The art of giving

Brenau’s Center for the Arts & Design creating a community of caring

Senior studio art major Jennifer Benitez holds a bowl that she made for the Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s annual Empty Bowl fundraiser luncheon (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Surrounded by a clay menagerie of geometric pottery and chiseled torsos, Huy Chu talks about bowls with an earnest excitement that echoes throughout the dusty ceramics studio in Simmons Visual Arts Center.

The bowls — glazed in earthy hues of green, brown and blue, some round, some not so much — might seem like ordinary artistic creations. But for the Brenau studio art program director, they are so much more. They are the tangible realization of the numerous charitable efforts undertaken by the Center for the Arts & Design in its first full year at Brenau.

“It wasn’t for extra credit. It wasn’t required. Students wanted to do this,” says Chu, newly returned from three weeks in China teaching 2D and 3D design as part of Brenau’s two-plus partnerships with Anhui Normal University.

Throughout the spring semester, Chu gave students in his introductory ceramics and Brenau University Learning & Leisure Institute classes the option of making bowls for the Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s annual Empty Bowl fundraiser in addition to their regular coursework. Participants in two ceramics workshops led by Chu also contributed.

“It’s great to give back to the community,” says senior studio art major Jennifer Benitez, who made an elephant-inspired bowl during one of the workshops. “But it’s also nice to be able to bring attention to Brenau and its art programs.”

In all, about 30 bowls were donated to the food bank event, which takes place in September to coincide with national Hunger Action Month and includes a fundraiser lunch, silent auction and presentation. Each guest gets to take home a hand-painted or handmade bowl as a thank-you.

Chu, who is working with Georgia Mountain Food Bank to fire in Brenau’s kiln hundreds more bowls made at events hosted by the organization, says CAD’s community outreach is important on several levels.

“It’s an opportunity for us to educate, and it also allows us to be sustainable by using readily available resources to create charitable works at little to no cost,” he says.

‘The common good’

Huy Chu, studio art program director, holds a bowl made for the Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s annual Empty Bowl Fundraiser luncheon. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

CAD launched in spring 2018 as a collaboration of the Art & Design Department — which comprises studio art, fashion design and fashion merchandising programs — the Interior Design Department and Brenau University Galleries , to promote interdisciplinary cooperation and further greater access to academic programs and professional development opportunities for students, faculty and the Brenau community.

“The outreach projects and charitable events we have initiated are an essential part of the center’s mission,” says CAD Director and Art & Design Department Chair Claudia Wilburn. “These efforts support important causes, and they build stronger communities, both externally with Gainesville and Hall County and internally with the students, faculty and staff.”

Take, for instance, a January workshop in which participants learned how to make sock monkeys and were encouraged to make two: one to keep and one to give to the Gainesville Police Department. About 20 of the handmade stuffed animals were later donated for officers to give to upset children to comfort them during situations such as car accidents or domestic calls.

“The sock monkey project was ideal because it brought together a lot of people from different areas,” says Wilburn, who has donated her own original works to area causes such as Power of the Purse, Gateway Domestic Violence Center and Elachee Flights of Fancy. “We had faculty from psychology, business and communications as well as community members and students all helping each other for the common good — and it was fun for those who participated.”

It was also an educational experience for students in attendance.

“Many students do not have the finances to give money, but with these initiatives we are providing them with a way to donate their time to a good cause while often learning a new technique in the process,” Wilburn says.

Dominique Wagner and Morgan Davis decorate the grand staircase at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Students take the lead

Other projects over the past year have included painting rain barrels for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival and decorating Atlanta’s historic Callanwolde Fine Arts Center for Christmas.

The rain barrels, painted by members of Brenau’s Kappa Pi art honor society, Zeta Tau Alpha sorority and Anime Club, were sold at silent auction to support Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s Neighborhood Water Watch program.

“Painting the rain barrels was both therapeutic and rewarding,” says Jazmin Decker, senior fashion merchandising major and graphic design intern in Brenau’s Office of Marketing & Communications. “Knowing that you can use your talents for the benefit of helping others is a wonderful feeling.”

The work of Decker and others did not go unnoticed.

“Our supporters in the community really appreciate the work Brenau students do for us,” says Dale Caldwell, director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s Headwaters office in Gainesville. “It’s also very important to us and something we want to continue and expand upon in the future.”

Volunteers from Brenau’s interior design program, led by student leaders from the university’s American Society of Interior Designers chapter, have decorated Callanwolde since 2016. Most recently, they styled ornaments and decorations appropriate for the period of the Gothic-Tudor style mansion, adding some innovations reflecting the youthful energy of college students.

Built between 1917-1921, Callanwolde was home from 1920-1959 to Charles Howard Candler, son of Asa Griggs Candler, the Atlanta pharmacist who purchased the rights to the secret formula for Coca-Cola in 1891. Today, the home and 12.5-acre estate serve as a community arts conservatory and events venue.

“It is a tremendous opportunity to get to work alongside professional designers from all over the Southeast,” says interior design professor Michael Kleeman. “This year, the students were tasked with the decorations for the grand staircase and stair landing. This is a central feature to the home and the setting for many movies, TV shows and countless weddings.”

Earlier this year, interior design students along with Kleeman, Wilburn and Chu, created pieces of original artwork from recycled eyeglasses for the Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation’s Night of Spectacles fundraising gala. The Lighthouse provides vision and hearing services to more than 7,000 underserved Georgians each year.

Karen Baker and Dominique Wagner work on decorating the grand staircase at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Our doors are open

As for Brenau Galleries, a number of free public outreach activities, including open houses, art workshops and events such as Yoga in the Gallery, are available year-round.

In addition, rotating exhibits — open to the public at no cost — are offered in Sellars, Presidents and Castelli Galleries on the historic Gainesville campus, while the Brenau Downtown Center’s Manhattan Gallery showcases an ongoing selection of works by Andy Warhol, Kiki Smith, Hunt Slonem, Margaret Evangeline, Brenau master artist Dennis Campay and others. Free docent-led tours of select exhibits are available to individuals, schools and other groups.

And for visitors and passersby, it’s hard to miss some of the selections on display from the 6,500-piece Brenau Permanent Art Collection, along with other public art works — the latter of which includes two pieces by Campay on the outsides of Brenau’s Trustee Library and the Downtown Center.

“When it comes to the community, our doors are always open,” says Galleries Director Nichole Rawlings.

During normal business hours, that is.


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Kristen Bowman contributed to this story.

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