Art and opportunity, focused on Sarasota’s homeless

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SHAFAQNA – Pamela Callender isn’t your typical curator. When she’s putting together an art show, she cares a lot more about what happens after an exhibit is taken down than what’s hanging on the walls.

“To be honest, the exhibit is just a lure,” says Callender, the house curator at Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center. “My shows are meant to have impact on some environmental, social or political issue. My whole approach to curating is to tell a story and activate people — to show what art does, not what art is.”

Like her previous exhibits focused on civil rights and criminal justice, “Downside, Upside Down: An Exhibit with Purpose,” which kicks off at Fogartyville tonight, is intended to make a difference — in this case, within Sarasota’s homeless community.

Two months ago, Callender got the idea to start an outreach program that would offer the homeless art supplies and opportunities to express their creativity. But she quickly found that it was problematic to get members of the community, who lack transportation, to come to Fogartyville.

So a couple of weeks ago, she, Debra Torger, a Florida teaching artist, and Maia Owen, an intern from New College, brought the supplies to Payne Park on a Saturday afternoon, where a weekly meet-up group disburses food, clothing and blankets to the homeless.

They put down blankets, set up easels and distributed journals. That’s all it took.

“We didn’t have to do a thing but set out the supplies,” says Owen. “They were excited to join in.”

So far, about eight people have participated, including Michelle, a former church administrator who said she had previously attended art school.

“All her friends said, ‘We had no idea you were an artist, Michelle!’ ” Owen recalls.

Though the program is too new to have allowed for work from the homeless artists to be included in this show, Callender plans to showcase of some of their art during a closing ceremony for the exhibit on March 24.

She is also at work on a grant to publish and sell some of the stories from their journaling, a potential source of income for the art program’s continuation.

But that’s not all. To prompt a discussion about affordable housing for the homeless, a “Tiny House” will be constructed during the course of the exhibit, using environmentally-friendly sheathed foam donated by Brian Bishop, owner of New Panel Homes, a sustainable construction expert.

Upon completion, the 8-by-16-foot unit, which will be built atop a trailer for portability, will be moved to The Sanctuary, the property near U.S. 301 and Tenth Street that advocate Valerie Guillory of Trinity Without Borders plans to make an empowerment center for low-income people. There it will serve as an art therapy studio for the outreach classes and a potential gallery for the artists’ work.

That idea came from Fogartyville’s director, Arlene Sweeting, who decided to take one of Callender’s ideas a step farther even than the curator had envisioned.

“Pam had the idea of displaying plans for a ‘Tiny House’ next to plans for a mansion during the exhibit,” Sweeting says. “I decided to see if we could actually make that happen.”

Sweeting applied for a grant from the Martin Luther King Day of Service Committee at the State College of Florida, which is helping to fund the project. Close to 40 people have already volunteered to help with construction.

Jeff Smith, a solar energy systems developer, signed on as the project’s designer. Acknowledging current plans for the development of up to 400 high-end residential units in the gentrifying Rosemary District, where many homeless people gather near the Salvation Army, he thought some balance was in order.

“The ‘Tiny House’ is a symbol of tiny people,” said Smith. “You have big people — big investors, big developers — but people also need small things and small housing.”

Donations of supplies and labor are still needed and welcome. Call (941) 932-2993.

Source : http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20150123/ARTICLE/150129840

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