Countdown to ‘Champions 4 Her’

I have spent at least the past six months coordinating the street art festival for an upcoming umbrella fundraiser for 10 Louisville nonprofits. One week from today (Saturday, June 21), ‘Champions 4 Her‘ walk/run will launch its first year at Waterfront Park.

Initially, I was asked to scout and hire an internationally renowned madonnaro (street painter) to set the festival apart from the plethora of other walk/runs in the city. I loved the idea, but immediately thought of the truly unique opportunity the concept of a street painting festival afforded clients of the 10 organizations we were raising money for. I agreed to find a feature artist for the event to draw in the media, but pitched the additional idea of having each of the beneficiary partner organizations create their own amateur street paintings depicting how their respective nonprofit assisted women and girls in our community.

The idea was not hard to sell, and soon I was also hiring a team of local artists to guide the novice nonprofit participants through the process of a creating a roughly 8′ x 12′ chalk pastel painting in one day.

I saw a lot of wide eyes as I sat in on the introductory meetings between the art teams and the artist they were paired with. This is the first time many of the participants have been to exposed to the visual arts on this level. Working with a full-time professional artist has really expanded their perception of the abilities of the arts to impact a community.

Within a few weeks I was getting concept sketches of each group’s final design. It has been such a treat to get photos in my email inbox and snail-mailbox of the art they’re designing.

You can support these wonderful organizations by registering yourself or a team to do the walk/run, or just come by and see the art in action.

I did of course hire a feature professional artist for the main street painting. Her name is Tracy Lee Stum and she will start on her piece the Wednesday before the event. Feel free to stop by Waterfront Park during the day to see her at work. She (and the other street paintings) will be in the parking lot in front of Joe’s Crab Shack.   See you June 21!

My first ‘Open Doors’ project: a group mural at the Center for Women and Families

Since last summer’s Kentucky Remembers! Project, I’ve fallen in love with facilitating the creation of collaborative, community art. After returning from that youth camp, I began actively pursuing a way to continually run such projects. To make an incredibly long story short, the end result of my efforts took the form of accepting a position at the Louisville Visual Art Association as a program coordinator. The arts outreach program is called “Open Doors.” The mission of the program sounds like it was scripted specifically for me:

Open Doors is an umbrella program of classes and art enrichment experiences designed to give a voice to under-served populations including the at-risk youth, refugees and immigrants, senior citizens, victims of domestic abuse and more. Our projects are designed to pair local professional artists with groups who have limited access to the visual arts to collaborate in creating works of self-expression. Projects are tailored to meet specific needs of each population and serve to enrich not only the individual participant, but the community as a whole.

Artists who lead our programs are passionate about facilitating the realization of creative talent and offering tangible tools for communication, engagement, leadership and positive change.

So, while I’m continuing with all of my other various endeavors mentioned on my blog, I’m also overseeing an incredible group of talented visual artists bringing their expertise to people rarely exposed to the arts (much less engaged in the art-making process).

Of course I could never be tied to a desk chair as a full-time administrator. I split my time between coordinating all of the Open Doors projects and facilitating my own. Currently, I’m at the Center for Women and Families working with a small group of victims of domestic violence on an 8′ long mural that will hang in the lobby of the Center’s main office.

Introducing the women to the visual arts included meeting them at the Louisville Visual Art Association to see the Liz Quisgard exhibit. I was expecting quick drop-ins from the women, but ended up spending 2 hours with them altogether answering their questions and chatting about their reactions.

After several weeks of preparatory exercises to get them comfortable sketching and thinking visually, we starting on the canvas. I took each woman’s photograph and projected the image onto the canvas for them to trace. Next, they began filling their silhouettes with images from their sketches books.

A group decision was made to jointly create a background that symbolized unity and interconnectedness. We talked about puzzle pieces, which lead to the idea of a using a tessellation of figures. The women also decided to paint the tessellation the colors tied to domestic violence awareness (purple and teal) and the pink to symbolize femininity.

Once again, I’ve been blown over by the progress and investment in the project. I think they’ve surprised themselves just a little as well 😉 We’ll be wrapping up the painting this week and focusing on the community celebration/dedication of the artwork at the Center. I will certainly keep you posted about this event since I know these women would be overwhelmed by a strong turn out to honor their accomplishment and gift to the Center.

Do I still have any Courier-Journal writers subscribing to my blog (hint, hint)?

Years of dancing in front of the mirror worth something

30″ x 40″ oil on canvas
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Last year I finally made a list of “things to do before I die.” One line on that list read, “take Flamenco dance lessons.” Not long after creating my declarations of commitments to myself, I saw a Louisville Flamenco group perform at the Americana Center for International Women’s Day. The performance was inspiring to say the least, hence this painting.

