In 2016 I was in Senegal at a residency called Thread in a beautiful remote village called Sinthian. There I found and collaborated with some of the most spirited, talented and tenacious people I have ever met. The most consistent and impactful thing I have learned while living among people in West Africa both there and in Mali is their respect and appreciation for humanity. A deep trust and faith in each other has brought them to rise above so many challenges historically and contemporarily; they are so rich in ways we in more so called “developed countries”are lacking. It was hard to leave the love and joy of these places and people and return to the USA. I was there during our last election and arrived home to a compromised country ripped apart. From my home to the grocery store to the streets there was anger and frustration oozing out of every pore It was winter it was cold and lots of people were houseless in addition both inside and out people were sad and angry. I thought perhaps I can not stay here and endure the next 4 years let alone what has lead up to this moment and fearful of what the future holds now. Then I thought what CAN WE do? How can we find love and hope and collectively come together and create something that helps us move toward the light? How can we create more time and space to meet each other at our base level of humanity and not only survive this time but thrive in it. Gather:Make:Shelter was born to help us find each other in new ways and meet each other at our base level of humanity . The Gather:Make:Shelter family now consists of hundreds of people: artists ,housed and houseless, volunteers, social service agencies, philanthropists, and local businesses collaborating on a mission that brings us together and breaks down barriers while creating beautiful works of art, connections and innumerable friendships. We are thankful to each and every person that finds their way to this project and believes that our collective actions and intentions matter. WE ❤️YOU!
An essential component of all GMS collaborations is to create entrepreneurial skill building and leadership opportunities and to help people expand their possibilities for employment and inclusion.
The Ceramics Project
The foundational program for Gather:Make:Shelter, our ceramics project began as a small idea that quickly grew due to the enormous energy of our community. Over the course of eight months, I led 60 painting workshops involving over 600 participants in agencies including Central City Concern, Imani Center, Estate Hotel Mentor Program, Living Room, Letting Owings, P:ear, Janus Youth, Street Roots, Rose Haven, New Avenues for Youth, Maybelle Center, Right To Survive, HIV Day Center Ecumenical Ministries, and Human Solutions. The participants each received a stipend for their work, and their painted pieces were contributed to the project.
Each bowl was donated by area potters, including artists at Oregon College of Art and Craft, Ash Street Studios, Pacific Northwest College Of Art, Mt. Hood Community College, and Grant High School, as well as 40 independent potters and collectives.
Additional support was provided by the Charitable Partnership Fund, Converge 45, Vibrant Table Group, Georgie’s Ceramic Supply, Grand Central Baking, Sizzle Pie, Blick Art Supply, Urban Gleaners, and Cumbersome Multiples.
In September 2018 we held a large public celebration in downtown Pioneer Courthouse Square featuring catering by Amalie Roberts & Victory Project PDX, and Sisters of the Road, poetry readings by Street Roots vendors, and music by The Karen Lovely Band, Edna Vasquez, and The Maybelle Choir. At the event we displayed and sold all the artworks created by our project participants, and the proceeds were contributed to local organizations to support urgent housing needs for the upcoming winter.
The GMS Academy
The Gather:Make:Shelter Academy (2019-21) expands the project by fostering one-on-one creative collaborations between visual artists, painters, and poets, both housed and unhoused. In collaborative pairs, the artists create new ceramic works, paintings, and publications as they explore their mutual creative vision.
Additional GMS Academy activities include group visits to the Portland Art Museum, local art galleries, and research sessions at the Multnomah County Library. Throughout the project, artists experiencing houselessness also have the opportunity to inhabit leadership roles and co-teach 60 art workshops at host social service agencies impacting another 600 people.
Finished works will be exhibited at Russo Lee Gallery in Spring 2021. A celebration in Pioneer Courthouse Square is planned for Fall 2021.
The COVID-19 Expansion
COVID-19 poses a serious risk to the most vulnerable among us and Gather:Make:Shelter is rising to the occasion. We held our first successful COVID-19 community fundraiser in March 2020 which made it possible for our Academy artists experiencing houselessness and poverty to purchase essential supplies. They deeply appreciated this act of generosity from the GMS community.
We continue our collaborative work with Academy artists, writers, illustrators, and animators. Stories, poems and drawings are being recorded and exchanged; food is being purchased and delivered to our people in need; painting and drawing supplies are being delivered to shelters and camps. With safety and social distancing guidelines in place, smaller group meetings continue. Everything takes more time while we ensure the safety of our GMS family, but we are actively working towards our exhibition at Russo Lee Gallery and community festival at Pioneer Courthouse Square, rescheduled for 2021.
In April 2020 Gather:Make:Shelter joined with twelve other local organizations and two government offices to support our unhoused community with the opening of three shelter-in-place sanctioned camps in Portland, collectively referred to as Creating Conscious Communities with People Outside, or C(3)PO.
We first worked with volunteers from the C(3)PO villages to create privacy screens to surround their living space.
Through conversations with villagers about their skills, interests, and needs, we developed a new gardening project focused on developing gardening classes and creating engaging plant-infused spaces to help enhance and transmit calming beauty into the three shelter-in-place villages. Gather:Make:Shelter identifies and hires lead gardeners in each camp and fosters education about the growth and care for plant life in a shared learning environment. We have been fortunate to partner with Sean Hogan (Cistus Nursery) and Martha Koerner (Community Designer) on this project.
Through conducting these projects and getting to know the C(3)PO villagers, our GMS community (and programming!) has swelled in size. While navigating this pandemic is a constant challenge for everyone involved, we have a renewed faith in the strength of collaborative efforts to overcome obstacles, and we continue to build our chosen future together.