By Contributor Eric Blauer
In East Central Spokane I’m discovering how art has the power to bring different cultures, generations, backgrounds and social classes together.
Over the last six years working in this neighborhood my church has hosted numerous artistic events designed to celebrate, educate and nurture artistry and beauty here in this community.
Poverty can often produce a chronic underlying depression, a subconscious drain on motivation, the great “whatever” of disempowerment and hopelessness.
One of the dead fruits of such debilitating vision is ugliness.
Ugliness manifests itself in many ways around my neighborhood. Graffiti, trash accumulation and careless distribution, overgrown or uncared for vacant houses decaying from years of absent out-of-state landlords, over worked single parent homes, fear based need for guard dogs that result in destroyed yards, a tapestry of tarps draped on countless roofs, cars and buildings — cheap fixes for welfare budgets. Boarded, barred, fenced, and darkened drug dens, broken down Jalopy land are the results of little cash, no repairs and purchasing habits that reflect low-income realities and predatory auto sellers.
Then there’s ‘Pajama Pant Syndrome;’ one of the ills of welfare, unemployment and neighborhood violence. Many people live ‘inside lives’ and hardly come out into public. When they do it’s from necessity, not pleasure. Many folks around here live isolated, lonely, nervous and secluded lives all because of poverty’s power.
On and on I could go. Lack produces an environment and mentality of disbelief and despair.
Art is one way to awaken hope and joy in communities where seeing beauty is often an act and practice of faith.
We do a lot of work with refugees, who in struggling economies and with limited education and english skills, are often living in the center or the margins of poverty.
We’ve found that creating art together is one way to develop friendship, teach conversational English, tell life stories and give back the gift of beauty to one another.
Creating art becomes a potent weapon in the fight against poverty. Teaching and learning to see goodness worth retelling in different artistic mediums is an empowering skill for those who often feel like they are imprisoned.
Last night I attended our “English Language Experience Group” for refugee kids run by three awesome women volunteers. During this quarter they are focusing on art. I was invited to come and share my art, answer prepared questions from the kids and join them in creating something together.
I talked about the ins and outs of ‘Impressionism‘, explained its impact on me and the freedom I think it gives budding artists. We viewed work from various famous and then created our own masterpieces.
I’m reminded of the artist Robert Henri‘s scathing, but often true, critique of religious leaning souls as I think about sitting there talking, laughing, making messes, exploring new skills, practicing communicating and nurturing creative minds and hearts.
“I am always sorry for the Puritan, for he has guided his life against desire and against nature, he found what he thought was comfort, for he believed the spirit’s safety was in negation, but he has never given the world one minute’s joy or produced one symbol of the beautiful order of nature. He sought peace in bondage and his spirit became a prisoner,” he wrote in his book, “The Art Spirit.”
Last night, and through our the last six years we’ve been proving Henri wrong. Faith and purity are powerful sources of transformation.
In East Central Spokane, I’m seeing art change lives picture after picture, painting after painting, poem upon poem and song upon song.