Drop-in cen­ter help­ing women cre­ate and earn

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Libby Rainey

Dar­lina was a down-on-her­luck artist who needed some help pay­ing for her daugh­ter’s glasses 20 years ago when she dis­cov­ered The Gath­er­ing Place, Den­ver’s drop-in cen­ter for women, their chil­dren and trans­gen­der peo­ple.

What she found was not just a refuge from poverty, but also an artists cen­ter — a place where she could paint and make a lit­tle money for her craft. She did this through the cen­ter’s Card Project, which of­fers mem­bers the op­por­tu­nity to de­sign greet­ing cards to be sold at The Gath­er­ing Place

and around town. Dar­lina, who de­clined to give her last name, has made hun­dreds of orig­i­nal cards for The Gath­er­ing Place over the years.

Now, her art will find a larger stage at the cen­ter’s first art ex­hi­bi­tion in Cherry Creek North in Au­gust. The gallery Fas­ci­na­tion St. Fine Art will trans­form Aug. 2 into a space for Dar­lina and other emerg­ing fe­male artists, all of whom have pur­sued their artistry de­spite home­less­ness, poverty and other chal­lenges.

The women com­peted with 100 mem­bers of The Gath­er­ing Place for spots in the show, where they will be dis­play­ing and sell­ing their work. Dar­lina’s paint­ing for the show is a close-up of a snow leop­ard with pierc­ing, blue-green eyes. The cat gazes at the viewer un­flinch­ingly from the oil can­vas, look­ing out from a sea of gray fur.

The event, which runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., will cel­e­brate the bud­ding artists and also raise money for The Gath­er­ing Place, with a sug­gested do­na­tion of $20 at the door. The art will also be on dis­play Aug. 3.

“There have been times where I didn’t have any­thing to eat, so I came here. When a per­son is home­less, it’s easy to lose a lot of hope. … The other women who come here, we de­vel­oped a sis­ter­hood,” Dar­lina said. “So this is my way of giv­ing back and help­ing The Gath­er­ing Place grow.”

The night will also fea­ture a com­pe­ti­tion — the top three artists will take home a cash prize for their paint­ings. First place will win $250, sec­ond $150 and third $100. A small com­mit­tee, in­clud­ing Fas­ci­na­tion St. Fine Art owner Aaron La­pedis, will de­ter­mine the win­ners.

“We wanted to open the doors for these ladies,” La­pedis said. “My hope is that they con­tinue their craft.”

La­pedis has in­vited mem­bers of Den­ver’s art com­mu­nity and art buy­ers to the open­ing. The artists will get their hair and makeup done be­fore the event, and will re­ceive new out­fits pro­vided by Dress for Suc­cess Den­ver, which of­fers pro­fes­sional cloth­ing to women in need.

“Where you live or how much you have has no ef­fect on the tal­ent you have,” said Teresa Dens­more, di­rec­tor of Art Restart, a so­cial en­ter­prise of The Gath­er­ing Place that prints and sells cer­tain cards en masse. “We’re try­ing to erase stigma.”

The idea for an art show grew out of the cen­ter’s long-run­ning Card Project, in which women make 75 per­cent of the pro­ceeds for each card sold and can make up to 45 cards each a week. The pro­gram has since ex­panded to in­clude Art Restart, which sells prints of the orig­i­nal greet­ing cards in pack­ages of 50 or more. The artist re­ceives a 5 per­cent roy­alty on each sale, a cut that Dens­more is hop­ing to in­crease to 25 per­cent.

Sevilla Stin­nett, an­other artist whose work will be fea­tured at the gallery, had never sold her vis­ual art be­fore join­ing the Card Project. She usu­ally stops by The Gath­er­ing Place ev­ery Tues­day, Thurs­day and Fri­day to work on cards.

Stin­nett, who has lived in Den­ver since 1972, dis­cov­ered The Gath­er­ing Place in 2012 when do­mes­tic abuse led to home­less­ness. SafeHouse Den­ver, a cen­ter for women ex­pe­ri­enc­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, helped Stin­nett find an apart­ment and also di­rected her to The Gath­er­ing Place, where she soon joined the Card Project. She has since tried to make the 45 weekly max­i­mum num­ber of cards.

Stin­nett will be dis­play­ing two paint­ings — oil-and-acrylic land­scapes — at the gallery open­ing. Ti­tled “Two Birds in Par­adise” and “Buena Vista”, the pieces dis­play a mix of shad­ows and light, na­ture and sky. They’ll be the first paint­ings Stin­nett has dis­played at a gallery.

“They gave us an op­por­tu­nity that we wouldn’t have nor­mally be­cause of our eco­nomic dis­ad­van­tages,” Stin­nett said. “Art gives me a cre­ative out­let, it gives me peace of mind, it al­lows me to fo­cus on other aspects of my life.”

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