The Howard Center Arts Collective kept busy in the second half of 2023, starting with a show at the Flynndog Gallery that ran from August through September.

Sponsored by Chittenden County’s community mental health center, the Arts Collective, by its own description, brings together “artists of all levels” who “have lived experience with mental health and/or substance use challenges, via their own personal lived experience, experience with family members or friends, or through their work.”

In February, the Flynn Center invited the group to see the touring Philadelphia Dance Company, an internationally acclaimed, predominantly Black contemporary dance troupe. The Arts Collective’s show at the Flynndog, “Philadanco,” drew inspiration from the performance, the company’s first ever in Vermont.

At a reception held during the annual South End Art Hop, the Flynn’s executive director, Jay Wahl, spoke of “the way that art becomes this domino effect and encourages more and more acts of creation. That’s an extraordinary thing.”

Arts Collective member Kecia Gaboriault dedicated her painting, Tribute to the Founder, to Joan Myers Brown, the 91-year-old trailblazer who created Philadanco in 1970 and remains active in the organization.

“I know she was having a really hard time finding companies to allow her to dance the way she wanted to dance, and so she took it upon herself to do it herself,” Gaboriault said.

Gaboriault’s piece shows stenciled dancers on a brick wall made of alcohol ink.

“I was an urban artist at one time,” Gaboriault added. “So I thought, well, it’d be kind of cool to combine urban arts with a tribute to her.”

The Arts Collective’s next show, “Flow,” can be found at Burlington City Arts’ Metropolitan Gallery, located at City Hall.

“Inspired by water and the spirit of rebuilding after disaster,” it opened in October, three months after the flooding that devastated much of Vermont. 50% of sales proceeds benefited Studio Place Arts, a storm-damaged nonprofit in Barre.

One of the show’s contributors, Amjed Jumaa, came to Vermont after living in Iraq, his home country, where a manmade disaster – a US invasion – displaced millions between 2003 and 2011.

“I was thinking about people I had left behind there in my country, and how I could see them and meet them again. Suddenly, the winds of the storm blew, and then the flood came,” Jumaa said.

He painted Flood with a hope that, in Vermont, “everyone would survive, live, and search for a safe place.”

Finally, in Winooski, Rotary Park has a new touch of color, thanks to five Arts Collective members – Gaboriault, Jumaa, Sherridan Beyer, Adam Forguites, and Annie Caswell – who got permission to paint the exterior of an electrical box. Each took responsibility for one side, including the top.

“We were looking at a whole bunch of different options around town to do a mural of sorts,” Caswell explained. “And we decided on the electrical box because there was a wall that was tagged heavily, and we thought, well, it’s probably going to get tagged again.”

The panels reflect aspects of life in Winooski and the city’s identity, from the iconic yoga sculpture on the river that disappeared during the summer’s flooding to the noise pollution from the F-35s overhead.

Caswell’s piece includes a picture of one of the wild leeks that gave the Winooski River its name, as well as a brick and water motif that refers to its riverside mills. With silhouettes of various shapes and sizes, it also celebrates the people of Winooski, the state’s most diverse city by several metrics.

To learn more about the Arts Collective, email [email protected].

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