Art will go beyond surface delight to issues of literacy and communication in two community projects with public receptions Thursday.
In “The HeART of the Homeless” at the Salvation Army’s shelter in downtown Waco, homeless children and adults find a voice through painting, drawing and working with crafts, with their finished work on display in a courtyard area adjoining the center’s kitchen.
At J.H. Hines Elementary School, after-school art students provided the illustrations for two stories written to help kindergarten and first-grade students strengthen their literacy skills.
“The HeART of the Homeless” is the brainchild of Salvation Army Major Anita Caldwell, who with her husband Brad, a Salvation Army commander, lead the organization’s social work in Waco. She saw how the adults and children often were transformed or captivated while working on art after meals at the shelter or Sally’s House, the Salvation Army’s shelter for women and families with children.
She recalled one night where one boy, hopeful about his future, drew a scene with sunshine, green grass and blue skies. Another, a wide-eyed five-year-old on his first night with his family at Sally’s House, drew only in blacks and browns. With a little nudging from Caldwell, he worked in some yellow and then some red, and gradually relaxed.
The light went on for Caldwell.
“It spoke volumes to me: These kids just need to express their feelings,” she said.
Caldwell paired that insight with her memory of European artist parks, civic places where artists would showcase and sell their pieces, that she recalled from the years that the Caldwells served in Eastern Europe.
“Wouldn’t this be a great art park place?” she said.
When City Center Waco called for submissions for downtown art projects, the Salvation Army submitted what became “The HeART of the Homeless.” City Center Waco agreed to provide some money for supplies, with community volunteers handling the rest.
Diana Barrett, who handles the Salvation Army’s Waco public relations and volunteer outreach, noted that the art project also provided an opportunity to demonstrate resource management: 13 display boxes were built from recycled wood pallets while broken jewelry that couldn’t be sold in the organization’s Thrift Store offered raw material for art making.
Thursday’s reception, part of National Salvation Army Week activities, will allow the public to see the works and there’s talk about allowing public access during downtown Waco’s First Friday activities. “We do want the community to walk through it,” said Barrett.
That’s an experience Caldwell would like to see as well, even as she and her husband likely will miss seeing the fruits of the exhibit, moving to the Mississippi Gulf Coast next month due to a Salvation Army assignment. “I hope people begin to see the homeless as people with infinite worth and value,” she said.
Students illustrate book
The “Bad Friends & Monsters!” art project at J.H. Hines Elementary School started as a good idea — stories written to help young readers — that snowballed into a better one — a small book illustrated by those readers’ fellow students, thanks to community involvement.
The stories, “Bad Friends” and “Don’t Eat Me, Monsters,” came from Baylor University administrator and J.H. Hines volunteer Ashley Bean Thornton, using sight words meant to strengthen reading skills for kindergartners and first-graders. She thought the finished stories needed something to pull in those readers. That led her, parent and community involvement leader Robin Newman, and teachers Bonnie McAdams and Susan Sistrunk to get Hines’ after-school Art Club involved.
Sistrunk, Hines’ art teacher and an active Waco artist herself, said the club was intended to give students interested in art more time and adult attention to pursue that interest. The club’s nearly a dozen or so third- and fourth-graders jumped into the project with gusto, forming groups to discuss how to illustrate the stories, then creating those illustrations.
Imagination added fuel with paint and crayons supplemented by cotton balls and tissue paper for clouds, tortillas and crushed tortilla chips, even broccoli (trees) as media.
After the students finished their illustrations, the next step came when volunteers from Baylor Press helped design and lay out the two stories as a small book. Other volunteers found money to print copies of the book — enough for each Hines kindergartner and first-grader to have a copy.
“It was a small project, but a lot of people helped,” Thornton said.
Thursday’s reception at the East Waco Library will show the book’s original artwork with student artists present to meet the public. Copies of the book will be sold for $10.