By Emma Castleberry
Aurora Studio & Gallery was conceived by Lori Greenberg while she was working at a local crisis stabilization unit. She was inspired by a woman who was struggling with multiple life stressors due to homelessness. “I observed the woman’s artistic strengths and began research for an art center for those who need support due to mental health issues, addiction or homelessness,” says Greenberg. “In the spring of 2012, I approached Arts2People and a partnership was formed.” A year later, in the summer of 2013, Greenberg hosted a pilot series of art workshops. “The series was so meaningful to those who participated, I felt compelled to continue,” she says. Those workshops have been running ever since, and in the summer of 2017, Aurora Studio obtained 501(c)3 status.
Greenberg is quick to stress that the studio does not provide art therapy, but instead provides a therapeutic art community for participants. Greenberg is a licensed clinical addiction specialist (LCAS) and a counselor, so she structures the art classes in ways that offer therapeutic value to participants. “We are not part of a community mental health center, hospital, homeless shelter or faith community,” says Greenberg. “Our sole mission is to offer art programs to those who would otherwise be unable to access an art class due to mental health needs, addiction or homelessness.” Aurora Studio classes meet weekly and candidates must register and schedule an interview (it is not a walk-in program). Most of the organization’s funding comes from small donations which provide payment to visiting artists and assist with art supplies and food. Lunch is provided during programs at Aurora Studio.
Long-time studio participant Dawn Eareckson discovered Aurora Studio through her therapist. “In the very beginning, Aurora was a lifeline,” she says. “It provided me with free art supplies, a meal and a place to be in the company of other people who accepted my presence, regardless of whether or not I was in a comfortable state of being. At first, I thought that Aurora would be a consolation prize for being a psychologically struggling artist. But Aurora turned out to be just what its slogan says: a place to heal, grow and thrive. Aurora has contributed greatly to my being a more integrated, engaged, balanced, contributing and responsible person.” When asked what first inspired her to try a class at Aurora Studio, Eareckson’s answer is simple: “Hope.”
While the studio’s history hasn’t been linear, not much has changed since that initial pilot series in 2013. The volunteer-run organization received a $10,000 donation in the fall, which enabled them to hire four interns from UNC-Asheville for assistance in outreach, media development, graphic design, art instruction and group facilitation. The organization also recently began networking with Western North Carolina AIDS Project (WNCAP) and the recovery community organization Seek Healing to offer new programming that will begin in the spring.
In 2015, Aurora Studio teamed up with James MacKenzie and a number of local businesses to plan the initial celebration of Asheville’s Zelda Fitzgerald Day (story, page 14) on March 10. This year marks the fourth annual Zelda Fitzgerald Day honoring the iconic writer, painter and dancer of the Jazz Age who also suffered from mental illness. Celebrate Zelda, a week of events from March 9 through 15, will include two Aurora Studio art exhibits, one on the second floor of the Wedge and one at THE BLOCK off biltmore. Eareckson will be demonstrating her expressionistic art style in Cindy Walton’s studio on the second floor of the Wedge on Saturday, March 9, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In 2017, Aurora Studios received a grant from the Asheville Area Arts Council’s Arts in the Park Program. The organization used the grant to enhance the park benches at the Augusta L. Barnett Playground. An Aurora Studio artist also created a mural for the Senior Opportunity Center. “It is satisfying for our participating artists to have art that is witnessed by the community,” says Greenberg. “But to me, the greater successes have been the friendships and trust created among participants. Often, people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness feel isolated due to multiple life stressors such as poverty, lack of support and health issues. This impacts one’s sense of self. Our program affirms that anyone can create art. And at Aurora Studio, we set up our workshops so that all art is accepted, as all of the participants are accepted: just as they are.”
To learn more about Aurora Studio, volunteer or register for classes, email Lori Greenberg at Lori_AuroraStudio@hotmail.com. For more information about Celebrate Zelda, visit the Facebook page “Zelda Fitzgerald Day in Asheville.”