It’s a busy Friday morning at The Stewpot. By 10 a.m. about a dozen people are gathered outside the front door of the nonprofit organization, which offers food and social services for Dallas’ most needy. A man is shouting by the entrance as a police officer ushers him out. Inside, a line winds from the windowed countertop around the perimeter of the lobby. One floor up, it’s a different scene.
The second floor studio is nearly silent when The Stewpot’s art program director, Cynthia Brannum, gives me a tour. Art classes for advanced members are on Friday, and the three artists in the class are deeply engrossed in their work when she interrupts to introduce me and give them paper baggies of warm popcorn.
This art studio is a creative refuge for the homeless and at-risk populations of Dallas. Where The Stewpot provides these people with resources for basic survival needs, the art program aims to enrich their lives, beyond fulfilling what’s necessary.
“I have seen art to be a naturally therapeutic activity, so it allows people who are in a high-stress situation to have the opportunity to shift gears and start to think about different artistic things, and getting their mind off of their troubles,” Brannum says.
The program provides classes, supplies, and a serene environment. Better yet, it enables members to sell their work and keep 90 percent of the sales, with 10 percent going back to the program.
“Many of these people are in shelters and…they don’t have a lot of free choices. In art you can really create anything you want to,” Brannum says. “Maybe there’s not a lot they can do for the day about the environment they’re in, but that day they can create something beautiful and something that they wanted to see.”
The amount of artwork produced through the program is astounding. The walls of the hallways, the studio, and Brannum’s office are crowded with hundreds of painted canvases. About 285 pieces have already been sent to the central library branch downtown, where The Stewpot’s biggest art show of the year is taking place, but there are still too many paintings to hang. Many sit propped up along the walls.
One of the advanced members, Edwin Fuller, has almost 50 pieces in the show — just half of what he’s made in 2016. As a young man, Fuller took art classes at the University of Colorado before dropping out and joining the Navy. While deployed in Asia, Fuller’s sketches of landscapes caught the attention of a naval officer, who commissioned a piece. Soon other officers were doing the same. When the recession hit, Fuller lost his home and art took a backseat. Since first coming to The Stewpot in 2011, he has regained a critical part of his life.
“It’s a refuge. It doesn’t fix everything…but it makes everything bearable.”
“It does more than put paintings on walls. It’s a refuge. It doesn’t fix everything…but it makes everything bearable,” Fuller says.
Fuller is one of 19 artists featured in the program’s year-end show at the Bradshaw Gallery of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library. The show is open now through January 24, and all of the exhibited work is for sale. Through events like this, The Stewpot connects the homeless and at-risk with the larger community of Dallas, where they often feel isolated.
“They can come in here and work, and work, and work, and feel productive that day, and produce some beautiful pieces of artwork. So that’s a way that they can participate and that they frequently very much miss,” Brannum says. “Then they can create themselves as an artist.”