Gifts of the Arts–Local group helps community by selling art
For 47 years, a group of forward-thinking women at St Matthew’s Church have been running Art Show: Bedford (ASB), donating the proceeds to local charities. The show has become known for supporting local artists, showcasing female talent such as Shelley Dell who paints by night and drives a UPS truck around Westchester for a living by day. In recent years, the 15 women who run the show have honed its charitable mission to supporting our community’s most vulnerable families, focusing on food and shelter.
The first ASB took place in 1973, when Mary Berol, an art-loving St Matthew’s parishioner had the idea to create an art-focused exhibition to benefit the community. “It was Berol’s vision that an event benefitting community charities could be both culturally enriching and fun,” says Marilen Tilt who has been on the committee herself for 15 years.
Berol’s plan came to life, and the weeklong show and preview party in Bedford’s Historical Hall was an enormous success, says Tilt. The hall was filled both day and night, art was exhibited and sold, and outreach and budget grew.
In one of the early years, the show featured small canvases of bluebirds by the late artist Jerry Bisceglia of Pound Ridge, and the proceeds went to the Audubon Society—or the New York State Bluebird Society. The exact details have been lost to history.
Over time, the mission of the committee has evolved, focusing on the needs of at-risk women and children—in some cases providing the very basics of food and shelter. Artists in the show receive 65 percent of the sale of their work, and the remaining 35 percent goes directly to 14 hand-picked non-profits. The committee of women (who are all members of St. Matthew’s congregation) selects both the artists and the charities.
One of the charities is Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA), where the money is helping to buy costumes and art supplies for 13 different rehabilitation programs within Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. “We buy supplies for our two visual arts classes, music composition notebooks, and costumes for our upcoming play, ‘Fabulation.’ The women love to get out of their daily ‘greens,’” says Jill Becker of RTA.
The importance of an art-based education program such as this? “It cultivates creativity, critical life skills, and compassion through the combination of arts and justice reform,” says Becker. “We, along with a handful of other non-profits, actually work inside prisons.
“The arts are applied to become foundational skills for reentry and stepping-stones to other academic courses.” And, as a result, recidivism drops.
ASB co-chairs, Susannah Leighton and Tara Deeks say that they are very conscious that every penny is as well placed as possible. The work of Rehabilitation Through the Arts was just that.
“We actually sold some artwork by incarcerated artists this year,” says Leighton.
The other beneficiaries for 2020 included: A-Home, Abbott House, Boys and Girls Club of Northern Westchester, Community Center of Northern Westchester, Endeavor Therapeutic Horsemanship, Hope’s Door, Hour Children, Midnight Run, Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry, Neighbors Link, Part of the Solution (POTS), Westchester Exceptional School, Visiting Nurse Services of Westchester, and Hospice Care Foundation of Hudson Valley.
The money donated to the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry directly funds “the nutritious staples and healthy produce we distribute to our clients,” says Kelley Housman, the organization’s president. These are given out to the neediest families in our community, putting food on the table. “An average of 300 families visit our pantry each week,” she continues. “That translates into over 42,000 individuals served last year, and enough food distributed for almost 600,000 meals.” The pantry operates on a “choice” system, where people shop for their groceries, selecting items in quantities customized to their family size. “We are committed to enabling our clients to prepare well-rounded, healthy meals,” says Housman, adding that the proceeds they received from Art Show: Bedford last year were enough to cover the cost of an entire month’s worth of milk for Pantry families.
“Patrons can really feel good about their contribution,” says Leighton. “The way ASB is run, it’s a pop-up essentially—there is almost no overhead.” Leighton is currently seeking additional art-based programs that could be added to the list of charities “especially if we can find one that works with women who’ve suffered domestic violence, homelessness, or trafficking,” she says.