‘Women of Mass Construction,’ Stephanie & Aaliyah


11″ x 14″ oil on masonite board

Gallery caption:

Project Women (now the Family Scholar House) provides housing to single mothers who are experiencing homelessness and supports them in obtaining a baccalaureate degree, thereby enabling them to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their children.


Although Aaliyah coming into this world is the best thing that ever happened to Stephanie, being a committed single mother left her unable to give adequate attention to her own needs, specifically her education.   Without her college degree, Stephanie knew finding employment that would afford them stable, sufficient income was not a reality.   Project Women has provided them with housing and given Stephanie the support she needs to pursue her degree full-time.

Stephanie’s quote in the painting:

I began to believe that this was a blessing designed specifically for me.   I am now in an environment that understands the importance of education and does everything possible to help keep me on track while I pursue my dreams.

‘Women of Mass Construction,’ Virginia Durrance

11″ x 14″ oil on masonite board.
See all artwork available for sale.

Gallery caption:

Women In Transition is a grassroots organization run by and for poor people working on four primary campaigns: 1. Dismantling Classism, 2. CORROC (Claiming our Rights, Reclaiming our Children), 3. Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and 4. Louisville Living Wage Campaign & Raise the Wage.

Virginia’s involvement with WIT began after years of struggling to keep custody of her two daughters.   Poverty was most often the obstacle that stood between her and her children.   Although she worked two jobs, it didn’t provide her family with their basic needs.

WIT ‘s services would have been a tremendous asset during those challenging times, but Virginia has benefited greatly from the amazing social justice advocates she has since met.   She now volunteers as a parent advocate, helping others living below the poverty level navigate the legal system as they work to maintain custody of their children.

Quote in the painting:

If I had known of an organization like this then, I wouldn’t have lost my girls.   They motivate me and inspire me.

Building People Power

Barack and Michelle Obama
8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $350 ($50 donated to Kentucky Jobs With Justice)

By guest writer, Attica Scott, Kentucky Jobs With Justice Coordinator

I’m in DC this inaugural weekend and thinking about what this moment in history means. For two days, I sat in meetings of the National Organizers Alliance thinking about how Obama’s election is helping to advance our movements for human rights and social justice. When I see the future first family, I see community and culture. But then I walk outside and I see overwhelming amounts of fanaticism and I get concerned about what we are building power for.

Are we creating an environment that will set up Obama for failure? Will we turn our backs on him when he cannot solve all of our problems like toxins from nuclear weapon waste being dumped into the water supply of towns in New Mexico and causing cancer to its residents? Or are we building a new kind of power that demands that those of us who consider ourselves organizers hold Mr. Obama just as accountable as we do all other elected officials?

As a non-profit organization, we at Kentucky Jobs With Justice cannot engage in partisan politics. But that means we need to intensify our electoral organizing year-round in a way that says to folks that we need you involved on the regular. That we are moving from this “moment” to building “movements.”

I think that what this moment means is that we are called to rebuild and redefine community organizing. Rebuild in a way that maintains the enthusiasm that was created during the Obama campaign and acknowledges that organizing takes many different forms. Redefine in a way that recognizes the complementary nature of new forms of on-line organizing and deep-rooted ways of building relationships. It is up to us to do the hopeful work that leads to change in our communities every single day.

Kentucky Jobs With Justice
1800 W Muhammad Ali Blvd, Suite 2E
Louisville KY 40203
Check us out on MySpace

DONATE NOW at www.kyjwj.org to support economic justice & workers’ rights

‘Climate Change on Canvas’ at UN conference

As excited as I was to be a part of the Oxfam “Climate Change on Canvas” project, I was disappointed to hear outcomes from UN the conference left something to be desired.   Theo Ratcliff of Oxfam International reported, “The conference in Poznan was meant to be a key milestone between the start of negotiations in Bali last year and their conclusion at Copenhagen next year. But it has exposed a shameful lack of progress. By now, developed nations were meant to have outlined their plans for emissions reductions, finance and technology; they have failed to do so.”

I heard a similar report on NPR, which described failure between wealthy and developing countries to agree on collaborative efforts to fund and otherwise positively affect climate change (such as the Adaption Fund).   A reporter for the San Fransisco Chronicle summed up the conference with, “…they came, they talked and they departed. And that’s about it.”

