumas as well as the length of time and energy it takes to rebuild ones life in middle age. It wasn’t hesitancy though. It was knowing what I could handle and what I could not. It was taking good care of myself. It was survival.
Now I am ready to begin helping the homeless again — but not via a program that makes shelter available to some instead of all, and not in alignment with any agenda, only as an artist. I am ready to engage my community in public art projects — and that means all of the community, not just the artistic or able. I also hope to spread an engaging message: That art is not just about teaching it, making it and selling it. Art is a resilience builder and a survival tool and I know this, because that is how Art has helped me.
I recently sat in on a prospective AmeriCorps KY READY Corps member interview, during which she was asked to share a most significant project, most complex project or a project she was most proud of — and my heart went out to her and her struggle to find a story to relate. Though I had no doubt she would discover something, and she did, watching that struggle and hearing her openly confess: “Pride? I never really thought about anything I did as something to be proud of…” touched me and made me remember the shame of the homeless in terms of where they lived, what they did and how it got them there. It also reminded me of me as a kid and young adult without any self confidence or pride in myself or my family or where I came from.
That is why it was soooo amazing to be a part of helping the William Wells Brown kids last fall to create these panels because they are all about pride in themselves and the history of their community. But the best part was hearing that the panels would be part of a new exhibit at the Kentucky Horse Park, honoring the long history of African American jockey and trainer involvement in the horse industry.
The panels have also been made into a fundraising poster!
I plan to be at the Park on 7/5/18 when many of the William Wells Brown kidz will be present to see their work on the walls. THAT’s going to be empowering!!
I’m Still Here banner, collaborative art from ArtVention September 2017
Gallery on Main, a community gallery in downtown Richmond, KY, invited SAFE project coordinators/facilitators to install ArtVention artworks for viewing from September to November.
ArtVention is an art empowerment and healing project focused on suicide education, prevention and awareness, funded through the EKU SAFE program within the Psychology Department at Eastern Kentucky University. I coordinated and supervised the ArtVention event on 9/13/17, in which suicide bereaved and survivors engaged in three visual art projects, one of them collaborative, creating a sense of community and healing from suicide experiences.
I recently joined a group of amazing teaching artists at the Living Art and Science Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Their mission is in perfect alignment with mine: “engaging the community through education, discovery, exploration and creativity….collaborative experiences for the community, and educational programs in schools, community centers, and other venues to reach special needs, at risk and underserved children and adults”. I am so excited to be part of this artistic community!
My first arts experience for 3rd-5th graders was Street Smart Art, introducing them to graffiti styles, vocabulary and (sanctioned!) activities. We explored designing our initials, and transforming them into tags, we practiced tagging until we got it down to three seconds, we designed words expressive of ourselves in graffiti style, and we learned to cut stencils and spray them successfully. Some of the kidz had real skillz, apparent on the day we went outside and sprayed a panel and canvas banner.
My second art experience with LASC kidz was ID Art — art about ourselves, from a fine art and design perspective. We explored our wishes and dreams with word and image collages, created logos, created designs for business cards, used the LASC gallery and the high school art exhibit for inspiration about the many ways to illustrate ourselves. Some kidz made free art at the end of each class period. Coming up next: Crazy Creative Quilting!
I am now connected to and art-working directly with military women and women vets via a wonderful organization: Athena’s Sisters — thanks to this engaged and empowered woman vet who reached out to me last fall, who is working hard to start and sustain an Athena’s Sisters chapter in Evansville, Indiana.
From their website: “Athena’s Sisters is an organization for all military women to use revolutionary expressions to grow in dignity and honor. Our members empower themselves through a sisterhood created by mind, body, and heart healing. Our artistic advocacy is building a community of courage.”
We met at the 5/13/17 VOICE Expo, held at the Evansville Armory, to promote the new chapter of Athena’s Sisters and to promote our summer art project: stained glass mosaics, similar to this one, created by Owen and about to be published on the cover of a book that helps educate those who help the suicide bereaved. Owen came from a military family, and although he did not serve he admired those who did. So I know he was proud to be part of this event.
Owen’s Omega RedWolf Flying, 2016
VOICE (Veteran Organizations Involved in Community Education) acts as a sponsor and clearing house for events that help veterans and their families, as well as engage them within the community.
My 2015 art enrichment/outreach with at-risk youth in Henderson, KY wrapped up with the beginning and ending of several projects.
Henderson County High School CHEERS program: These energetic participants in the after school program — and a few unexpectedly interested boys at Central Academy — helped finish the Holiday Windows, now on display in downtown Henderson. Two girls at CHEERS also wrote a special holiday message of thanks to CHEERS director Scott Wilson!
At the Henderson County Housing Authority, we made Peace Bird ornaments, and wrote a graffiti/artistic message of Peace to accompany them.
And and Central Academy, girlz created A Christmas Card To Send…Or Never Send…to add to Kentucky Foundation for Women funded Life Stories/Life Lessons writing/art project they are collaborating on with elder women at Redbanks, while boyz began work on their box sculptures.
A peaceful holiday to all! See more Art Bag Lady initiatives in the New Year!
Highlights of this week at Art In The Margins: the design and beginning painting stages of several Holiday Windows, completed by kids in the Henderson KY schools and displayed in Henderson KY, courtesy of the Downtown Henderson Partnership.
And O and other shelter guests assisted in creating “hobo” bird feeders for the many sparrows that hang out in the smoking yard, constructed of recycled and additional cheap household items and hung in the now empty-of-picnic-tables shed. And through the winter months, AIM Saturday afternoons will include homemade (by me and volunteer O) soup!
Thanks to Lacey a generous volunteer and participants in Art In the Margins at United Caring Shelters for the old single pane windows and designs, and to the CYJS program at Henderson County Public High school for helping to fund this fun and engaging project for Evansville’s homeless as well as kids at CHEERS and the after school program at Henderson County Housing Authority. Look for an update on the installation of the Holiday Windows on Main Street in downtown Henderson soon! And thanks to the Downtown Henderson Partnership for helping to make this happen!