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

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!

 

 

ArtVention Installation, September-November 2017

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.

ArtVention at EKU, September 13, 2017

On 9/13/17 I had the pleasure (and awe) of helping to create an art-based, post-suicide prevention experience at Eastern Kentucky University’s Noel Studio For Academic Creativity. Held in honor of World Suicide Prevention Day (a concept I am only beginning to tolerate and consider, since my own loved one’s suicide), ArtVention is a unique art experience for all who have been impacted by suicide. Participants are encouraged to identify and visually express feelings about suicide via guided visual art activities. It’s not art therapy — it’s art empowerment led by a working artist who uses art to help herself and other vulnerable  people survive and thrive.

We began with a hand “sign in” with medium on a blank sheet of muslin, which disappears when it dries — like the loved one we lost. Halfway through ArtVention we hit it with paint to make our marks reappear, a metaphor for the love we will never lose.

Participants also created  a “before/after” collage guided by words and materials chosen for their positive/negative impact.

Lastly, ArtVention participants made Tribute Flags for themselves or the person they lost.

The best part of all, as usual, were the revealing and healing conversations that struck up while I interacted with participants, and they interacted with each other.  Both the flags and the collages will be part of suicide awareness exhibits coming up in 2018.

Thanks to the EKU Suicide Awareness and Focus on Education (SAFE) grant, the volunteers who helped with ArtVention, including recent EKU graduate Abigail Emerson who came up with the idea, Crystal West who found and transported the cardboard and fabric (cut out lots of collage material!) and Dr. Melinda Moore who invited me as a teaching artist to make it happen.

 

LexEngaged and WWB Artist Books

On March 1, I helped William Wells Brown Elementary and LexEngaged students from UK create handmade books, and illustrate them.  The original topic and focus was an upcoming essay contest about the contributions of African American jockeys to Kentucky horse racing. But some of the WWB kids wanted to illustrate and tell their own stories instead. The end result: Quite a mix of images and text!

It is a little known fact that WWB Elementary sits on the original Kentucky Racing Association property and race track once located at 5th and Race Streets, and that the local racing industry was once dominated by successful and talented African American jockeys. As WWB students talked about and created horse racing images, it was clear that they were very proud of this heritage.