Thanks again to the folks at the Kentucky Arts Council for jurying me into The Illustrated Word. The exhibit traveled to the 35th annual Kentucky Crafted event at the Lexington Convention center last weekend. It was a real thrill to see artwork about O in public for the first time.
LEXengaged is a first-year residential program on UK’s north campus, close to downtown Lexington, in which civic engagement is applied to students’ day-to-day life. Through course readings, discussions, guest speakers, and off-campus tours, participants gain a greater understanding of the larger community, focusing on engagement, service learning and social justice.
My job as a teaching artist is to help UK students interact with students at William Wells Brown via unique visual art experiences that focus on the topic of homelessness — something near and dear to my heart. Our first project was “Who I Am” in which students built trust and understanding via tracing each others’ bodies and filing them in with name designs that expressed who they are using color, line, shape, placement and size — basic design concepts.
Our second project on February 15, 2017, was based on the Cardboard Stories collected by Orlando Florida’s ReThinking Homelessness project. UK and William Wells Brown students made a list of words associated with the homeless, then discussed how those things — dirtiness, torn old clothing, etc. — are just superficial signs and are, in many ways, the way we look at times and for reasons other than homelessness. This pressed home the fact that the homeless are indeed “just like us”.
Then students brainstormed a list of things about themselves that no one would know by just looking at them. They picked a few and transferred them to cardboard, and we hung them up and talked about the funny ones, the sad ones, and especially the unexpected ones.
On November 12, 2016, friends and loved ones had a small memorial ceremony for Owen Chaney in downtown Evansville, Indiana. This world lost Owen on August 22, 2016, when he chose to take his life in Berea, Kentucky after a long battle with addiction, mental illness, and three years of chronic homelessness.
Everyone who knows me knows I loved Owen, and I join many who knew Owen to be a loving, kind, generous, talented person even while plagued by the stresses and illnesses of his adult life. Or maybe in spite of them.
In memory of Owen we planted a sycamore tree on the lawn of the Zion Church opposite the homeless shelter where Owen and I met and made art between 2013 and just a few short months prior to his untimely death. Owen loved nature and he loved sycamores, which he called “ghost trees” in keeping with Native American lore, and in reference to the color of their trunks and limbs. They literally glow in the dark on moonlit winter nights. Sycamores are also called “trees of life” because they have tremendous longevity, up to 600 years, and symbolize intuition, shelter, nurturing…among other things. They also grow very fast and, to me, symbolize the surviving and thriving that Owen was never able to accomplish in this life.
A pack of Marlboros, the smokes Owen preferred, will show up at the base of The Lone Tree now and then, so those of you who are desperate for one can help yourself. I often witnessed Owen giving away his last cigarette to someone he thought needed it more than he. You are also welcome to stop by and put a memento on the sycamore, which will be nurtured by members of the Zion congregation. Many thanks to them, Pastor Kim, and the generous donations of Owen’s friends in attendance for making the tree planting possible.
I attended my first suicide awareness event on 10/26/2016, at Eastern Kentucky University: Walk For Hope sponsored by the Richmond/EKU National Alliance for Mental Illness. I became aware of this event through a support group I joined after losing my beloved friend, close companion and artistic collaborator to suicide on August 22, 2016. As anyone who has suffered such a shocking loss can tell you — Owen’s death has changed my life.
I believe this was the first event of its kind at EKU, and it was very well organized. The speakers, one who lost a son to suicide, were wonderful, and passionate as they told stories and explained their mission to help those affected by suicide — including the bereaved. Here is a link to a unique organization represented at the Walk For Hope, Shelby’s Way. The music was moving too.
I wish I could include more photographs of the crowds that attended — but I can’t. They weren’t there. In fact — and maybe because I am one of the bereaved — I felt the curious and anxious eyes of pedestrians that passed us upon us as small, tight groups of supporters and sufferers sat and listened to wistful tunes and powerful stories of love and loss. I could actually feel the stigma associated with the taboo subject of suicide as if it was catching, like an easily communicable disease.
