Waterworks hosts New Tomorrows exhibit

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 25, 2011

Rowan Helping Ministries
The red dots that indicate the artwork beside it is sold take on a special meaning in one of the current shows at the Waterworks Visual Arts Center.
These works represent the creativity of members of Rowan Helping Ministries’ New Tomorrows program — a group of participants that gather each week to learn life skills as they search for new directions in their lives.
Many of them never dreamed they would find themselves in a homeless shelter seeking help, but joblessness and loss is a way of life for more and more people in this economy.
Twice each month, on Thursday mornings, the New Tomorrows clients walk from the Rowan Helping Ministries offices on Long Street to the Waterworks on East Liberty Street, accompanied by Keona Simon-Kabore, who coordinates the program. It is one of many life skills activities in the program.
Here, they work in a big, bright upstairs studio, observe the creativity of others at every turn, meet instructors and artists who share their experiences, and most of all, receive encouragement.
This is the first show of their work, and at the recent opening reception, Simon-Kabore recalls the light in her participants’ eyes and the joy that they felt. “I never dreamed I’d have something of mine in an art museum,” says Vicky Madison, who has been attending the Waterworks sessions for five months.
Here, they are a proud group of friends, encouraging each other, and it’s not because of the red dots that indicate a sale, even though there are at least a half dozen “Solds” already in this show.
Homelessness and worry go hand-in-hand, day in and day out. But not here.
“This keeps my spirits lifted,” says Madison, and then thoughtfully: “Maybe one day I’ll have something to look forward to.”
“This is an inspiration,” says Ebony Burch, looking around at the brightly lit room. “… this atmosphere and being able to clear your mind.”
Loss — layoffs, home, then losing a second place to stay — becomes a pattern and it’s with them every day. The time at Waterworks “increases their self-esteem and gives them a sense of accomplishment,” says Simon-Kabore. “It makes them attempt to do things that they didn’t know they were capable of. It’s definitely therapeutic.”
For Waterworks, it speaks to the heart of the organization. Cathy Sigmon, education specialist, reads the organization’s mission statement, printed in a large font on the wall of the current show. These are words about “providing opportunities in the arts for all people through exhibits, education and outreach programs.” Then she smiles. She knows that this is a perfect fit.
To prepare the show, Waterworks reached out to Walmart in Kannapolis. Manager Calvin McDonald donated the frames and attended the opening reception. The program functions with a grant from Rowan Helping Ministries for materials and visiting artists.
Over in the far corner of the exhibit hangs a small painting by Tonette Parker titled simply “Amazed.” It is light coming from darkness, lines moving forward. The painting is sold, but that’s not the message to take from the painting or exhibit. Like so much that happens at Rowan Helping Ministries, the message is hope.
The exhibit is on display at Waterworks until Jan. 7.