Local shelter provides a place for creativity and hope

SHARING HIS MESSAGE: Art, says JoeRob, has saved him from drug addiction and given him a better sense of purpose. The Restored Dreams Project aims to extend that message to others facing challenges. Photo by Trevor Leach

Local artist JoeRob believes creative endeavors have the potential to unite.

“Art brings people together in a diverse community,” he says. “If you can get people together, then they’ll find out they have a lot more likeness than they have differences.”

Such pursuit has led the artist to relaunch his Restored Dreams Project, which he’s operated on and off for several years. Currently unhoused, JoeRob is based out of the shuttered West Asheville Presbyterian Church on Haywood Road. The site is one of several properties involved in the Winter Safe Shelter program, organized by Counterflow and several area churches.

On Saturday, March 25, 3-8 p.m., the Restored Dreams Project will present the exhibit, Diamonds in the Rough at nearby Trinity United Methodist Church, 587 Haywood Road. The show celebrates the artistry of marginalized voices through sculpture, painting, live music, mixed media and the premiere of Ben Phan‘s latest short documentary about JoeRob’s community efforts.

A sense of home

Art, says JoeRob, has saved him from drug addiction and has offered him a deeper sense of purpose in life. Through the Restored Dreams Project, he’s hoping to extend that message to others facing adverse experiences.

Reflecting on his childhood in Charlotte and Asheville, he notes a near compulsion to create that often landed him in trouble with his parents. Initially, he drew on the walls inside his home. Later, to avoid punishment, he relocated his focus to the back of his bedroom door. Once this, too, was discovered, he started drawing inside the closet.

Throughout much of his adulthood, the concept for the Restored Dreams Project emerged through programs he launched in libraries across North Carolina as well as Augusta, Ga. Often, JoeRob’s ability to sustain a project, however, was disrupted by his ongoing housing issues.

Such was the case in December until the Winter Safe Shelter opened. JoeRob, along with nine other community members struggling with homelessness, was invited to stay in the space on a referral basis. The program prioritizes families, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for him as someone who has stayed true to his creativity and art,” says Dan Pizzo, co-founder of Counterflow. “It’s given me an opportunity to reengage with that creative part of myself.”

“[JoeRob] is not a ‘homeless artist,’ but a masterful artist,” adds the Rev. Dustin Mailman of Trinity United Methodist Church. The religious leader emphasizes that JoeRob’s talents have been beneficial to all parties sharing the space.  “On top of people finding their artistic sensibilities — because it all exists in each of us — there is this sense of belonging, and there’s a sense of home.”

As the project develops, JoeRob imagines the shelter providing a place for members of the community to make art, record music and hold live performances for the public. He also dreams of establishing a venue where low-income artists can enroll in internships so that “they can live at a place for a period of time and they can hone their skills,” he explains.

“The Restored Dreams Project is an evolving idea that can grow beyond this building” adds Pizzo.

Counterflow and the affiliated churches hope to raise enough funds to keep the shelter running at West Asheville Presbyterian Church for at least the rest of the year, but without adequate support, they will have to consider additional options.

Giving new life

In speaking with JoeRob, the range of his artistic talents is readily apparent. He has previously made large, totemlike sculptures, which take him months to complete, as well as figurative busts and other painted works.

In the broken and twisted patterns of nature, JoeRob sees beauty where others might see neglect. “I love trying to tell a story in my art,” he says. “I’m also in love with trees. To me, the tree is the most beautiful plant, the most beautiful creation of God.”

Elaborating, JoeRob says, “I feel like if I didn’t go out in the woods and find those pieces, then they would just rot, and no one would ever remember anything about it. But if I take it and I make it into a piece of art, then it gives it a whole other life.”

As a Black artist, he continues, trees also represent death. Between 1877 and 1950, more than 4,400 African Americans were lynched. “There’s been a lot of people hung in trees,” JoeRob says. “Trees can tell a lot about history. They’ve been around for a long time.”

Similar to how JoeRob revitalizes fallen branches, he says the Restored Dreams Project looks to save people by bringing them into the community, sharing the transformative power of art and “empowering the people to help themselves.”

WHAT: Restored Dreams Project presents Diamonds in the Rough exhibition of artwork by JoeRob and other local artists.
WHERE: Trinity United Methodist Church, 587 Haywood Road. avl.mx/ch 
WHEN: March 25, 3-8 p.m. Suggested donation at the door.


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About Trevor Leach
Trevor Leach is a freelance writer and artist based in Asheville. In addition to self-publishing several books and handmade zines, they have also worked on the editorial teams of the Sentry newspaper and Paperbark magazine.

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2 thoughts on “Local shelter provides a place for creativity and hope

  1. Jill

    what an inspirational message. Hope JoeRob finds his much deserved success for this community often over looked.

  2. ahikingchick

    What an inspirational message JoeRob has to share. Wishing he and his fellow artists much success not only for their own joy but for others as well.

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