By Alyssa Smith, Staff Writer –
With the collective efforts of dedicated volunteers and marginalized creatives, Chattanooga’s Hart Gallery still stands to positively impact lives nearly a decade after its conception.
Coming across a work of public art made by members of Chattanooga’s homeless population, Ellen Heavilon, the founder of Hart Gallery, was inspired to purchase art supplies and donate them to a local community kitchen.
Her efforts did not stop there. Discovering the large amount of unrecognized talent within the homeless community, she was moved to take her service a step further.
With the purchase of an abandoned building in the Southside neighborhood, renovations transformed it into a safe space to gather and create.
“When someone needs healing, hope, and family, the Hart Gallery is a home with open doors,” says the gallery’s website.
Staying true to their mission statement, Hart Gallery works directly with the homeless community, those with mental or physical disabilities, low-income seniors, at risk youth, disabled veterans and others.
“Everyone deserves access to create regardless of the individual’s background,” said Cassie Terpening, the Communications and Volunteer Coordinator at Hart Gallery. “Our artists would not otherwise have the chance to have a cathartic outlet, which is essential in working through trauma and crisis. Hart provides a social safety net to people who usually do not have a community to call home.”
Hart Gallery offers a variety of art courses every week. One such course is Studio E, a program designed to teach art to children with epilepsy. In their Seniors with Hart program, the organization visits senior living facilities downtown.
Another feature of the gallery is the community garden. Composed of garden boxes, artwork, rain barrels and a compost bin, the garden is an attempt to preserve natural beauty in an urban environment. There is a path of commemorative bricks, with names of donors and in memoriam of those passed, all made by Hart members.
The art created by those at Hart is available for purchase, with a percentage going directly to the artist and the gallery, and another ten percent to a charity of the artist’s choice. This allows the artist the opportunity to give back, when they otherwise would not have had this ability.
While trying to remain present in the community despite COVID-19, the gallery has hosted a virtual show and distributed therapeutic art kits to homeless families. With the gallery’s program space temporarily closed, their retail and online store remain open as they take measures to safely host classes again soon.
“It enriches my soul as well as so many others,” said Terpening. “Over the years the resilience of our artists at Hart has deeply inspired me to be a better person myself…and count it as the top blessing in my life personally.”