Life's struggles shown in art at Seattle's Union Gospel Mission
Thursday evening, for the first time, Seattle's Union Gospel Mission will open a gallery during Pioneer Square's "First Thursday" art walk, featuring more than 100 pieces created by mission guests.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Art from the StreetsGallery opening: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Union Gospel Mission shelter, 318 Second Ave. Ext. South.
Union Gospel Mission: www.ugm.org
First Thursday Art Walk: www.firstthursdayseattle.com
City of Seattle "smART ventures" grants: www.cityofseattle.net/arts/funding/smart_ventures.asp
Look at the purple cross Patricia Cook painted at the top of a mural and she'll explain it signifies faith — and the power of the human spirit.
And those colored lines emanating from it? That's energy, "touching all colors, all races."
Now look a little lower in the piece, at the disembodied, oval-shaped eye. That's Cook herself, and the eye's red tinge is no accident. "I was on drugs a long time." she said. "And a lot of that time, I wasn't all there."
Give someone the opportunity to create art, says Knox Burnett, and their work will tell a story about their life.
That's why each Monday afternoon, blank paper and art supplies are spread across a few long tables in the "community room" at Seattle's Union Gospel Mission.
And it's why Thursday evening, for the first time, the shelter will open a gallery during Pioneer Square's "First Thursday" art walk, an event drawing thousands each month to view art in galleries, studios, coffee shops and other venues.
The mission's display, "Art from the Streets," will include more than 100 pieces created by about 30 mission "guests" since these sessions started in September.
"I'd like to begin a conversation," said Burnett, the mission's guest-relations supervisor. "We'd like the community to know more about a population that is often misunderstood."
Cook, who has battled addiction since her teens, is one of several featured artists who'll have a half-dozen works on display. So is Joey Pollitt, 49, who has struggled for work since being laid off from a recycling plant in 2005.
"Everything went downhill after that," Pollitt said. He sells Real Change newspapers and gets occasional work as a day laborer, "but these days you're lucky if you can get work one day a week."
As he colored in a pattern of bright squares around a single candle, Pollitt said he has little experience with art, but finds it "relaxing and challenging ... and it makes the day go by."
The mission's art sessions were aided by $800 from the city of Seattle's "smART ventures" program, a 4-year-old effort to give small grants — $500 to $1,000 — to help spark a diverse assortment of work not funded through other programs.
More than 70 projects received such grants last year, including a play about AIDS by the Gay City Health Project, a program of writing and visual arts by Veterans for Peace, and a dance workshop by a Japanese choreographer for students at the John Stanford International Elementary School.
Paul Rucker, a city community arts liaison, helped arrange the grant for the mission's art program and was encouraged by what he saw on a recent visit.
"You can see that some of the folks are using art to reflect on their lives and work through some aspect of their lives," whether it's homelessness, addiction, incarceration or isolation, Rucker said.
Some of the mission artists live in dormitory units upstairs, where 60 men are enrolled in a yearlong recovery program. Others come for meals, or to stay overnight, when the shelter spreads out 160 mats on its first-floor rooms.
The building houses only men overnight. Women can drop by for meals, social sessions and referral to other services.
To help energize the art program, Burnett recruited local artists to come by. They talk about art, offer pointers or simply work on their own projects alongside the shelter guests.
Seattle artist Matthew Whitney, who's been coming once a month, said, "What I'd like to do is just to enable them to have a voice. That's what art does. It gives one a sense of place in the world."
During the Thursday evening art show, works created at the shelter will be displayed in the mission's Spanish Chapel, with some pieces mounted in old window frames, to heighten the sense that visitors are looking into a world they may know little about.
A table of art supplies will be set out for visitors to make small pieces of their own, to help show "we're all part of the same community," Burnett said.
Unlike at a conventional gallery, artwork displayed at the shelter's walls is not for sale — at least for now.
"That's our goal eventually," Burnett said. "But we need to make sure we've got a system in place to deal with it constructively. If we just bring a bunch of money in real fast, that could create more problems than it solves."
Burnett said those at the shelter need the ability to form constructive, stable relationships. "We want to spark in them some a desire to connect ... to have the sense that some people believe in them."
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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