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The paint that binds

Novice artists gather at studio to make memories
Spirited Art events allow painters of any – or no – ability to create take-home pieces of art while enjoying the company of friends or family.
If your last artistic endeavor was a childhood paint-by-number or a high school art class, a new Henrico business provides the opportunity to uncork your inner artist and fuel your creative spirit – with 30 or 40 friends if you so desire.

Open since November, Spirited Art is located in West Broad Village, adjacent to The Wine Loft. That’s where the “spirit” comes in.

Individuals and groups who attend painting sessions or classes during Wine Loft hours can order from a menu of flatbreads, sliders, cheese boards and beverages to enjoy while they create.

And the creations? Depending on the night, participants paint may anything from flowers and trees to animals to (the most popular) the Richmond skyline.

No artistic experience is needed; as promotional literature emphasizes, all that painters need to know are their shapes, letters and colors. And it helps to bring a friend and a sense of humor.

On a recent evening, Spirited Art hosted a record crowd of about 65 primarily-amateur artists gathered to paint blue crabs while they raised funds for the non-profit organization Boaz & Ruth, which has transformed the Highland Park community of Richmond by creating jobs, renovating buildings and starting businesses.

Before buckling down to their masterpieces, the painters heard from a Boaz & Ruth spokesperson, who described the organization’s job training sessions, conflict resolution classes and coaching and counseling programs and their empowering effects for participants who had struggled with homelessness, prison and addiction.

“We rebuild [not just] stores and houses,” said the spokesperson, who like most graduates of Boaz and Ruth programs was once incarcerated. “We rebuild lives.”

Family time
After a brief explanation of the process from a Spirited Art guide, and turns with the crab template to outline paintings, 65 heads bent over their canvases and the color-mixing began in earnest. Among the varied groups tackling the task were several residents of Wellesley, members of Christ Church Episcopal (a supporter of Boaz & Ruth), and employees of Free Agents Marketing. Many were encouraged to come by Marilyn Wayland of Free Agents, who organized the fundraising event.

But others who attended independently included the team of Stephanie Evans and her 12-year-old daughter Sarah, who decided to share one canvas and paint their crustacean as a collaborative effort. Their cousin and friend, Tracey Papas, was on her fourth trip to Spirited Art and had invited the Evans to join her for some family bonding.

“It’s a good summer outing,” said Stephanie Evans, as she and Sarah fine-tuned the shade of pink that would form the crab’s background.

“And nice mother-daughter time.”

Insight
On another recent afternoon, a group of 30 employees from Capital One gathered in the Spirited Art studio to paint one of the most popular subjects – the Richmond skyline – while doing some corporate team-building.

The atmosphere at the studio lends itself easily to team-building activities, say the owners, because it gets colleagues outside the comfort zone of their offices, breaks down workplace barriers and puts everyone on a more-or-less equal footing -- not to mention building camaraderie and injecting fun and humor into the mix.

In addition, participants finish the session with a memento to take home or back to the office – typically the skyline painting, but sometimes a corporate symbol or abstract piece of art. A group of 40 employees from University of Richmond, for example, all contributed to the same masterpiece: a multiple-paneled portrayal of the UR gazebo.

And after a visit by the Bon Secours Memorial School of Nursing, faculty member Trina Gardner told the Spirited Art staff, “We had no idea what to expect of this adventure, but we ended up with some excellent paintings – and insight into our true personalities!”

Among other Henrico groups and corporations that have visited Spirited Art for team-building events, said co-owner Dami Snyder, are Snagajob, Henrico County Schools, AmeriFinancial and CapTech. And although the Capital One group decided to focus on the social aspects for their experience, groups can also choose to add a challenging exercise or two. In one such exercise, explained Snyder, colleagues reach the halfway point of the session and take their communal break – only to hear the announcement that after the break, everyone will
move three seats over and resume painting on someone else’s canvas.

“It’s a good lesson,” said Snyder, pointing out that the exercise highlights surprises and setbacks that can occur in the typical workplace. “You don’t always get the project you want,” she noted as one example. “You may get a project better than you thought you’d get. And you may walk into a hot mess!”

‘I missed art in my life’
Although Spirited Art is new to the Richmond area, the concept is based on similar successful programs in Huntsville, Little Rock and Knoxville. Lauren McCormick, who is Snyder’s sister and one of four co-owners of the Richmond site, said that once she visited the Alabama location, she could hardly wait to open a similar spot back home in Richmond. When she had become a mother, said McCormick, her artistic pursuits had fallen by the wayside. “I missed art in my
life,” she said.

Despite the obstacles posed by restrictive Virginia ABC laws, which forbade the BYOB format of other Spirited Art sites, the owners persevered. Learning that the space next door to The Wine Loft was available, she approached Jeff Ottaviano of The Wine Loft about a partnership. By Thanksgiving 2011, Spirited Art Richmond was off and running, with little more than word-of-mouth advertising.

As the Boaz and Ruth event wound to a close July 24 – at $1,120 in proceeds, Spirited Art’s biggest fundraiser to date – it was clear that the session had not only made a substantial sum for charity, but had also made a substantial number of memories.

Tracey Papas, in fact, made a point of flipping her canvas over and telling the Evanses that she had recorded their names for posterity. “I always write on the back of it,” Papas told them, “about who I was with.”

Across the room, 90-year-old Irma Rich beamed for the camera held by her daughter-in-law Adrienne Rich of Free Agents, while noisy groups of co-workers and neighbors posed proudly with their paintings for photos for the Spirited Art Facebook page. And next to the Evanses, a professional artist from Chesterfield wrapped up her fourth crab painting and speculated on which charity might be the recipient of her latest effort.

A frequent studio visitor, Sally Valentine has already painted a half dozen projects for the purpose of donating them to silent auctions at charity events. The last time she painted a crab, it raised $85 for a fundraiser for the Cape Charles Museum; another Spirited Art painting made $185 at a separate silent auction.

But generating money for charity, said Valentine, is not the only thing she enjoys about her visits to Spirited Art. The evening sessions allow her a chance to get out and meet interesting people, while also freeing her from distractions and enforcing a built-in time limit.

“It’s great,” said Valentine, “that you can come here and and sit down and paint – and it forces you to finish it!”

For details about Spirited Art, call 360-5909 or visit http://www.myspiritedart.com/locations/richmond-va
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