U-Create Studio goes to Mexico

By Shelley Widhalm

The Surveyor

Anita Yeh Norrie of Berthoud needed a place to bring the U-Create concept she founded at the Wildfire Community Arts Center to Cozumel, Mexico, where she winters every year.

An anonymous Colorado couple had the place—an empty warehouse—but wanted a project to give back to the community there. The couple remodeled the space into a community art studio, and Anita engaged in a fundraising project to purchase furniture and supplies.

Anita and her husband, David, will be heading to San Miguel, Cozumel, in July to begin operating the Casa de Creatividad.

“What makes me most excited is the possibilities it can create for other people by experiencing all of the benefits of making art,” said Anita, coordinator of the U-Create Studio and a Wildfire volunteer. “The goal of the two studios is to not turn out great artists, but to turn out people who have experiences in the process of creating art that benefits lives.”

Translated to the House of Creativity, Casa de Creativity is a part of Art Power, Inc., a nonprofit Anita began in 2017 to bring a free and low-cost community art studio to Cozumel. Her idea paralleled with her creation of the U-Create drop-in classes at Wildfire and her and David’s annual trips to Mexico, where she saw a need for youth art.

“We are an organization dedicated to changing the lives of children and young people through the transforming power of art,” said Anita, founder and creative director of Art Power. “It was to convey the strength of art and to convey the possibilities to make it.”

In 2012, Liz Kearney, founder of Wildfire, asked Anita to set up the U-Create Studio in what once had been a theater space at the art center. Anita brought her experience to the project—she worked for four years in art therapy and another 25 years as a decorative painter of murals and faux finishes in Chicago and along the Front Range, the last 21 through her business, Yeh for Art!

Anita had already been involved in Wildfire, heading up two summer mural projects in 2010 and 2011 to work with youth as a guide and mentor on painting murals on the east and west sides of the building. The murals are of a Chinese farmer scene, depicting everyday life in agricultural areas to fit with rural Berthoud, and of a dragon.

“I really believe in the benefits of creating art. I really believe in an open studio setting where it’s not art class in school,” Anita said.

Anita serves as an art guide and volunteers on Saturdays—other volunteers come in when the studio is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer months and while she is in Mexico. The studio is geared to youth and adults who want to work on their own projects or engage in a suggested project, using the supplies there.

Anita wanted to expand the studio concept to other places and found a site for her project. She and David spend two months a year wintering in Mexico and four years ago began volunteering at an orphanage there, the Ciudad de Angeles. She led a mural project to paint one of the blank walls and the following year to paint a second wall, also on the east and west side of the buildings like with the Wildfire building.

“It was almost mimicking what I did here,” Anita said.

The following two winters, Anita began hosting an art studio session in the orphanage library, operating out of bins and boxes to transport the art supplies. At the time, David, a blacksmith of 42 years, made beds and security grills for the windows of the orphanage, which houses 43 children.

The Norries, who stay in an apartment they rent year-round off the tourist strip, started noticing that children in nearby neighborhoods to the orphanage had few resources and also could use a space for drop-in art.

“We realized it was the kids in the community who didn’t have resources,” Anita said.

In February 2017, the Norries came up with the idea of forming Art Power and opening an art studio. Anita applied for nonprofit status in April and received a positive response in 22 days that same month, she said.

“It fulfills Wildfire’s mission of a promoter and incubator of art programs,” Kearney said. “I’m delighted Anita is taking it to another place. … It just shows the strength of the concept Wildfire has. Wildfire is all about making art accessible and available to communities that don’t have a venue for it.”

In winter 2017, the Norries continued the art studio in the orphanage library and also at the Vida Abundante Church in Cozumel as they began planning for the art studio. That December, the anonymous couple, who have an apartment a half-mile from the Norries’ Cozumel apartment, contacted David and offered him the space for a blacksmith shop.

At the time, the space was raw, old and dirty, but the couple, after hearing about the Norries’ project, agreed to offer it to them for two years rent-free and to remodel it for the studio.

“They loved that idea and wanted to give back to the community,” Anita said. “They had the place and means but didn’t know what to do no. We had that but no place or means.”

As a result, the Norries are able to open the art studio years earlier than they expected, Anita said.

The space, which is 1,000 square feet, consists of one room dedicated to an art studio for all ages, where there will be art supplies for various types of projects. Two smaller rooms will be used for a metal shop for youth 16 and older, where David will teach small metal work, jewelry making and drumming.

The Norries will leave July 17 to set up the studio and stay through October and return again the next year. To pay for the costs of the studio and other items, they engaged in a fundraising project, generating more than $15,000 in donations, along with donations of art supplies. They used part of what they raised to purchase tables, chairs, and shelves to furnish the studio.

Initially, the studio will operate through volunteers, but eventually, Anita would like to hire a staff to work there year round. The studio will be open 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday to accommodate morning and afternoon school sessions. Once operations are underway, Anita plans to open the studio six days a week.

“They can decide what they want to work on,” Anita said. “We will have suggested projects if they don’t know where to start. … Here, we have an art idea of the month for two different age groups. Nothing is mandatory.”

Anita hopes to open a second art studio in Cozumel, which is provincial and dense in population, she said. She also wants to offer workshops at both studios.

“It was a wonderful idea, and it grew to fruition through Anita working at Wildfire,” said Lori Ohs, executive director of Wildfire. “We are so proud of her and what she’s doing, and we’re going to continue to be part of her journey. We will support her any way we can.”

For more information, visit Art Power’s Facebook page or the website, artpower4all.org.

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