“Color My Dreams” empowers Goodwill trainees through art

by Dee Grano

Britany Crosby is one of the artists featured at the “Color My Dreams” exhibit at the Charlotte Art League’s gallery. The gallery is open through Friday, March 30. Photo courtesy of Goodwill

Britany Crosby is already a professional artist at 23, having sold her first pieces at Charlotte Art League’s “Color My Dreams.”

The new exhibit features participants in Goodwill’s Employment Skills Training (EST) program.  The artwork is diverse in variety, form and perspective; artists range in age from 19 to 60 and many have Down Syndrome or autism.  More on the exhibition can be found online at www.charlotteartleague.org.

“Britany only started art classes six months ago but has accelerated,” Constance Mitchell, a community trainer with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, said. Mitchell also teaches mosaics. She transports Crosby and her classmates to Charlotte Art League every Wednesday, where Sandra Gray takes over teaching students watercolor painting and photographic collage.

Charlotte Art League supports regional artists who work in a variety of contemporary and traditional media with affordable working studios and display space in Charlotte’s SouthEnd.  Since 1964, the all-volunteer run Charlotte Art League has rotated member shows regularly.  Gray revitalized the organization’s community outreach effort in 2005 and works with a variety of students from Goodwill to the Metrolina Association for the Blind.

“It’s not art therapy or a craft class,” Gray explained.  “I am teaching art and the principals behind art.”

Since graduating from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in Studio Art in the 1970s, Gray has taught art in various classroom settings – from inner city schools to U.S. Army posts in Germany.  She made a career in Charlotte designing and painting sets for children’s theater.

Like Gray, Crosby prefers painting and plans her work in advance.  “I think about color and design,” she said. She knows she’s finished “when it’s straightened out.”

Gray explains her student’s unique process: “She has a lot of stability in the way she works.  She attacks it from the ground up with a lot of confidence.”  In addition to building self-esteem, art instruction teaches students to simultaneously take direction and think for themselves.

When the art is complete, Gray and other league volunteers prepare the work and curate the show.  Crosby’s name graces several pieces in “Color My Dreams.”  Most are her creation but others are classmate collaboration.  As a peer trainer, Crosby offers assistance where needed, saying, “I just like to help.”

“Art is about communication,” Gray said.  “If you communicate well enough then you can sell.”  For every painting sold, 80 percent of the sales go directly to the artist.  Another 10 percent benefits Goodwill and the rest supports Charlotte Arts League, both 501c3 non-profit organizations.  Commission splits are common in art sales and teach trainees that, like any business, “art requires administration,” Gray said.

“The money they make selling their artwork keeps them motivated,” Mitchell added.  “The EST program teaches them about savings, getting their own place and getting a job.”

With her art earnings, Crosby has plans to “put some in the bank” but is looking forward to treating herself to an iPod, some clothes and a new hairdo.  Ultimately Crosby wants to work with children at a day care.  “She’s a nurturer,” Mitchell said tenderly,  adding that her students “make you want to come to work.”

“I learn as much from them as they do from me,” Gray said.  “Their take on whatever it is that I’m instructing them is always a surprise.”

See visual art from a unique perspective, readily available year-round at Charlotte Art League hosting Britany Crosby and other Goodwill trainees in “Color My Dreams,” on exhibition through Friday, March 30. The Charlotte Art League gallery is located at 1517 Camden Road.

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