WHAM Community Arts Center at Surprise



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Connie Whitlock has an expression: “Everyone deserves to experience art.”

And, being this WHAM Community Arts Center’s director at Surprise, she has dedicated herself to making sure that everyone can.

When her husband and Whitlock retired to Sun City Grand in 1999, she did not understand just what to do with her free time. She was not the coffee klatch type, so she tried various jobs, but nothing felt right.

Then Whitlock saw a flier . Before she got busy with job and loved ones, she had studied art in school. Why don’t you try again?

On her first trip, she sat down in a potter’s wheel.

“And that was it!” Whitlock recalled.

She was at the studio five days a week. She sought classes she could find. She got several commissions, left some earnings and, finally.

From 2006, Whitlock was an expert artist. But even as she enjoyed her creativity, she wondered why there weren’t more opportunities for West Valley citizens to come more than art.

“I started thinking that there are a lot of people who would love to get access to art, but there was not any organized art centre here in the time.”

Drawing on her prior experience in company management, Whitlock chose to start her own club, which she envisioned to meet, mingle, and find out all ages, all levels all media.

A self-described “old hippie,” she named the club that the “What Is Happen’n Art Movement,” picking the name to indicate that the organization could constantly be changing.

By brainchild to construction

Shortly after she posted the initial palaces, Whitlock discovered she was rightfolks wanted art. The club grew with artists from a number of subjects coming together for classes and lectures. They arrived from Surprise, Peoria, Glendale, Litchfield Park and outside. They met in her residence. They met in other people’s houses. Once, for an major workshop, then they rented a hotel space.

Then things really started moving.

In 2012, Whitlock was commissioned to make an artwork for the Adelante Healthcare practice at Surprise.

Whitlock got the following thought since she worked.

What, she asked Adelante, were they planning to do with the vacant clinic around Dysart Road?

“They said they had leased it in the city before 2015. So I asked if I could use it,” she remembered. “And they said yes!”

And wham, similar to that, the volunteer-run organization had 8,500 square feet of space — all for art.

The conversion from neighborhood health practice to community arts centre was not even that complicated.

Except for eliminating a few walls at the area to create a gallery, most of the construction required little renovation. The 13 exam rooms had cupboards and cupboards, so that they were readily reimagined as studios for lease. Along with the rooms were ideal for classes and workshops– such as a ceramics studio that is dedicated.

An area of artists

Today, a sculpture garden and colorful indicators welcome people. Indoors, every inch of this building is dedicated to sharing making, teaching, practicing and learning art.

The WHAM West Gallery, that is absolutely free to visitors, hosts a new exhibit every month, which range to rentals toward artists that are fighting. Volunteer docents response inquiries, along with a provides a spot to contemplate the artwork.

But even past the gallery, halls are hung with prints, drawings and paintings. A small gift store offers ceramics and jewelry available. And the studios’ doors are adorned giving a glimpse in the work being created by the citizens indoors, most of whom are artists.

One of those artists runs a company called Painting 4 Entertaining. Gibson, who supplies instruction and supplies for casual art classes, used to lease space but moved from January 2015 to WHAM, brought by the lower rent and the ability to borrow the classroom for class lessons. However among the biggest advantages has been the inspiration.

“Once I walked in to reserve my studio area, they had just set a brand new show up,” she remembered. “And I was just in awe of those functions in this gallery. I love being around other artists and seeing what they’re doing.”

Kelley Smith has had an identical experience. As an painter with a busy commission program, Smith already had a nice, big studio at home.

However, what she did not have was an artistic support team.

“Working at home all the time, I was feeling kind of isolated,” Smith admitted. “I needed people who may talk my language.”

Two years ago, those individuals were found by Smith at WHAM, in which she now teaches painting and drawing classes.

“The creative energy is wonderful,” she clarified. “I docent a couple of times a month and once I leave I only want to go straight home and paint, I am so inspired.”

Art anyplace

There might be much more energy in WHAM than four walls can contain.

Sharing Whitlock’s conviction that “art is for everyone,” WHAM’s applications consist of after-school classes and art camps for children, an art club for teens, and adult classes that vary by Sharpie drawings to pottery. To achieve community members, arts teachers have tailored art projects for adults and children with special needs, and others offer free classes.

Every April, WHAM hosts a recycled art festival, and in November, the ceramics artists team up together with all the Sun City Grand clay club to get the “Bowls of Hope” fundraiser to benefit West Valley food banks and shelters.

Even with those projects, there is still art that some spills in the streets.