For a glimpse of the conference in review on a lighter note, check out pictures of the “Climate Change on Canvas Project on the Oxfam flickr page.   I was truly impressed with the Oxfam initiative to engage artists, students and community groups in this public awareness campaign.   They get a spot in my top 5 nonprofit groups.

‘Climate Change on Canvas’

48″ x 72″ oil on canvas

I am so incredibly honored to publish this post. This enormous painting was commissioned by my favorite kind of client, a nonprofit organization. I was selected by Oxfam America to create an image that represents the connection between climate change and poverty. The work will also represent Oxfam America’s Climate Change on Canvas project at the next United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Poznan, Poland in December, 2008.

Oxfam America is an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice. The goal of the Climate Change on Canvas project is to use artwork and visual imagery to challenge the UN delegates to recognize the effects of climate change on the world’s poorest communities. Lacking sufficient resources, poor communities are least prepared to adapt to the most severe impacts of climate change. To learn more about Oxfam’s climate change campaign, visit www.oxfamamerica.org/climate

Oxfam America is just one of many Oxfam International affiliates who will be creating canvases for this project. Similar works of art will travel from all over the world created by professional artists, unknown artists and members of developing communities to be exhibited at the UN conference, representing a unified global movement around climate change and poverty. This piece will go to Poland and come back to the US where Oxfam plans to use art as a mobilization tool around climate change in 2009.

You should know that Oxfam is also looking for similar works from art students from around the country. If you are interested in learning more about this component of the project, email Oxfam’s Lead Student Organizer, Gabriel Barreras, at gbarreras[at]oxfamamerica[dot]org.

Thanks to Oxfam staff for contributing content for this post.

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!

Sharpen your vocab, feed the hungry

Confession: I have a knack for an embarrassingly horrific use of the English language. I think I was in my twenties when someone politely pointed out that I was pronouncing “fruition” as “fruitation.” I’ve downloaded an extension on my web browser that highlights all misspelled words in every application on my laptop. I’ve come to feel handicapped when I’m on someone else’s computer.

In my own defense, I’m very proactive about addressing this weakness. I subscribe to multiple word-of-the-day-emails and have downloaded another plug-in that lets me right click to get the definition of unknown words. But these approaches pale in comparison to the latest tool I’ve found that does far more than flex the brain’s language muscles. FreeRice is a website where your reward for each correct multiple choice vocab questions equates to 20 grains of rice donated to feed the hungry. The donations are made possible through website advertisers. The rice is then distributed by the UN World Food Program.

Studying for the L/SAT or just readying yourself to impress a date? Fill empty bellies while you’re filling your head with new words.

Happiness is…

18″ x 24″ oil on canvas, SOLD.
See all artwork available for sale.

Are you happy? Would you say you’re a happier person than a citizen of a neighboring country? How do you measure happiness?

A 2006 study calculating happiness by nation has added a new unit of measurement to the typical equation of income and access to quality health care and education. Inserting the new variable seems to be based on the theory of “what goes around, comes around.” The Happy Planet Index reminds us that we live in the environment we help create by naming ecological sustainability as one of its 3 primary indicators. No one wants to call smog-filled community without clean water home. The study “shows the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens.”

A more traditional study would likely name a Scandinavian country such as Denmark the world leader of pleasure and contentment. The Happy Planet Index bestows the title to the unlikely candidate of Vanuatu, a small freckling of islands in the South Pacific that only gained its dependence from Britain and France in the 1970’s.

Analyzing life satisfaction, life expectancy, and ecological footprint yields some very surprising results. Mexico and Columbia are 2 of very few countries on the index’s world map positively denoted in green. Give their survey a spin for yourself to gain a better understanding of information collected for the study. Hopefully you are happy and/because you’re ecological footprint is petite.

So who made that sweater you bought dad for Christmas?

18″ x 24″ oil painting on canvas, SOLD
See all artwork available for sale.

It’s a beautiful scene, isn’t it? Maybe for most, but for me personally, looking out my window and seeing a fresh blanket of snow does not make me think joyful and serene thoughts of the winter season. Instead I imagine opening my front door to step into a life-size freezer that stings my skin and drys my contacts to my eyeballs. I usually stand at my window and try to enjoy the white landscape from the comforts of my heated apartment until the chilling, drafty air seeps through the window to get me.

