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“Art is not about creating a masterpiece, it’s about painting together a brighter life.”

Art Matters! Editor Hannah West, Auction Winner Linda Otto and CAC Director Marlene Mish at the May 2010 benefit hosted by Joyfull Yoga in Jacksonville

Art Matters! Editor Hannah West, Auction Winner Linda Otto and CAC Director Marlene Mish at the May 2010 benefit hosted by Joyfull Yoga in Jacksonville

I had the tremendous pleasure of a long conversation on the phone with Marlene Mish a couple of months ago. I first met this lovely woman at a benefit for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County, of which she is the Executive Director. I found myself there after hanging a display of framed prints of pressed flower mandalas made by a dear friend and artist, Janet London, at Joyfull Yoga. Louise Lavergne, owner and instructor at Joyfull, told us about the upcoming benefit and though Janet donated a print, she was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict and asked me to represent her there. Little did I know that I would have a new hero at the end of the day. When Marlene stands to speak about her work and those she works for, only a heart of stone could fail to melt from the intensity of passion – and compassion – with which she speaks about the traumatized and abused children she serves.

As we spoke, I learned that Marlene utilizes art therapy extensively in her healing work with these children. She told me about their annual art event, a benefit show and auction of the works the kids create throughout the year. I had to choke back the sobs as she related how these children, dressed in their finest, stand by their work, meet the attendees and share an explanation of why they love creating art and what it means to them. I was choking them back again this morning when, after reading the latest posts in her blog, “From Where I Sit,”(see video below for the most recent entry) I wandered over to the CAC’s blog “Change is Possible – Healing Through Art” and read Marlene’s entry about a boy in their mentoring program who had painted flying fish. Recalling their conversation about his painting, she wrote:

“I asked him why he chose fish. He simply said, “I love them.” I asked a few more questions, trying to see if there is a deeper meaning for him for fish. He repeated, “I just really, really like fish.” I asked why they were flying.

Ah, here was the light in his eyes, as he said, “They are free. They are free to do whatever they want. You don’t expect them to fly, but they are free.”

We both smiled. Nothing else needed to be said.”

That did it. Just writing this now releases rivers of tears.

Mieke Ryneal, star artist from The Studio at Living Opportunities, shows a recent work to the editor and Rose Nascimento, visitor to Southern Oregon, during a November 2010 show at the Rogue Regency in Medford

Artist Mieke Ryneal shows a recent work to the editor and Rose Nascimento, November 2010

Marlene is not alone in using art as a tool for healing vulnerable populations southern Oregon. Her husband, Dan Mish, guides the developmentally disabled clients of the Studio at Living Opportunities as they paint the world as they see it, brushing their dreams, visions and realities onto bright canvases filled with hopeful overcoming and the joy of redemption. When my mother came to visit in 2010, I took her with the rest of my family to a show of the Studio’s artists at the Rogue Regency and we saw for ourselves how much meaning, confidence, purpose and opportunity this program imparts to a population which is too often sidelined and disenfranchised, separated by misunderstanding and fearful discomfort from the flow of everyone else’s everyday lives. Some of his artists have achieved spectacular success, with long lists of national awards topped by the honor of works hanging at the Smithsonian Institution. Others find their reward simply in knowing that they are artists, loving the positive attention they garner at such events and thrilled with the opportunity to make their own money and give back to the program by splitting proceeds from the sale of their creations. Personally precious, the contribution they give to the community and the art world with works created from a perspective many of us have never considered is beyond priceless.

Portrait of Hannah by Noo Cook

Portrait of Hannah by Noo Cook

So, in my capacity as curator for the GoodBean Cafe’s art display, I invited Dan to display their work there in December 2010. We rarely have artist receptions there, but being the holiday season I hoped they might be able to get additional support for the program if we did. Several artists and their family members came and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, but regretfully no one else attended. I was tremendously disappointed, but didn’t come away empty handed. For one, I got to observe Dan in a couple of pensive moments that evening and got a very real sense of the personal price of the burden he shoulders on their behalf. Spending time with the artists and (hopefully) making them feel special by taking their pictures by the GoodBean’s beautiful Christmas tree was a delight. Artist Noo Cook, getting restless with all that sitting around drinking coffee, asked if he could have some paper and a pencil. I grabbed a handful of printer paper, found him a pen and to work he went, eventually filling every sheet I’d given him…on both sides! On one, he did a portrait of me, the first and only portrait of myself to date. I will treasure this piece of art til the day I die.

Back to my conversation with Marlene. She informed me at that time that the Studio and the CAC often collaborate, and that the yearly show and sale was one of those collaborations. I really cannot say enough about the devotion of this power couple to the needy people they serve. In serving them, they serve us all, and they do so with great conviction, love and selflessness. It’s my belief that they and their respective organizations deserve greater attention from the wider community for the beauty and healing that their efforts facilitate, for the lives they transform from wrack and ruin to wholeness and forward progress, so let’s do more than appreciate them from afar.

Marlene and Dan Mish

Marlene and Dan Mish

Come to the show on Friday, July 22.

If you’re an artist, you may be totally broke, feeling strange about attending when you can’t afford to bid on their art, but I say, the more, the merrier. Just your presence will have tremendous value – Meet the artists and talk to them about their work. Encourage them and let them know how important they are. Praise what they’re doing, praise them for who they are and how far they’ve come in their journey. And do the same for the two powerhouses of love and strength who lead them along the way.

Maybe you have a friend you could invite to come along? One who might have enough cash on hand to make a generous bid? Perhaps you could just do something to help promote the event. Whatever is in your power to do, please contribute to this important event that makes our community what it is and show these budding artists that you care. If you do have some money you can spare, bid as generously as you can. I have no doubt you will see a piece of art that speaks to you, and there’s no limit to the joy you will give the artists. In fact, you could actually contribute to their personal healing process while helping to make the same possible for new arrivals just beginning their own journeys!

There’s always so much we can’t do to help. There is so much need in the world it can be utterly overwhelming, and artists have given so much of their work to so many worthy causes already. You all deserve the highest praise for the donations you’ve made. But these artists are part of our own village, kids and disabled adults who need you – praises from a mainstream artist could be more precious to them than gold. Why not donate a little bit of your time and thoughtful, encouraging words while enjoying a reception for artists less fortunate than yourself? Join us at Veranda Park, 1641 Veranda Park Dr. in Medford. The art show and reception takes place July 22nd from 7 PM – 9 PM; wine and appetizers will be served, there will be live music and admission is free. New work by 40 youth from the CAC mentoring programs will be featured. Below is a short piece about the center and the art show, aired recently on KTVL News 10:

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