In 2019, generous grants from the Thomas Thompson Trust and the Kahn-Mason Foundation enabled RGS to initiate new collaborations with local orgainzations offering services to underserved segments of the community. Jess Weitz is the program director and she describes the program below:
“When I was coming here (to the painting class) I felt like I had a million things to do and they all fell away while I was here. It felt really good to make a choice to take care of myself. Thank you for coming all the way out here. We can feel isolated.”
Above is a comment from a resident of the Great River Terrace Housing Facility which provides apartments for 22 individuals in the community who have experienced persistent homelessness or may be struggling with addiction or mental health issues.
Where does the social fabric of community get sewn together? How do we connect with each other in a welcoming, egalitarian way? What role can art play in these questions?
River Gallery School of Art has been forging new partnerships in the Brattleboro community over the past year through their Art for Social Change Program.
River Gallery School has always had a robust scholarship program to help insure that children and adults can participate in their programs, regardless of their ability to pay the full class tuition. But this grant has taken them to another level of offering completely free art classes and workshops to different areas of the Brattleboro community.
Over the last few months the school has:
- Started a free weekly acrylic painting classes at Great River Terrace, a new transitional housing facility in Brattleboro.
- Started a free weekly screen printing classes for the Youth4Change group at The Roots Center for Social Change, serving people of color in our community.
- Provided free class tuition to kids through the Safe Place program for at-risk youth in our teen art class.
- Supported the Youth Services’ youth employment program by offering monthly mentoring in their screen printing program.
- Planned Meditation and Art classes in 4 free retreats for sexual abuse survivors with the Women’s Freedom Center.
- Provided 4 free Book Arts workshops held at the Brooks Memorial Library.
- Run 2 weekly sessions of their Meditation and Art class for free to community caregivers, both professional and family caregivers.
- Provided monthly free art workshops on a variety of techniques, including watercolor, paper cutting, and Pysanky egg decorating also for caregivers.
- School faculty has attended two training workshops: one in working with people with trauma and the other for creating safe and inclusive environments for LGBTQ youth.
“I love being able to refer a kid who isn't interested in traditional therapy to different types of therapeutic outlets so that at least in some way they are engaging in something that brings them into themselves and also out into the world. Art can be such a powerful form of self expression, and I love having the opportunity to provide our families the opportunity to participate in something like that. For me, referring to classes feels as important as referring to therapy. Yoga, dance, art, photography, etc. are all about taking time for oneself to explore the boundaries between self and other, and what a wonderful way for our kids to explore their boundaries!” --Abby Bliss, Director of Safe Place
The enthusiastic response from the community collaborators has been wonderful. Many are so grateful that art can offer further support to their clientele who would not be able to attend the art classes otherwise. What River Gallery School has realized over the past few months is that they are forging potentially long term relationships in the community and would like to be able to continue the work we have started this year into the future.
These grants also fund monthly art workshops for Community Caregivers, including a free Meditation and Art class and art workskshops.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended some Caregivers Workshops last year and hope to participate again this year. What a gift to spend some creative time just for ME while much of my leisure time is focused on tending to my spouse. Thank you!"
Brattleboro Business Underwriting
In addition to finding additional grant support for our new initiative, the school is looking for Brattleboro businesses and individual partners who would be interested in sponsoring one of our Art for Social Change programs over the coming years. And we have many more programs in the development stages! The cost to a business or individual would be between $500 - $1,000 per year depending on the specific class and we would advertise their sponsorship of the program.
Senior Outreach Program
In addition, RGS offers an ongoing Outreach Program for Seniors. Faculty member Marilyn Allen offers one class per week at the Brattleboro Senior Center for anyone interested in pursuing the pleasure of oil painting, whether for the first time or resuming an interest from an earlier time in life.
At the Brattleboro Senior Center on Tuesdays from 10am-Noon
Classes begin with an introduction to Sequencing, a technique developed by Ric Campman of the River Gallery School. This approach begins with direct experience of painting with your fingers that encourages fearless and joyful exploration of visual expression. Participants then follow paths that go in many different directions, generating excitement, pleasure and humor among the artists as they share their struggles and results. She also goes once a month to Pine Heights Nursing + Rehabilitation Home.
Ross Smart, RGS faculty member, offers weekly art making to clients at The Gathering Place, and bi-monthly for Bradley House residents. The pleasure of creative work appears to encourage participants to explore and learn in the company of others in a friendly atmosphere.