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The Art Station Way: Business leaders get out brushes to raise nonprofit funds

🕐 4 min read

Fort Worth is a town that values art.

That really shows, and not only in its famous world-class art collections.

An estimated 300 of the city’s business and community leaders turned up for “Public Figures, Private Artists,” a party held Oct. 22 to raise money for The Art Station, a nonprofit that helps children, teens and adults face life challenges through the healing power of art.

Many of these notables lent their support by making art of their own to be auctioned at the event. Large-scale paintings by current and former mayors jockeyed for attention in the lobby of the Pier 1 Imports Building alongside paintings, photographs and sculptures by CEOs, Realtors, attorneys and philanthropists.

It made a colorful and diverse display of art, with most pieces sold via a silent auction. A handful of works by big names such as U.S. Rep. Kay Granger and Mayor Betsy Price were sold in a live auction, with most going for four-figure sums. Sales benefited The Art Station’s art therapy programs.

In its everyday work, The Art Station shows the powerful positive effects that creative efforts can have on a person’s life. Founded 11 years ago in Fort Worth by Jane Avila, the organization works with people facing a variety of challenges: grief, mental illnesses, chronic health issues, developmental delays, problems in school. The therapists are degreed mental-health professionals with special training in using art-making as part of treatment.

Fort Worth had nothing like it when Avila opened the doors in 2004.

A retired therapist at Cook Children’s Medical Center, Avila entered the field in the first place when it helped her deal with the loss of a son. She thought, “Fort Worth is such an amazing city that embraces the arts, why don’t we have art therapy here? I’m going to start a nonprofit.”

She started with just herself and one other therapist. She said she had to make people understand that “we took the same exams, we have the same degrees. This wasn’t just play, it wasn’t superficial.”

Eleven years later, the nonprofit employs several full-time therapists and has served about 8,000 people. Still, said Peggy Marshall, its CEO, “There is not enough art therapy in the community. The need is very great. That’s why I joined this organization and why I’m really working to grow it.”

The Art Station, she said, “is unique in North Texas and is becoming a regional hub for art therapy. We’re training a lot of interns who are studying art therapy at schools around the country.” Students get practical experience at the area’s only art-therapy nonprofit while working toward a graduate degree.

Art Station therapist Anne Briggs, who was attended the party, earned her degree at the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. She said she works with students ranging from age 6 to older adults, in individual and group sessions, leading them in art-making sessions that help healing in various ways.

At the party, alongside the main attractions, “story tables” showed artwork by patients and helped explain some of The Art Station’s processes and their therapeutic effects. One table held faux-scary “stress monsters” made by children. There also were interactive art stations where partygoers could try their hand at a little on-the-spot creativity.

The community leaders who donated their own art, people successful in their fields and perhaps not obvious candidates for art therapy, spoke of the value of creative efforts in their own lives — and in everyone’s lives.

Barry King, president of Brothers Sauces and a former executive at RadioShack, donated his ebony pencil portrait of an elderly man, an image inspired by his grandfather. Anyone could see that King is highly skilled as an artist, and in fact he has made art for most of his life. He has even sold pieces to Muhammad Ali and Marvin Gaye. Despite his business success, King was emphatic in saying the two things in life he could not live without are art and music.

At the other end of the experience scale, David Lyons, a former bank vice president and small-business owner, had never made art until he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and retired. His abstract acrylic painting fetched $2,000 in the live auction.

“He is just beginning to explore the art world,” Marshall said, “so it really made an impact that his painting sold for that and that it benefited this nonprofit. He was very touched by that.”

Last year, the first time this party was held, 30 people made art to donate. This year the number was 55, “and those fetched higher prices,” said Marshall. “This is popular. We’ll do this again.”

The party itself and its participants demonstrate the principles The Art Station is dedicated to, she said.

“Art can transform you, and it’s something we can all participate in.”

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