Benefits and utility exist for such sinfully enjoyable activity like dance, which pleases folks on 2 diametric ends of a spectrum: those involved in dance for personal expression and those only interested in any activity insofar as it is “useful” (ie does is make money or is it trackable on a spreadsheet). Here are a few ways dance nourishes the creative spirit and yields tangible positive outcomes:

  • With one-third of children in the US overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, incorporation of dance into school programs is a fun and effective way to combat overdoses of PopTarts and under-activity and boost confidence. Here’s a great example for you research geeks.
  • The calorie-busting, coordination-building video game, Dance Dance Revolution, may lead to improved reading comprehension among kids with ADHD.
  • A 2003 study showed that cognitive activities such as dancing greatly decrease the risk of dementia. Dancing (3-4/wk) was the only activity that resulted in a 76% lower dementia rate among study participants.
  • If a monetary outcome is what you’re after, Dance-a-thons like this one are a great way to raise money for your cause.

So you see, all of your time spent dancing in front of the mirror, singing that horrible 80’s tune you wouldn’t be caught dead jamming to in front of friends, has simply been a preface to employing your talent for a fruitful purpose. Dance on twinkletoes!

I’m a cover artist!

I came home Friday from a week and a half away to a the usual pile of mail awaiting either the trash or a check.   But buried in the junk I was very pleased to find this latest issue of the American Suzuki Association‘s journal.

I attended a Suzuki performance back in June and posted about it here.   Obviously, the painting went over well with the Suzuki staff.   You can go to to see the contents of the publication and browse the association’s site.   They are a nonprofit organization of teachers giving children in North and South America the opportunity to gain an interest and education in music.   I’m honored to help them.

Portraits coalescing youth worlds away

portrait painting of Bennett Morris portrait painting of Gray Morris
24″ x 30″ oil paintings on canvas
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Rummaging through my digital archive of paintings, I came across these fairly recent private commission portraits that shook loose from my memory an organization I’ve been attempting to collaborate with. Months ago I sifted through online information on youth and art focused nonprofits, and discovered the Memory Project. The concept, which came about after founder, Ben Schumaker, volunteered for one month at an orphanage in Guatemala, is a brilliant interlacing of high school art curricula with orphaned children in third world countries. High school art students are given photos of an orphan and create a portrait of that child, which is turned over to the Memory Project and then delivered to the orphanage. Correspondence between the portrait subject and the student is established creating obvious unique opportunities for both individuals.

Few of these children who have been abused, abandoned, or for some other reason are without a family, posses any items reminding them of their past or identity. We take for granted things as simple as photographs of ourselves with loved ones and other sentimental knickknacks. The portraits give the orphans a sense of self that they can reflect on as they grow older, which will also remind them that someone cared enough to create it. Of course, this is also incredibly rewarding for the high school student as well. Opportunities such as this truly broaden the horizons for kids at a time when their world is narrowly self-focused.

This is such a powerful and fulling project for any high school art class I recommend you pass the word onto to teachers you know that would like to implement the portraits in their school. They can visit and click on “get involved.”

I hope to possibly post some of the portraits that will come of this school year on my blog if I can connect with teachers incorporating the Memory Project into their curriculum.

Ps – Click here to watch a CBS news segment on The Memory Project.

Two young painting activists spotted!

While at a the Poulsbo Farmers Market last weekend, I ran into a boy running a booth, with no adults in site, selling artistic note cards to raise money, in part, for the Poulsbo Marine Science Center. I was disappointed that I hadn’t brought my camera to get a picture of the juvenile version of me, but in this day and age, who needs a camera when there’s a good chance some kind of video footage of your subject is on YouTube? I was pleasantly surprised to find this video clip of the young entrepreneur and his brother explaining their work while searching for the science center online.

Of course I purchased a note card, which I sent to my “family” in Australia (did you know I was a nanny in Brisbane?). They are aspiring artists themselves and of similar ages to the boys in Poulsbo, so I hope this inspires them.

“Empty Bowls” utilizing artists to combat hunger

Erin Lambers, a fellow artist and good friend from college, recently asked me to paint a few pieces of her beautiful pottery (shown below) to use in an ad for an upcoming charity event. She is spearheading a creative fundraiser, focused on combating hunger, that I will let her let you about:

7″ x 9″ watercolors, SOLD
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“My name is Erin Lambers and I am a potter and clay teacher. The last two years I have attended an event in Dallas, Texas called Empty Bowls. It is held all around the world in the attempt to end hunger. Empty Bowls is an event where people come and share a simple meal of soup and bread and receive a handmade bowl of their choice to take as a reminder that there is someone out there who also has an empty bowl in their hands.

