Restoring the Dream finds community in creativity

FINDING COMMON GROUND: Joe Rob says he created Restoring the Dream in an effort to bring all members of the community together, regardless of religion, gender, age, race, class or sexual preference. Photo courtesy of Lori Greenberg

The Restoring the Dream project launched in January. Its founder, Joe Rob, describes it as an artistic gumbo. Every Friday, from 6 to 10 p.m., at Kairos West Community Center on Haywood Road, a mix of artists comes together to create paintings, write poetry, play music and dance. The session is free and open to the public. Rob says most have learned of the weekly gathering through word-of-mouth, and, like its founder, many who attend have lived or currently live on the street.

The idea to create an open studio first came to Rob 15 years ago, while he was homeless. “I asked God, ‘Who am I?’ And he showed me an artist,” he says. This wasn’t a complete revelation. Rob had been active in the arts throughout his youth, but at the time of his rediscovery, he says, he’d lost his way. “Since then, I have worked at the main library in Augusta, Ga., the main library in Charlotte and all different locations in Asheville,” creating programs similar to Restoring the Dream, he says.

His latest rendition, at Kairos West, began with a chance meeting. Last fall, Lori Greenberg, founder of the Aurora Studio & Gallery — a program that offers free weekly and monthly art workshops to individuals struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues — was leading a class at the community center. Rob happened to pass by. When he saw what the group was working on, he stepped in, grabbed a canvas and began painting.

Greenberg approached him and asked what he was doing. “I said, ‘I’m painting,’” Rob says. Greenberg informed him it was a closed class; she encouraged him to register. The notion baffled him: “I said, ‘A closed class? We need an open class where people can just come in and paint.’”

This initial exchange led to a formal meeting between the two. They discussed their common interests. “He spoke of an open studio he had been part of in Charlotte,” says Greenberg, who had the desire “to reach out to more artists and people interested in working on art as a way to create community for its therapeutic benefits.”

By the meeting’s end, Greenberg committed to offering a monthly open studio through Aurora; Rob settled on creating his own weekly class. Greenberg helped Rob launch Restoring the Dream by providing him with art supplies that Aurora Studio & Gallery had acquired through donations from local businesses and artists, including Black Bird Frame & Art, the Asheville Urban Landscapers and Jonas Gerard.

“We try to bring people together through the arts,” Rob says of the weekly program. “It has bridged so many different people — [those who] normally wouldn’t get a chance to meet and talk and have a relationship through art.”

But challenges do arise. The main struggle is finding volunteers. Restoring the Dream relies on help with setting up, facilitating and leading classes. Supplies are also always welcome. Rob estimates that since it launched in January, the program has served over 150 people with about 15 weekly regulars.

Rob wants to see the program expand. “The goal is to be able to showcase [our artists’] talents,” he says. “We want to be able to work together … and go out into the community and use art as a power of goodwill for other people.”

In the future, Rob also hopes to take Restoring the Dream to low-income communities in and around Asheville. He considers art an ideal platform to express and share ideas, as well as a way for individuals to find greater purpose. The problem, he explains, is that for so many, the resources are not available.

“People have talents and skills,” he says, “but they don’t have a chance to showcase their stuff. They don’t have supplies. The don’t have anything.”

This is the population Restoring the Dream aims to serve. And while the creative expression and outlet it provides are among its many benefits, in the end, Rob says, “The community [it creates] is the reward.”

WHAT: Restoring the Dream
WHERE: Kairos West Community Center, 604 Haywood Road. For more information, contact Joe Rob at 828-747-6870
WHEN: Every Friday, 6-10 p.m.

About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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