My distaste for winter had me knitting thick scarves for friends and family as Christmas gifts, motivated by the strange personal responsibility I feel to protect my loved ones’ well-being from the harsh elements. But as usual, time ran short and more of my yarn was still in a ball, not knitted in rows. I’ve turned to the web to supplement the goods I couldn’t produce myself, but with the great disadvantage of specifically looking for items made under fair working conditions.

Earlier this week I got a thorough update on sweatshops on this NPR program. An independent factory inspector and other industry experts laid out the various components of the industry including cheaper, more loosely regulated overseas labor, market transparency and socially responsible alternatives. I then found a couple especially worthy resources to share with you.

If you aspire to be an armed consumer at all times, consider the back-pocket-sized “The Better World Shopping Guide” for yourself or as a gift. The comprehensive buyer’s companion is a directory that ranks companies based on their commitment to social and environmentally conscious business practices.

Too busy to look up a company’s ranking? Go straight to a retailer that professes fair practices in its name, “No Sweat.” Yoga pants, hoodies, jeans, screen printed shirts and yes, scarves are available at very reasonable prices. If you have to venture out into that gigantic outdoor freezer, at least you can say your body heat is being guarded by garments produced under humane and fair working conditions.

Unique meaning to “mobile home” for Seattle’s homeless

detail of 5″ x 7″ watercolor
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This summer, while doing research in preparation for a working trip to Seattle, I was introduced to a highly unique approach to addressing homelessness: “Tent Cities.” I found a 2005 Seattle Times article profiling an elementary school teacher, Peggy Hotes, who immersed herself in the plight of Seattle residents unable to afford the city’s 32% higher cost of living than the national average. Peggy soon found her compassion would spark the beginning of an extended metropolitan camping trip alongside Tent City residents to learn more about the system that prevents the able-bodied tent residents from affording permanent housing.

I contacted Peggy to schedule a face-to-face explanation of Tent Cities while I was in her neighborhood, then drove to a Thai restaurant to meet her with a list questions such as, “Do you think we should combat homelessness with prison reentry programs and substance abuse rehabilitation?” With all the civility and kindness that a war-worn advocate of civil rights could muster, she educated me about the various (and little known) forms of homelessness. I hadn’t given much thought to homelessness resulting not because of an addiction, but because a full time job (and maybe more than one) did not provide enough income to cover their cost of living.

After a good sociology lesson over pad thai, Peggy took me to Tent City 4, the nomadic camp where she has spent most of her time. At this point I had no idea what to expect, my preconceived ideas having been dismembered over dinner. We drove to the church where the front lawn was partially occupied by Tent City 4 for its standard 90 day stay. The complexity of the self-governing mini-town and diversity of its residents really caught me off guard. I met a woman working a shift at the check-in tent (outfitted with a desk and computer). The tall fence bordering the huddled canvas-thin houses created this single point of entry where the woman on duty ensured resident-created policies were being honored. Residents of a Tent City are screened for outstanding arrest warrants and sex offenses. No minors are allowed to stay overnight, no alcohol on the premises, and quiet hours are from 9pm-8am.

I can’t honestly make a generalized statement about the residents I met that evening; there were no stereotypical parallels between them other than the fact that none could afford traditional housing and they shared an affinity for coffee. To provide some individual color: I met a young white girl leaving to catch a bus to her full time job at Nintendo and a middle-aged Hispanic film producer preparing for a meeting with his investors the next day. No beggars, starving children, trembling drug addicts, pick-pockets, tattered clothes, shopping carts full of aluminum cans or empty beer bottles were in sight. This was a place of dignity for capable people struggling to find balance between current wages and the cost of living.

Tent City advocates also work diligently to lobby for policy change that will fairly ameliorate difficult living conditions and allow them to move back into apartments and homes. The courage to take a stand and the wherewithal to establish an alternative to homeless shelters found in those tents was amazing.

I was disappointed, however, in what I sensed as a level of complacency for Tent City residents. Peggy made it very clear there was no director or person of authority checking that residents were applying for a job, attending money management classes, going to school, etc. Residents could stay as long as they liked and no one would ever ask if they were employed or aspired to greater things. I do have issue with that because I think it encourages lackadaisical behavior in people who are looking for a second option to avoid proactively finding ways (i.e. education and job training) to make their income meet expenses. Many other people have been on the cusp of a similar existence, but have chosen one of multiple ways to increase their chances of joining a higher paying work force. That challenge yields a more beneficial, educated society. And who better to advocate for a living wage than an erudite former Tent City resident who went on to graduate from law school and fight for the cause on a level playing field?

