Creating art with the neighbors at Heartside
Aaron Edwards, Art Coordinator, talks artists, dreams, and impact
Aaron Edwards is Art Coordinator at Heartside Ministry, a job that brings him joy as he works with Heartside neighbors and uses the artistic skills he’s honed over the years. After a career as a builder, Aaron looked for a place to volunteer but ended up working at Heartside fulltime helping neighbors create art. He answers questions about a job that has touched his heart.
Tell us about the Art Coordinator job.
My primary job is making sure this is a safe, quiet space to be creative. There are so many neighbors with mental instability and emotional trauma that it’s important to keep out the things and people that might trigger them. Also, I provide and connect people with materials for the project they want to do. I give advice on composition, use of color, and teach them how to mix color. Also, I can show people the physical, emotional, and mental release that art can provide.
What kinds of artists to do you meet?
Some are there to have fun, and some are quite good artists. One guy recently out of prison does beautiful portraits with pencil and charcoal. I help him with supplies, framing his work with donated frames, and help him with selling his artwork. One lady has been staying in shelters for four months. She comes in and colors complicated designs because it’s relaxing.
What does creating art do for Heartside guests?
We’re made as creative beings and the act of creating gets our brains problem-solving in positive ways. Our neighbors feel good making a picture and it’s something to be proud of; they’ve made something and taken control of their lives for that time. Doing something creative and sticking to a plan for that piece of art can move into other parts of their lives. One of our key roles is to say, “Keep going. You can do it.”
What do you see in the art the neighbors create?
Art isn’t about making something people will like; it’s about expressing something important to yourself. I see a lot of darkness and frustration in the colors they use, so we talk about what they’re dealing with that they are expressing in their art. Expressing what you’re thinking and feeling is important, and art is a very useful way of doing that.
What is your dream for the art program at Heartside as you move forward with?
A former art director had artists come in and teach classes, with members of the community and Heartside neighbors attending those classes. I’d like to do that again. The mixing of the broader community with the homeless population is good for everyone. When those who live in other neighborhoods see and meet those who are experiencing homelessness, they develop compassion and want to help. We realize we’re all in this together.
Art is a great way of connecting with people we don’t have much in common with. But when people are creative, it doesn’t matter where they’re from. The positive energy and the buzz going on are universal. Also, art is a neat conduit for volunteers to connect with people. It’s hard to connect on the street, but we can connect in an art studio. Heartside’s art room can be a middle ground where people from all walks of life gather together.
What benefits do you see in working with Mel Trotter Ministries?
The merge with MTM is very positive. Mel Trotter has access to a lot more resources and our ministry will be easier thanks to their backing. I’m hoping for more organized space, too. I spend a quarter of my time walking to the various spaces I store supplies, from the basement to closets around the building. I’d love to have all the drawing, painting, and other craft supplies in the same place.