Community Art in the time of COVID-19

Almost finished Hold Up Hold On panel, February 2020

a HUHO! panel from February 2020

Just as the Hold Up Hold On! team was successfully engaging participants in Berea, Kentucky middle and high schools…COVID-19 happened.

First, Berea College sent all students home in early March, which meant I lost one of my artist assistants. I remember thinking this might be a slight overreaction but as large area higher education institutions followed suit, including the one where the AmeriCorps program I manage is housed, as well as the area public and private K-12 schools, the surprise and disappointment I was feeling quickly turned to disbelief and then despair. I honestly and pretty quickly was no longer thinking about HUHO!; I was agonizing about my health and the health of my family and the sheer magnitude of the crisis.

The over three months that the pandemic has panned out to date, weeks and weeks of adjustment and survival, coupled with the recent onset of the racial unrest, has finally propelled me into a state in which I must reach out, act out, and figure out how to transform HUHO! into something that can be completed as intended, and further expanded and used by my community to help handle these uncontrollable situations and help heal from them.

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Initial movement in that direction happened in May when the Berea Arts Council, of which I am a board member, offered their windows for a HUHO! display.

I have since made an ask of the BAC, for support in 1) finding a building owner or city government entity willing to donate an exterior wall on which to install these panels; 2) hosting two upcoming events in which the Resilience panel is finished by area artists and in-progress panels are finished as well — with added elements that address equality and diversity.

It is my hope that I can directly partner with the BAC to make HUHO! a success story as of this fall, 2020.

Thanks again to the Kentucky Foundation for Women for helping to make this community art project happen!

The Kentucky Foundation for Women

 

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.

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!!

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.