World Hunger Relief Week

5″ x 7″ watercolor in a 12″ x 15″ frame
Click here to see picture of framed painting.
Painting sold to be auctioned here on eBay to raise money for WFP.

Watching Hotel Rwanda last night and anticipating this Saturday’s visit by exiled Rwandan, King Kigeli Ndahindurwa V, has reminded me, in a roundabout way, to mention that this is World Hunger Relief Week. Yum! Brands, one of the world’s largest commercial food manufactures, has joined efforts with the United Nations World Food Programme to address this global issue. Yum! Brand’s efforts are threefold: utilize their powerful marketing capabilities to raise awareness, fundraising (in stores and online, with an additional 7% of the donated amount matched by the Yum! Foundation), and recruiting Yum! employees to volunteer at food banks, to collect donations, and more.

By pulling from Yum! customers at 35,000 restaurants in 110+ countries, the company and WFP hope to raise enough money to feed half a million people. A modest contribution can go a very long way in areas in the most dire need of food. The World Hunger Relief Week website states:

  • Giving just US$1 can help five people avoid starvation.
  • $10 can feed a hungry person for a month
  • $34 can feed a child in school for the entire academic year
  • $100 can feed a class of 25 students for a month
  • $500 can build a school garden, supplying children with fresh, nutritious produce
  • $1000 can provide emergency rations to nearly 2,000 people

I can hardly eat on $10/day, much less $10/month.

With 1 in 7 people in the world going hungry everyday, I hope you’re compelled to give while you’re out to lunch this week. If, like me, you’re not a regular customer at Yum! Brand restaurants (Taco Bell, KFC and several others), you can make an online donation by visiting www.fromhungertohope.com.

FareStart serving up delectable dishes with a side of hope

5″ x 7″ watercolor in 12″ x 15″ frame, $220 ($10 donated to FareStart)

At the intersection of the demand for great food and people in need of job training and employment is an organization I toured while visiting Seattle: FareStart. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of downtown, FareStart hosts hungry customers in a sophisticated and swank interior with culinary presentation and flavors that match in quality. What’s unique about FareStart is a kitchen swarming not with well recognized foreign chefs, but rather Seattle residents who are homeless or otherwise disadvantaged.

FareStart offers a free 16 week job training program to prepare students for careers in the food service industry. During that period, case managers and FareStart staff address the needs of each individual, such as housing, transportation, crisis management and employment services. The boarder objective is to create a sustainable lives and eliminate poverty from the equation for each participant.

Monday through Friday, 11-2, FareStart is building the confidence and skills of the staff-in-training as they please the palates of Seattle residents with upscale dishes including “toasted hazelnut field roast.” Additionally, every Thursday night a premier guest chef works with the students on a new and exciting three course meal. This week’s chef is Adam Stevenson of Earth and Ocean, featuring the following tempting menu:


grilled octopus and adam’s hand crafted salami

grilled red potatoes, cilantro pesto, crisp pears

vegetarian: pear and grilled red potato salad


grilled all natural lamb sirloin

foie gras creamed spinach, smoked goat cheese, red wine reduction

vegetarian: arancine, heirloom tomato, fennel confit



warm, wild and wicked cake

If you live in the area, or plan to visit, I highly recommend you experience the fruits of this amazing organization with your own mouth. They are located at 7th and Virginia and take reservations (206-267-7601) for the Thursday night dinners. They also do catering, private parties and offer a conference room for lunch meetings. So dine for the greater good! Cheers!


Urban Robin Hood serving modern poor

30″ x 36″ oil on canvas

During my recent 2 weeks in Seattle, an unintentional theme of poverty presented itself in my agenda of meetings with community activists and nonprofit staff. Talking to people both personally effected by poverty and those involved in administrative roles opened my naive eyes to the nature of the issue and deepened my sensitivity. Just finishing Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family was also a rude awakening to a culture foreign to a middle class kid like myself.

