By Kathleen Vanesian
By Amy Silverman
By Robrt L. Pela
By Jim Louvau
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By Benjamin Leatherman
By New Times
By Becky Bartkowski
Along another wall, Dennis C. Sine Jr. (he whips out his driver's license so that I can get his full name correctly) concentrates through a tangle of long black hair on fine detail in a series of dream catchers he's sketched out on a long canvas. Nearby, Chad Clark, head swathed in a blue bandanna on which sunglasses are perched, provides soft background music on his guitar, seemingly oblivious to the activity around him.
Miller tells me that the art class can get pretty rowdy at times, with people talking to themselves, and that the guitar music is a touch of organizational genius that sets a mellow atmosphere in the room. Both he and DiTroia have seen very talented, sometimes troubled, people (what's that old saw about art being on the edge of sanity?) come through LDRC's doors, including a man who was either an architectural draftsman or an architect who toted a complete portfolio with him. Just as quickly as they arrive, they can disappear without notice.
The Rhythm of Life is the conceptual love child of DiTroia and Dawn Shires, another Lodestar day room supervisor, who enthusiastically believe in a holistic approach, includes the healing power of creative activity, to helping the homeless. So far, their program offers their homeless clientele the chance to participate in art, music, theater, yoga, open mic poetry, writing workshops, book groups, and volleyball games.
"Wonderland: Art from New Times Best of Phoenix 2009" will open Friday, October 2, with free public receptions on First and Third Friday, at [merz] project, 1437 N. 1st St., and by appointment (contact Steve Jansen).
On Third Friday, Jeff Miller's band, psych 101, will perform, as will The Coitus and Phoenix Chorale, two other contributors to the show. All work will be for sale. Half the proceeds will go to the artist, the other half to the Rhythm of Life program.
DiTroia has taken charge of the visual arts segment of the program, while Shires heads up its musical end. While Lodestar ponies up $1,000 a year for art supplies, they usually come from generous artists DiTroia and Shires come into contact with through LDRC, who become excited about the project.
You may have already learned about the program during a First Friday art walk. The initial planning for outreach was pretty seat-of-their-pants — DiTroia says she and Shires sat down one Friday about three hours before the monthly event was starting, and came up with a theme.
"In that short time, we created fliers, postcards, created everything right then and there," she laughs.
"The first time I had a makeshift gallery and went down with a couple of client artists and just showed work," says DiTroia. "Had no idea where we were going to show work. Then we got a big, fancy canopy tarp — we had a toe reader, we had a drum circle, we showed art. But that really didn't tell people what the Rhythm of Life is — it just gets people to come to our booth.
"The next time we tried to show a homeless type of situation. We had the cardboard box [classic homeless digs] and I built this grocery cart that tells you every single thing about why people become homeless and had that full.''
DiTroia and Shires have gone so far as to dress up as pirates to engage people in dialogue about homelessness. Like homeless people, pirates have a bad rep and don't have permanent homes, she explains, and being dressed as a pirate does draw attention.
The indefatigable DiTroia is especially proud of her artist clients who have turned their lives around and are no longer homeless. One former client, with whom she has worked on a number of mural projects, just appeared at First Friday doing caricatures for the LDRC booth.
As for artist Mark Anderson, when we tried to photograph him for the "Best of" issue, we found that the folks at LDRC hadn't seen him since mid-July.
All we really know about our mystery contributor, besides the fact that he's 25 and from Colorado, is that he likes to read and research all day at Phoenix's central library. Laura DiTroia noticed him — and his work — when he kept asking for paper, pens and pencils, with which he would doodle impressive images.
Though not very communicative, Anderson told DiTroia that after 21, "nothing is fun." We just hope he's wrong on that count, that he's using his considerable talent right now and is homeless no more.