RACC funding brings art classes to residents living in affordable housing

By Heather Morrill, The Giving Tree NW

For eight weeks, beginning September 2016, two groups of residents living in affordable housing took part in The Giving Tree’s Art Explorations. These class sessions, brought directly on-site to the community rooms at Alder House Apartments and Station Place Tower, were funded in part by an Arts Equity Grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC).

The Giving Tree NW provides opportunities for residents living in affordable housing to gather together as a community, and improve their quality of life, through art, education and recreation. Participants are seniors, veterans, people with mental illnesses, physical limitations, developmental disabilities and/or recovering from addictions, all united by low or fixed incomes. They are also artists, makers, musicians, writers, dreamers and doers.

Art Explorations breaks isolation and brings diverse individuals together to share a new experience. These classes are a chance for participants to build community, utilize art as a means of communication, and tap wells of strength and creativity that had been previously hidden.

RACC funding helped expand The Giving Tree’s existing 6-session Art Explorations curriculum by two sessions to include self-portrait work, to deepen lessons in self-expression, and see all the unique beauty each one of us offers. Artist and Art Instructor Suki Allen Olson, of Bird’s Eye View Studio, taught the eighth class session of the series, a self-portrait in ink. Taking a class at Suki’s studio captivated participants, expanding their technical skills and knowledge of working artists in the community.

J. King, an artist and affordable housing resident who completed Art Explorations on October 19th, is a shining example of the change engaging undeserved communities in art making can bring about.

“I suffer from a traumatic brain injury,” says King, “and expressing myself through art helps with my memory, thought patterns, ideas, and gives me something positive to do. A year and a half ago I was homeless (for 9 years, on the streets of Portland). I believe that Art Explorations has tapped a vein in me to express myself more through art, to participate in group art shows and try to make a name for myself and my work.”

With co-hosts Innovative Housing, Inc. and Erickson Gallery, The Giving Tree NW will display artwork created in 2016 during Art Explorations at Erickson Gallery, 9 NW 2nd Ave., for the month of November.

The celebratory First Thursday opening on November 3rd, 2016 from 5-7 p.m. will give the greater community of Portland an opportunity to see creative expressions that are usually invisible. It will give a creative voice to an under represented portion of our population, broadening our entire creative community and showing the impact and role of art in the goal of creating diverse, equitable communities.

RACC Arts Equity Grants provide financial support to organizations in Multnomah County and the City of Portland conducting arts and culture projects and programming for communities of color, immigrants, refugees, underserved neighborhoods, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ communities, and other under-represented communities. These grants help further RACC’s commitment to ensuring that everyone in our region has equal access to arts and the fundamental right to express their culture through the arts. A listing of other Arts Equity grantees for 2016-17 is available online. Arts Equity Grant applications will be available again in early 2017, and RACC anticipates the deadline will be in late February. Watch racc.org and Art Notes for further information.

Art by participants in The Giving Tree NW's Art Exploration classes.

Art by participants in The Giving Tree NW’s Art Exploration classes. The artists (L to R in order of their artwork) are: Cat Moncrieffe, Christi Hart, and Rosella Golden.