I held a preconceived perception of poverty that assumed there was something “wrong” with a person who couldn’t afford housing, food, and other essentials; that something needed to be fixed about that individual. True, there are many factors, such as substance abuse, that may contribute to an individual’s inability to support themself, although in many cases, poverty means that a full-time job and frugal living does not equal the cost of living. Hindering circumstance outside of one’s own control, taking on a multitude of forms, can snowball into devastating financial results demanding more than a lifetime to surmount (ie death of a spouse, illness, or even a car accident resulting in a sudden loss of transportation).

Of course, I have several pieces in the works inspired by my interactions with the folks in Seattle, but the broader issue of poverty is a great tie-in to a nonprofit in New York that has been collecting dust in my backlog of organizations waiting to be featured here. The long awaited completion of this painting of NYC presented the perfect opportunity to bring Robin Hood to center stage.

Robin Hood, much like United Way, boasts a record of impressive efficiency with dwarfed administrative cost. Both organizations fund other nonprofits rather than offering services directly to individuals themselves, inherently cutting administrative costs, but additionally,

“Robin Hood’s Board of Directors underwrites all of [their] fundraising and administrative expenses. From the rent to staff salaries to the website…it’s all paid for so your money goes to help others. [They] believe the urgent need in New York’s poor communities requires [them] to put every dollar out on the streets helping people and not in an endowment.”

What all of this means for New York residents is that more services and aid are made available to them to overcome poverty, whether that condition be the result of a self-destructive lifestyle, or the more common inability to afford the cost of living in spite of very sincere effort to make ends meet.

Much of what I read on their website reads like a landing page for a venture capital firm: “follows an extensive due diligence process to ensure that every dollar invested generates results,” and “before investing in a program…reviews its strategy, scrutinizes its financial statements, evaluates its management teams, and conducts multiple visits.” The business speak certainly is indicative of backgrounds of the successful board of directors spearheading the organization. Such an approach has proved to be highly effective, as indicated in their quarterly updates and success stories. Thank goodness since, reportedly from their website, 1 in 6 New Yorkers live in poverty.

Not surprisingly, “Beyond Housing” is about more than a roof over your head

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $220 ($50 donated to Beyond Housing)
See all artwork available for sale.

Thanks to Eileen Flanagan for bringing to my attention a St Louis nonprofit I would have otherwise missed: Beyond Housing. Comparable in focus to Habitat for Humanity, the organization’s aim is to couple an increasingly unlikely pair: low income individuals or families and affordable housing. The niche of Beyond Housing differs from that of the larger scale Habitat for Humanity in that their work is devoted to building educational, financial, and personal skills necessary for homeownership verses literally building the actual homes.

Bad habits, learned routines, lack of education, illness, debt, lack of resources and so on can keep a suffocating leash on people who otherwise have the potential and wherewithal to beat the paycheck-to-paycheck rat race. Intervention can be key in shifting gears and implementing a new plan towards attaining adequate, affordable housing. St Louis area residents utilizing Beyond Housing have an array of services available to them including: Service-Enriched Rental Housing, Homeownership Services, and Community Building. A few of the particulars of the three programs are:

  • Employment counseling and vocational assistance.
  • GED educational support.
  • Transportation assistance.
  • Individual Development Accounts (matched savings accounts to encourage saving and asset accumulation).
  • Parenting skills.
  • Crisis intervention.
  • Child care assistance.
  • Money management training.

I’ll leave you with a few stats pulled from Beyond Housing’s website that paint a picture of the need associated with their cause:

“According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, ‘for the first time … a full-time worker at minimum wage cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country.” Nationally, a family with two full-time workers earning federal minimum wage would make just $21,424, while they would need to make $32,822 to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. To afford a Fair Market Rate three-bedroom apartment in St. Louis, a minimum wage employee would need to work 129 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job.'”

“Over 100 requests are made for each rental home [Beyond Housing has] available. ”

“7,000 families are on the local waiting list for public housing.”

And on a good note:

“Last year, Beyond Housing staff provided home buyers training to 441 individuals, one-on-one budget and credit counseling to 361 individuals, and anti-predatory lending training to 1,007 individuals. Moreover, Beyond Housing staff conducted foreclosure intervention counseling sessions for 54 individuals and directly intervened to prevent eight foreclosures.”

“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
See all artwork available for sale.

“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 www.emptybowls.org.”

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 www.emptybowls.org to find an event near you. Also be sure to check out Erin’s pottery at www.erinspottery.com. 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?