Art show highlight works in progress

An artist’s greatest creation may not be on the canvas. That’s true for some of the art therapy students at the GIFTS Men’s Shelter in Janesville. GIFTS recently launched the art therapy program, and now it’s gearing up for its first ever art show. It’s allowing the men there to show off their greatest works in progress: themselves.

“Will you show me the photo you took?”

Art can make you look at something differently.

“Ummm. It’s a fork in the road. Time to choose a new path,” Gerard Coughlin said.

“This photo here I took of myself drawing the word life. If you look really closely it’s in puzzle pieces; because life’s a puzzle,” Cory Bendever said.

“It has the weeds and then it has the flowers, because there are times I feel like a weed,” Mark Frelix said. “Sometimes when I feel better I feel like a flower.”

“I saw this bridge over there. To me, it represents where I am in my life right now in my recovery,” Mark Hutchens said.

These four men are all enrolled in the art therapy program GIFTS Men’s Shelter in Janesville. They’ve learned how art can help them say a lot without uttering a single word.

“It’s a way to express my feelings about the world. Whether I’m happy or depressed. Super angry or upset,” Bendever said.

Those feelings will be on display at the program’s first ever art show, which is focusing on and curated by the men here.

“I’m actually a little excited about it. I’m excited about it. I get to express myself and feel a little important. A little bit,” Frelix said.

That’s significant, because GIFTS aims to help men who may be homeless, veterans, survivors of child abuse, or have struggled with addiction.

“I’m a recovering alcoholic. It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a drink,” Coughlin said.

The art therapy program is relatively new, and allows these budding artists to create and focus on their mental health.

“It makes me feel like not a failure. I know I can achieve what I put my mind to,” Coughlin said.

GIFTS Executive Director MaryAnn Raash says the art show will put a spotlight on much more than just the shelter.

“We want our community to see our men as the artists they are. You have heard a couple of our guys say this past of mine doesn’t define who I am. I want you to see me for who I am now,” Raash said.

Hutchens says his photo reminds him how his life has developed beyond his past mistakes.

“I am convicted felon. I have spent time in a prison.,” Hutchens. “It just seems to me that every time I run into some kind of a valley or a river, God throws me a bridge.”

These man admit it isn’t easy for everyone to navigate a fork in the road and get to the other side of the bridge. They hope when you check out their art, it helps you look past that and see them differently.

“Everybody has a purpose, everybody has a talent. It’s not just a bunch of homeless old men. All of us have a talent,” Coughlin said. “It’s easy to throw anybody away if you don’t know them. You have to get to know people.”

The Emerging Artists Art Show is Thursday night at the Janesville Performing Arts Center from 5:30 p-m to 7 p-m. It’s free to the public, but donations to the art program are accepted.

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