I have decided to bring this amazing event to my little small town – Marshall, Texas. We are a town of 25,000 or so and the need to help those in this area is great, and I hope that with this event we will be able to raise enough money to help the Food Pantry here in Marshall provide meals for those looking into their own empty bowl. So far 100 people have come to the Art Center and have made a bowl for the event and more are to come. I, as well as other local potters, are donating hundreds of bowls for the event. Every penny in ticket sales goes directly to the Food Pantry — tickets are $10, which in turn should help at least 35 people in need. All donations to Empty Bowls anywhere in the country can help feed many.

Empty Bowls is an event in which all people from all walks of life may contribute to stamp out hunger around the world. For further information about Empty Bowls please visit”

Erin’s event in Marshall, TX is quite a way’s off (February 3rd, 2008 from 11am-2 pm at the Marshall Visual Art Center), but there are Empty Bowls events happening all over the country continuously. Visit to find an event near you. Also be sure to check out Erin’s pottery at She has a large collection of work and takes custom orders. I used to strive to throw as well as Erin on a potter’s wheel in college, but the painting studio called to me. It kind of worked out well, wouldn’t you say?

Theatre that teaches, heals, and entertains

7″ x 9″ watercolor of Fox Theatre, $70
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Visiting the uniquely ornate Fox Theatre in St Louis on Friday to see the Lion King, along with many other young theater-goers half my height, reminded me of a nonprofit I’ve been meaning to write about for months. Although I’m on the PR and announcement mailing list for Blue Apple Players, I shamefully have yet to attend what I hear would be an extraordinary performance.

“…Blue Apple Players is a nationally acclaimed nonprofit, theater company producing original musicals and educational theater programs for young audiences. Entertaining and inspiring, programs reach across social, economic, and geographical boundaries and use the power of drama to ignite children’s imagination and change lives…An inventory of 36 original musicals…addresses topics ranging from teen pregnancy and adolescent suicide to musicals based on American history and traditional folk tales.”

Red Riding Hood: A Vaudeville Romp is now touring the organization’s 10 state region (Chicago to DC, in urban and rural schools and on professional stages, approximately 150 plays are performed per year). Whether it be as an audience member or as a performer, this is certainly worth introducing a younger sibling to, or incorporating into your child’s school.

The Painting Activist has squeezed into the spotlight again

The Courier-Journal recently ran an article about this new, brilliant, lyrical product sprouting from a dearly loved local coffee chain in Louisville, Heine Brothers Coffee.

As Starbuck’s continues to lose its unique, personal touch and bulge into the Walmart of caffeine, small cafes like Heine Brothers are seizing the opportunity to replicate large-scale successful practices for their mom-and-pop style patrons. For example, I’m sure you’ve seen all the Starbuck’s items sold at the counter aside from products that belong in your mouth, like CDs from their own music label, Hear Music. Heine Brothers has teamed up with sonaBLAST! records to promote up and coming indie rock artists on their own compilation CD. I had the good fortune of blanketing the cover with one of my paintings (and therefore mentioned in the article).

In the Heine Brothers spirit of exclusively using fair trade beans and sending staff to Latin America on Habitat for Humanity projects, this CD is more than another way to make a buck. $1 of the $10 album is being “donated to a fair trade organization, whose goal is to help marginalized producers of any type goods compete on an international scale.”

The CD is available in all Heine Brother store and Ear-x-tacy. There is also talk of Amazon, iTunes, and other independently owned coffee cafes around the country. I’m honored to be a part of it.

“Kentucky Remembers!,” closing community celebration

After extensive event planning by our delegates, the camp participants, staff and community members celebrated our accomplishments at Noble Park in Paducah on Saturday. Several of those interviewed by the students over the past three weeks joined us as well as a TV crew and a local newspaper reporter. I was especially excited for the delegates to unveil their mural to our guests and the media.

Two students from the painting committee spoke about the mural design, which included vignettes of places they had visited and concepts and illustrations of things they felt were imperative in their vision of an ideal community. I could see the how pleased the delegates were with the response of jaws dropping when we pulled the sheet from the work of art.

It was amazing to see this camp make a positive impact on the kids in such a short amount of time. I’m so glad they’re people in this world (especially from the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights) who invest so much of themselves in making experiences like this possible for people who need it most.

More Kentucky Remembers! camps are still in progress in other parts of the state. If the other camps have compiled as much material as my camp has, the textbook on human rights to be created from all of this work will be a thick read rich with personal and unique content enriching the lives of students in public school throughout the state.

