Article and photos by Daniel McGee
It’s not every Saturday in the Tri-Cities that you can watch artists create pieces on the spot for a three-hour competition, enjoy heavy hors d’oeurves, participate in live and silent auctions, and enjoy live music and other performances, but this upcoming Saturday will be a festive exception thanks to Do-Art of Bay City.
The fifth annual ArtClash raises money for Do-Art, which provides art classes to people with special needs and other area residents.
Fifty adult artists and fifteen youth artists will be painting, sculpting, printing, and building for a number of money prizes. Awards will be chosen by a jury of artists and faculty, and the artwork created during the night will be sold, with 50% of the proceeds going to the artists and 50% to Do-Art.
Through last year’s event, Do-Art raised the more money than any other fundraiser in its larger non-profit Do-All organization's history. This year’s silent auction includes tickets for boat rides on the Saginaw River, a night in the Double Tree, and coupons for local restaurants.
Do-Art is a subsidiary of the Do-All organization. It started with a small group of artists and volunteers. In the space adjoining the Do-All store on Washington in downtown Bay City, the group began reusing materials from the thrift shop to make and display art. Running on grants from organizations such as Bay-Area Behavioral Health and donations, Do-Art now has a staff of part-time gallery attendants and teachers, owns a book shop and framing center, offers two classes each business day, and sees 120 regular students each month. And in partnership with Workforce, it also prepares potential employees for placement in many fields, even sending recent trainees to job sites with a coach.
High school student Michaela Metiva has learned about retail, general housekeeping and maintenance, data entry, and studio management through her co-op at Do-Art. The young artist has tried her hand at many media through the gallery and even done some instructing in the studio's classrooms.
“The people are always friendly and warm and welcoming,” she explains, taking a break from some of the day’s paperwork. “When you work with the students, you feel all warm inside. It’s like no other experience.” Such experiences have kept her coming back to the studio for over a year now.
Crystal Davidson is also training at Do-Art. Like Michaela, she enjoys her time at the gallery because of its strong sense of community. “We’re family,” she says.
And there is indeed a familiarity and homey feel to the place; “If they went to totally different styles,” Davidson says, referring to the many artists responsible for the paintings and prints covering the gallery’s walls, “I’d still know who made the artwork.”
Do-Art takes a different approach to its gallery displays by selling the works of local artists—some of whom have worked in their respective media for years and have had formal training—alongside those of Do-Art trainees, many of whom, by contrast, have only picked up a paintbrush a few weeks prior. No distinction is made on the walls or on shelves between the artists’ experiences or training.
This set-up, according to Metiva, “makes everybody feel equal.” Metiva and Davidson agree that people avoid checking art out or making it because they don’t want to be belittled for a perceived lack of talent or knowledge.
The two workers joke around easily with the Assistant Gallery Manager, Wende McSweyn, who elaborates on Do-Art’s democratic take on the art gallery, stating that teamwork is key in the studio and that “no one does more than the other, no one knows more.” She adds that people from many diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, lifestyles, and ages frequent the gallery, with a 17-year-old as the youngest regular and a 70-year old as the oldest.
Gallery Manager Linda Cassar emphasizes that Do-Art’s bottom line is helping people reach greater independence in their professional and personal lives. Classes and training programs focus on the abilities, not disabilities, of each individual trainee. She and fellow staff members are concerned with “creating better boundaries for prospectives looking for work.” As far as job preparation goes, workers learn to be punctual, dependable, and cooperative with others to meet goals,
And while Cassar is proud of the technical skills that the Do-Art artists-in-training acquire during class, she is quick to point out that the camaraderie and support within the gallery is far more valuable. Students often face challenges that are “not just a matter of physical capability, but also emotional,” and the confidence-building and self-expression inherent to art help address these challenges.
During classes, some of the students prefer sitting alone at their own private tables and working on projects separate from the rest of the class, or even putting together puzzles. Though these artists-in-training aren’t always working at the same pace or toward the same artistic ends, the important thing is that all of them have a safe, welcoming environment to return to.
Whether the budding artists face behavioral, cognitive, or physical obstacles, they, like everyone else, want the same thing: to find a place of belonging and a purpose.
“The essential qualities of people’s well-being,” Cassar notes, “are that they like who they are, they like what they are doing, and they like the people they associate with.” Do-Art, she affirms, fosters this well-being.
By providing a space for people to learn new skills and make new friends, the gallery contributes in a very special way to the larger Do-All non-profit’s mission to assist individuals in achieving self-sufficiency through leadership, empowerment, material supports, and employment training.
Always excited about the future of her gallery, Cassar hopes to one day feature music, writing, and performance classes at Do-Art. She is also planning on opening an upcycled, renewable clothing and accessory store across the street; preliminary work for the “Izzie’s on the Avenue” store is slated for this late spring and summer.
And Cassar is always on the look-out for ways to team-up with other non-profits inside and outside the Tri-Cities. She is also eager to meet more individuals and businesses who are willing to volunteer with Do-Art, donate art supplies (or potential art supplies; many used materials and goods can have a second life in an art studio, Cassar explains, presenting an old metal wheel which her studio obtained from neighboring Do-All and which will now serve as a classroom loom), or simply stop in and take a look around the gallery.
There’s constant excitement and growth at Do-Art, but ArtClash remains one of its yearly highlights. The event is a unique opportunity to support a unique organization. Join the fun this weekend.
When: Saturday, April 13, 2013, 6:00-9 PM
Where: Do-All, Inc.
1400 S. Lincoln Ave.
Bay City, MI 48708
Phone: (989) 894-2851
© Daniel McGee, 2013