“Sharing”, “caring”, ‘empowering’, and ‘community’ were all terms Cathy Sisler and Carol Graham, the Art Coordinators of the Art Garage, used in describing the impact of the expanding art programming community growing within Start Me Up Niagara (SMUN).
Building the Art Me Up program has been an ongoing effort at SMUN over the past fifteen years. Liz Roulston and the Expressions program, Aaron Wagner and the Art Me Up shows throughout the city, and the long term commitment and vision of Susan Venditti, have all been contributing factors to community passion for artistic expression. Grant commented how “the growth of the Art Me Up program only happens because its wanted… It grows because people are interested”.
Moving from the Start Me Up drop-in space, paired with the fact that Sisler had been using the back room of the current Art Garage as a studio, created a beautiful recipe for developing a safe and inclusive space for art. With the SMUN garden produce moving over to the SMUN Work-Action Centre, this opened up the physical space to build “a safe space for people in the community to come and spend their time and be creative. As an outlet for folks, whatever that form of creativity is”. The pair spoke to how no specific training or artistic talent is needed to access this space, and projects range from from sculpting and painting to furniture refinishing and sewing.
While the group continues to host regular workshops at the SMUN drop-in space, they are also aiming to host more specific workshops within the Art Garage. Sisler explained that teaching “builds your self-esteem… something to give and share with other people”. Skillsharing stands as a core theme at the Art Garage. Sisler shared that “the great thing is also are people that have been coming for awhile, they take over teaching too. If somebody needs help, they will go over”. Graham highlighted how “almost every time, I catch a couple people helping each other figuring out shading or whatever it might be. But also engaging in some good conversation about their own life or the community or whatever it is”.
Sisler spoke to how these dynamics create a sense of confidence and empowerment, stating “I’m more proud to say I’m part of this than anything. And I think a lot of people feel the same way. A part of a community project that is working”. Graham echoed these sentiments, “Sometimes this spaces seems just as important, as what you create”.
Success of the Art Me Up program also incorporates the artists involved generating income. Graham explained that “We also have the Creative Corner at our other location at 203 Church St. So folks who finish a piece, you’re more than welcome to bring it over to 203 and put it in that store front”. As the Art Me Up program and the Art Garage continues to gain recognition, generating income has also come through commissions to the artists, as well as partnerships with other community organizations, such as a collaboration with Positive Living Niagara on Overdose Awareness Week.
The best way to see the impact of the work happening with the Art Garage is to stop by between 2-4pm, Monday through Friday.
If you have questions, curious about participating or volunteering, or have supplies to drop off, contact Cathy Sisler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 289-362-5678 and Carol Graham at email@example.com or 905-984-5310.