A brand new “WHAM on Wheels” studio, built on a flatbed trailer, which enables volunteers to sponsor pop-up art classes at parks and public areas across the West Valley; and several cities have commissioned WHAM artists to create public art projects, such as a sculpture in the Goodyear Ballpark, murals in Bicentennial Park in Surprise and sidewalks for downtown Peoria.

A path to recovery

But one of the outreach programs, said Whitlock, will be Surprise’s team and the art workshops for first responders and military veterans — a cooperation with Arizona Arts Alliance. The sessions, held three times in places at Surprise and Peoria, let participants to simply relax and revel in the imaginative process, clarified coordinator Marty Wolfe.

At each workshop, from woodburning to mask-making projects that vary are explored by veterans. Some people take turns teaching, others do their thing, like the 94-year-old veteran who comes to sketch the other participants. There’s no anxiety and no treatment.

“They do not have to talk about anything,” Wolfe explained. “They simply do the art.”

But performing the art is sufficient, said.

After serving 16 years since a U.S. Army Ranger, Gilbert was struggling with chronic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder if a counselor persuaded him to attend his very first WHAM workshop.

“It was among those few times I had been out of this home for a little while,” Gilbert recalled, “and we did a small painting and I still do not understand why, but it was the very first time in a very long time I had a glimmer of hope.”

Together with Whitlock he returned the following month. And the second. The glimmer grew steadily.

“You are here and it supplies such a secure environment,” Gilbert explained. “When you have PTSD, you get rid of everything, including your individuality. I got to where I did not even talk. However, once I arrived here, I started to realize that I have friends. It’s not just the art, it’s the procedure and the camaraderie.”

Gilbert has felt so much relief that he has used his new abilities to assist folks, like he brought a veteran who was in the midst of a panic attack painting supplies, and currently acts as a recruiter for this application.

“I told him to paint what he was feeling,” recalled Gilbert. “And he started telling me he did not understand anything about art, but I said: ‘Just paint.’ And in only a few minutes, he started calming down.”

The experience was an eye-opener, ” said Gilbert, proving that art can be an effective tool for recovery.

Whitlock was gratified, but not surprised.

“Art is curative for everyone,” she clarified, “if you’ve got an illness or simply require a small stress break. Everybody needs to develop their creativity. It is part of being human.”

Utilizing art for great

Together with improving his life, WHAM is additionally credited by Alberto Hernandez. When he was a junior at high school, the Surprise native did not feel like that he had an outlet. He started tagging walls and getting in trouble for drawing through math class.

When a friend invited him to join the teen art club in WHAM that changed.

“It was amazing how much Connie genuinely cared about us as young artists and wanted to let us show what we can do,” Hernandez said.

Whitlock assigned the teens to assist with a public art project from Surprise: a mural intended to greatly cut down on graffiti in a park bathroom. The team worked to wash out the walls, then scenes representing the past, current and future of this city that was developing.

“It was the first-time anyone showed me that I could use my art for good,” Hernandez said.

22 and a Realtor, Hernandez volunteers for WHAM whenever he could as artists.

How art Ought to Be

For Whitlock, the success that Gilbert and Hernandez have found through art is that the benefit for her job.

“That is the reason why we do it,” she explained. “If you can inspire only one person, it’s worth it. That is why I am pushing hard to grow: to your neighborhood and for children.”

Whitlock hopes to keep expanding, because the club has achieved so far. In 2015, once the lease in their construction reverted to the city of Surprise, WHAM signed a 20-year rent. However, WHAM keeps hitting beyond those walls. The team will sponsor its initial plein-air festival at Peoria’s Vistancia neighborhood and recently purchased a truck that is used to maintain WHAM on Wheels. And they’re expanding their significance of arts together with events and poetry slams.

The major reason WHAM has been so effective, said Whitlock, is that it has over 200 members who are just as passionate as she is. Volunteers work in teams together with everyone contributing their own abilities.

“Even though I started this, it’s so much bigger than me,” Whitlock insisted. “it is a group effort.”

And that sense of neighborhood, based on Hernandez, is the greatest accomplishment of WHAM.

“It is all real folks,” he explained. “It is all ages and backgrounds and nobody’s excluded. Everybody’s included. It is how art should be.”

Details: WHAM Community Arts Center is a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization that offers art classes, workshops, exhibits, performances, and more. For info, see www.wham-art.org or telephone 623-584-8311. Situated in 16560 N. Dysart Road, Surprise.


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