Guest blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, offering lectures, tours and program planning. She is Vice-Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee.
The Stewpot Alliance, a volunteer arm of downtown Dallas’ First Presbyterian Church, is an organization which “feeds the hungry, reaching out to the homeless, providing hope.” It serves more than 1,600 meals a day at The Second Chance Cafe in the city’s new homeless resource center, The Bridge. So serving 600 last week at Soups On!, the Stewpot’s annual fund-raiser, must have seemed like catering an intimate dinner for eight.
Brenda Roberts, the Second Chance Cafe chef, had some well-qualified help. Eight celebrity chefs from the Grape, Park, Neimans, Capital Grille, Dali, the Screen Door, Salum and Sevy’s volunteered their creative and artistic culinary skills, stirred their soups and served the applauding guests.
But before “Soups on!” was called throughout renovated Union Station, the focus of the luncheon was on a silent auction of the creative skills of another group of artists … the Stewpot artists. These artist are homeless and at-risk men and women who may not have a stove on which to make their own soup. But, thanks to the Stewpot Alliance, they do have hot meals and a place to make art.
Founded by artist Pamela Nelson 15 years ago, the Stewpot Art program was the initiative of arts supporter and philanthropist Louise Kahn, who called upon Nelson to teach. It began as a casual group , meeting about once a week at a cleared-off table in the lunchroom. Today, because of generous funding and Nelson’s nurturing, the art program boasts a full-time director, Cynthia Brannum, and many tables in several designated art rooms, which are kept open all day on most days.
Kahn thought the art process would offer direction and solace to the homeless. But she may not have realized that it might offer sales and careers. The art program plans for and encourages exhibitions and, for those who are interested, offers a serious approach to marketing and selling their work. The “Stewpot Downtown Library Exhibition,” begun by Nelson, continues annually, and the Alliance sometimes pays the entry fees for Stewpot artists to be in local art fairs, with Brannum herself helping to transport the work.
Along with the joy of creating, the artists are learning to be entrepreneurs. They learn to market, to keep records, to plan ahead for shows and sales (of which there are many). And they receive the possibility of a way to make a living, make a home and make a life.