Art for peace and equality – A MLK Day of Service project

BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – In honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, local youths are donning their smocks and brushing up on their painting skills.

Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA), whose community center is located at 1011 1st Ave. N., has teamed up with Creative Clay in an effort to bring a smile to the faces of the children they service while providing artwork for the community to enjoy.

CASA is known throughout the city as a place to not only donate gently used items or get some super deals in their thrift shop, but more importantly as a safe house organization for those individuals and families suffering from physical abuse.

“We just felt that this was a great opportunity for art and peace,” said CASA Grants and Compliance Coordinator Sue Nichols who worked with her contacts at Creative Clay to write the MLK Day of Service grant that harvested almost $5,000 for their project.

It was enough to purchase 30 12 x 12 canvases and art supplies, with some left over to continue the project with youths that may enter the CASA residents later in the year.

A staple in the Tampa Bay area since the 1970s, CASA provides crisis intervention, community outreach and tirelessly works to break the silence that so often isolates victims of domestic violence. In turn they offer hope with a network of support personnel to help survivors and their children get back on their feet.

CASA has collaborated with Creative Clay, located at 1124 Central Avenue, in the past. Creative Clay helps people with developmental, as well as, physical and emotional disabilities by using art as a medium of positive release.

“We have done a number of art projects with our children because it helps to express how they’re feeling,” said Nichols who is up-to-date on the latest research showing a high correlation between domestic violence in families with abused or disabled members.  “So we share information with their staff and that’s why we’ve worked on a number of projects together.”

The project entails half the canvases starting with resident children of CASA, while the other half originate with youth members frequenting Creative Clay. It’s called Mail Art, an artistic movement initiated in the 1950s that is practiced today all around the globe.

The idea is for one artist to start a work of art and before it’s finished to mail it to another artist who adds to the original piece using their own creative style and ideas. Then the piece is returned to the original artist for completion.

“It’s a really neat project,” said Nichols who shared that their grant partners, Creative Clay, are experts at this method of painting, having used it within Gibbs High School’s art classes. The young artists ages six through 16 have not met each other yet, so Nichols hopes the paintings will reflect the individualism of each artist and is excited about the outcome. “It’s been pretty interesting so far; they’re really different paintings which is great.”

Nichols and staff at CASA and Creative Clay will work together to choose a handful of paintings to follow through the process while snapping photos of the experience. Volunteers and staff will also be on hand to guide the children along the way by offering suggestions to those who may need a little encouraging or help in the artistic process.

Project participants will work afterschool on their paintings, but with MLK Day being just around the corner on Jan. 19, the process has a pretty quick turnaround.

“They’ve actually just started,” said Nichols who plans to have the artwork hanging in the Creative Clay gallery for a few weeks after the unveiling on MLK Day. “They have to be finished and dry by the 15th.”

Artists, who have never met their partner in the arts, are invited to the Day of Service exhibit, but will not be identified for security purposes. “You may never know who they are,” said Nichols.

Artist trading cards, which resemble playing cards, will be available for guests perusing the event to decorate any way that they like.

“They can either give it in peace to someone they know, or don’t know, or we will also be collecting the cards to make a collage,” explained Nichols.

Weather pending, other outdoor activities will be set up in front of Creative Clay on the sidewalk. Food and refreshments will be available; however, CASA is still looking for business donations in that area.

“They’ll have their artists and our instructors there to help,” said Nichols who is also currently looking for more volunteers to help out on the day of the exhibit. Patrons are needed for setup, helping people paint the trading cards and monitoring the other activities as well as generating interest on the street and encouraging those out to see the parade to stop on by and check out the exhibits.

If you’d like to see the final artist’s creations, but can’t make it out Jan. 19, Nichols hopes to have the finished products hanging at Creative Clay for a few weeks. Come June, they will be transported to the new 100-bed facility. Currently CASA has a 30-bed shelter and roughly 60 residents living in transitional housing.

“They’ll be hanging in the shelter as soon as it opens,” said Nichols who takes pride in knowing that this year’s Day of Service project will be part of their history. “They’ll be hanging for many years.”

If interested in volunteering on MLK Day for the peace and equality themed event, contact CASA at (727) 895-4912.

To help furnish their new 40,000 square foot facility, CASA has also made a Call to Artists for original and previously owned artwork to liven up the new shelter. If interested in donating, check out their website at www.casa-stpete.org for more details.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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