I’m a KFW AMA Grant Recipient again!

In February 2019, I met with two high school girls and a Mom, and over art making talked about the mental health crisis at a local high school. This led to a brainstorming session about a collaborative community mural project involving at-risk girls, a contact with the dedicated therapist at one of the high schools, and a swiftly researched and written Art Meets Activism Grant to the Kentucky Foundation for Women. See the description here. Yup. I got the grant.

Writing the grant was scary though. The last time I got an AMA grant was in 2015-2016, and I was never able to produce a finished product from it. Owen Carl Chaney, lost to suicide on 8/22/2016, helped me with the project, was in many documentary photographs of the project, which also involved at-risk youth, and I just could not face the raw material while feeling so raw myself. For the first time in my artistic life, I felt paralyzed, blocked.

The KFW was extremely understanding about this. They gave me two extensions, and a retreat at Hopscotch House, hoping to help. It didn’t. To this day, when I think of that raw material, hours and hours of interviews of elder women and young girls and the projects we did together with Owen at my side, my throat still closes in panic.

I was truthful about the situation with my teenage artist partners. I warned them I might not get the new grant because of my failure to follow through on the last one. But not only did I get the grant, $3280 to engage teenage girls from Berea high schools in a public mural project focused on youth mental health and based on photographs of their hands holding objects that help them feel safe, secure and empowered. I got the best acceptance letter ever, full of compliments and encouragement. My hands shook as I opened the envelope. Then I read the contents and cried.

Since that Sunday morning early in June I have been able to do additional, formerly unthinkable things. I reached out to the new volunteer coordinator at the homeless shelter where I met and made art with Owen and offered to help her get our yard mural touched up and finally finished. I also attended a mural festival in Harlan, Kentucky, where I worked on a wall for the first time since before Owen died. I cannot describe the joy I felt when my body and mind effortlessly remembered how to do this, and remembered doing it with Owen.

So I want to thank the Kentucky Foundation for Women from the bottom of my aching, singing heart for this healing, growing, opportunity.

Upward Bound Arts Outreach, Summer 2019

Upward Bound students, Summer 2019 on collaborative mural art project.

I am once again partnering with Upward Bound at Eastern Kentucky University to facilitate helpful and team building art projects with youth. I have several returners, pictured here, from last year. Youth enrolled in my class are both driving and creating the panel designs as a group, using words and images that relate to Resilience — the theme of our multi-paneled mural.

But as always I started with a visual ice-breaker of sorts, from an idea I borrowed from an amazing photography project in which an artist interviewed homeless and photographed them holding a cardboard sign that educated the public about how the homeless are just like us — former dancers, businessmen, professionals. Instead, I had UB kidz write something about themselves that isn’t obvious to someone who doesn’t know them well. The answers were funny, touching, and sad.

Muralville!

This is just a sampling of the mural projects I facilitated and worked on with under-represented and marginal artists between 2013 and 2016. And there’s more to come!!!

I am thrilled to announce that I will be facilitating another public mural project after a three year hiatus, and it will involve young women and girls and focus on mental health awareness. More to come as the grant announcement is released!!

Engagement

Not mine; wish it was!

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.

M on wall with camo

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.

Sweetheart Flying, 2017 Ink, marker, colored pencil and watercolor on paper

Pride

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!!

Death and Life

Through September and into November, in between marathon Art Bag Lady writing sessions at the Berea College library, I have been engaged in a number of art experiences with at-risk and artistic youth via the after school program with William Wells Brown/LEXengaged @UK, and the Day of the Dead festival at the Living Art and Science Center.  I’ve also been stalking (well, walking!) the historic Richmond KY cemetery — thus the title of this post, Death and Life.

Last year, just 8-10 weeks after Owen’s death, was very difficult. Halloween was a nightmare, November, except for a day or two, a blur. I am so grateful, therefore, to have this year’s celebratory life and death holidays and my involvement in them for comparison.

As part of LEXengaged I helped facilitate a field trip and scavenger hunt at African Cemetery #2 with dozens of little and big students taking photographs of headstone symbols and writing about the unique markers they found. It was a beautiful day, and beautiful to watch the kids interacting with the space and one another.

I am most grateful to have been involved in the upbeat and positive Day of the Dead Festival hosted by the Living Art and Science Center on November 1. The nearby Episcopal Cemetery was open and embellished with candles and decorated altars; there were colorful dances in the street, food vendors well worth the wait, and art activities inside that I helped facilitate.  It was a joyous, wondrous evening despite the rain showers.

In looking for a place to get my daily walk in Richmond, KY, I decided to check out the old, historic cemetery,  have been entranced with new memorial art every time I visit.  Some of the stones are quite old, and many so personalized it is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. It is a bummer that picnics are not allowed!

 

 

Photography with LEXengaged & at-risk youth in Lexington

Here is the first installment of a photography project I am facilitating with college students and at-risk youth in Lexington.The focus is on symbolism and metaphor as portrait.

 

Upward Bound at EKU

Reminder on stairs in art building, EKU campus, Richmond KY

I had the pleasure of connecting with Eastern Kentucky University’s Upward Bound program in June and July 2017, and worked with many amazing, promising young people as a result and on several innovative art projects!

Our first project: Create a sign like those that the homeless carry, but put on it something about oneself that viewers couldn’t possibly know by simply seeing you. This yielded many touching and surprising confessions.

What You Don’t Know Is…signs by Upward Bound EKU students, summer 2017

Project 2: Create an artist book out of paper bags, and begin cover art on it. During this project I discovered how many creative types I had!

Project 3: Thanks to a PFE sponsored artist workshop I attended as a VISTA Leader, I shared with enthusiastic Upward Bound kidz the construction of miniature “crankies” — storytelling devices used during music and vocal performances to better engage audiences.

Project 4: Tagging, stencil cutting and spraying! Upward Bound @EKU students learned about the style of graffiti alphabets, how to brainstorm and create their own tag, the fundamentals of stencil cutting (which is more complicated that one might guess!), then sprayed their creations. A lot of these kidz already had impressive spraying skillz!

 

 

 

 

Summer 2017 work with Living Art and Science Center, Lexington

Sprayed banner, detail, Street Smart Art

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.

ID ART

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!

“Crankies” with LexEngaged at William Wells Brown, April 12, 2017

I recently attended a Partners For Education sponsored workshop, led by two area teaching artists, on how to make a “crankie”.

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The miniature “crankie” I made at the March workshop in London, KY.

A crankie is a visual storytelling device, typically used to enhance music, spoken word, or storytelling.  The story is visually told on a scroll of paper or cloth, frame by frame, and a performer turns a handle to advance it (in this case they are lollipop sticks). Some crankies are large and elaborate, with a crank to advance the scroll. Thus the name “crankie”.

The workshop was so informative, so much fun — and so much a part of my art impetus towards narrative — that I decided to share this activity with the LexEngaged students from the University of Kentucky, and the kidz at William Wells Brown in Lexington on Wednesday, April 12, 2017.