With numbers of suicides in the area rising, this has to change. I hope I can be part of initiating that awareness-building and empathy encouraging change. I think the very first thing I will voluntarily do is facilitate the creation of a beautiful, eye catching banner to hang at next year’s event.
All our hard work paid off (literally!) at United Caring Shelter’s Jazz Shoes and Blues fundraiser on April 2, 2016. Pictured here are artists and volunteers, some of them homeless shelter guests, who were instrumental in the event as well as the design, creation and sales of art created at Art In The Annex and exhibited and sold at Art In The Margins the Zion Center For Spiritual Development and Healing.
These folks and UCS also helped me meet my Pollination Project Impact Grant match, thereby helping me continue the life changing (for all of us!) art experiences I provide at UCS for the homeless, and in nearby Henderson, KY with at-risk youth and the elderly. I can’t thank you enough!
Art work for the upcoming fundraiser, Jazz, Blues and Shoes began in earnest in February at United Caring Shelter’s Art In The Annex.
Two enthusiastic shelter/Art In The Annex Guests help stretch, gesso and begin painting canvases that will be auctioned off at the April 2 fundraiser.
On 2/13, volunteers from University of Evansville as well as artistic shelter/Art in the Annex guests joined local glass artist David Powell in making “journey” rings to be sold to raise funds for the Art In The Annex program. They are on sale now, for $5, at AIM at Zion United Church of Christ in downtown Evansville.
And on 2/20, I met David Powell at his studio in Mt. Vernon, IN, and got a lesson in glass blowing. He also showed off three of the over two dozen bowls he is making for the upcoming Jazz, Blues Shoes fundraiser in April!
Accomplished artworks, including mosaic stained glass and jewelry, all created by guests participating in United Caring Shelter‘s Art in the Annex Program, are now fully moved into the exhibit/sales space at Zion Evangelical United Church of Christ in downtown Evansville, just across from the homeless shelter. This is part of my ongoing efforts to promote awareness of the many gifts the homeless have to give their community!
AIM is located off the Vegetableland lunchroom hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. And many thanks to The Pollination Project for helping to fund this economic empowerment project for the homeless in my community!
Shelter guests @United Caring Shelters Art In The Margins wrapped up 2015 by writing holiday cards to distant loved ones. I provided everything necessary: the cards, writing and art supplies, and stamps. But I never thought I’d have so many participants in this rather craft-like art activity.
At least a dozen Art In The Margins participants took advantage of this opportunity to re- or temporarily – connect with loved ones, some of them clearly long lost. For example, a young woman with a child in her lap called her mother in Texas for her current address. The volume on her mobile phone was turned up, so I could hear her mother’s tone of shock and surprise at both the phone call, and the question. And although it was a very short exchange of information that seemed to end abruptly, there was nothing negative about it.
A homeless couple came into The Annex together and made cards for each other. I witnessed the loving exchange, which involved hugs, and tears.
I also met a half dozen shelter guests, mostly male, whom I had never before been able to coax into The Annex, and all because they wanted to share holiday greetings with estranged loved ones. It was indeed an honor to mail the many cards that were entrusted to my care.
As an alternate AIM activity, I finally opened the first of several puzzles that were donated some time ago by the former executive director. At issue was commandeering and keeping set up a (hopefully undisturbed!) table in the Annex for this purpose. But so far, and through several White Flags (when UCS is open to all, with sleeping palettes on the floor) our puzzles have emerged unscathed.
And… As I both witnessed and learned from this Internet article: http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/The_Healing_Power_of_Jigsaw_Puzzles.html…jigsaw puzzles are not just busy work. They are powerful healing and learning tools!
And last but absolutely not least, I must thank a lovely lady who donated several hundred dollars worth of beautiful adult coloring books and gel pens that AIM guests (and girls in an after school program in Henderson KY) have been enthusiastically using for relaxation and contemplation. Again…the unexpected healing power of art!
Yay! I am once again a recipient of a Pollination Project grant — for my IMPACT with and on the homeless! Thanks!
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!