Artist and creator of the Epidemic project, Lisa Kelley, spoke to our class on March 21 about the work that she does with art in the Kensington community. Supported by Mural Arts, Kelley works out of the Kensington Storefront on Tuesdays, and Prevention Point on Thursdays, offering art workshops to the community. Some of the workshops include simple things like coloring, beading, and writing, to making lockets and weaving. While the workshops are open to all community members, Kelley said that many of the participants tend to be individuals that are homeless, or that have a substance use disorder. The workshops act as a safe space for people to get off of the street, channel their energy into art, and have open conversations with people in the community. Mural Arts provides snacks, and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services provides Certified Peer Specialists to socialize with individuals who have a substance use disorder, and assist them in any way they can. While the workshops are helpful to the community, Kelley shared with us the challenges that these community members experience: finding housing, lack of support, barriers for Spanish-speaking individuals, and not being treated well by some health professionals.
I thought the most interesting thing about the work that Kelley does, is that it was not started as an outlet strictly for individuals with a substance use disorder, but for all community members. It’s interesting how the neighborhood gave a community art forum another purpose. It was also interesting to hear about how much Kelley has learned about the community from her job, and how it has inspired her work. She brought in panels from her weaving project, Epidemic, and allowed us to contribute to it. She has people write on strips of white fabric about anything related to addiction, and then weaves them into a panel. Kelley told us that every day in the United States, 192 people die from an overdose. Kelley has panels from different events that she collected strips from, and aims to create 192 of them to represent the statistic. I thought this was a really interesting project that she’s working on, and I’m interested to see what will come of it when it’s finished.