“Kentucky Remembers!,” our last day

It’s hard to believe what we have accomplished in 5 days!   This group of students have amassed an impressive audio archive of interviews with members of their own community who are of a generation safeguarding firsthand experiences of human rights struggles, which these kids would not have otherwise known so intimately.   They have written about their research, documented the people and places they’ve seen with pictures, and translated all of this information into their own visual interpretation on canvas.

My usual work is of course a one-woman show, so it was amazing to see our 4′ x 6′ mural fill with color faster than I could keep track.   The students were devoted and incredibly impressed with their own work.   We also discovered strengths among each delegate.   Some people were on detail duty, focusing on the text, some were better at design, and then we had a few color experts who often consulted on color temperature contrast and value.

At the end of the day, we had a finished polished masterpiece, an enormous amount of historical material to contribute to the upcoming Kentucky Remembers! textbook, written a Paducah/Murray theme song, and planned a community celebration for the next day, which you will hear about very soon…

“Kentucky Remembers!,” day 4

I’m learning the power of small groups. The Kentucky Remembers staff is finding the students are far more productive when we break them up in smaller committees. Although one of the committees is specifically devoted to the mural, everyone has been rotating in to help. Things are really coming together and the painting is about 80% finished.

We contacted several local reporters today and hope that a Murray news station will stop by the church tomorrow to see us in action. There’s also some potential for an article about Saturday’s closing celebration.

“Kentucky Remembers!,” day 3

Wow! We got a lot done today. When we started this morning, only half of the sketch was finished. What I’ve been most pleased with is that I’m finally beginning to see most of the students get attached to their work, taking pride in what they’re producing. I think they’re truly surprising themselves. There were several times today that the painting committee members stepped back to look at the mural and said in astonishment, “Oh my gosh, this is REALLY good!”

A few of them even began to get a little possessive of their artwork, which is a switch from the disengaged attitudes we started with. Students have been rotating from other committees to contribute to the mural, and “my” committee/painting committee has made it very clear that the others can only help if they’re “really serious.”

We’re hoping to get some newspaper and TV attention either during our last 2 days, or at Saturday’s community celebration where the students will be unveiling the mural and presenting parts of their audio interviews, photos, and essays. They will be contacting the media themselves. I really am proud of them!

Suzuki Assoc giving music to youth

7″ x 9″ watercolor
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I played the cello as a child and was having a flashback yesterday as I watched a slightly confused, wee little cellist with an open mouth and bangs in her eyes try to follow along with the other 100+ young musicians on stage. Her eyes were doing far more moving than her fingers, which I found easy to remember, incredibly endearing, and admittedly amusing.

Yesterday’s orchestral performance was thanks to a local chapter of the Suzuki Association of the Americas which, “is a coalition of teachers, parents, educators, and others who are interested in making music education available (throughout North and South America) to all children.” The music-making nonprofit was certainly exhibiting success in numbers as I’ve never seen so many mini crocs and missing baby teeth.

The entire performance offered an entertaining mix of music, comical instruction from the adults, and unusual uses for a bow (such as poking your neighbor). Clearly the Suzuki Association offers an introduction into the world of string instruments for youth that may not otherwise have had the opportunity.

Click here for a direct link to watch this painting being painted.

Teaching what I do best

8″ x 10″ oil on masonite
Not for sale.
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Last fall, I was a guest artist at a Houston community center for ArtBridge. The nonprofit organization offers art programs to homeless children as a much needed emotional outlet. I was given free reign and decided to have the children replicate what I do, with an emphasis on portraiture. My explanation to them of my work went something like this:

“I paint people doing good things. Sometimes their work is very hard (ie CASA) and it can make them sad. Then sometimes they get to do things that make them very happy. I make art of all of it.”

The objective was to have them take the opportunity to embrace whatever emotions they were experiencing and capture it in a portrait. Attention spans were short and I may not inspired any Van Goghs, but we had fun and let off some steam. I think I got the most out of the lesson by being reminded, once again, that in spite of what hardships people face, they can be surprisingly happy. Huge smiles were in abundance.

This portrait is clearly one of my happy expressions. I love painting people I love, so creating this piece was as great as sand between my toes (a good thing for me) or chocolate cake. I hope that my one time instruction helped the disadvantaged children realize the power of artistic expression. This is powerful stuff!

I will soon be formally announcing an opportunity I’ve been afforded that takes my ArtBridge experience to a whole new level. I’m incredibly excited, but you’ll have to wait to hear about it until I get approval from the powers that be.