‘Expressions’ at the Mansion 

Thinking along artistic lines in Argenta.

FEATURED ‘EXPRESSION’: Joey Skripko’s “Lost in Time.”
  • FEATURED ‘EXPRESSION’: Joey Skripko’s “Lost in Time.”

Joey Skripko, 36, says Birch Tree Communities took him in a year and a half ago when “the world was hard” on him and made him family. Now Skripko has a part-time job, an apartment and is the featured artist in Birch Tree's “Expressions” annual show and sale to be held Thursday, April 29, at the Arkansas Governor's Mansion.

Skripko, as do all Birch Tree's clients, suffers from mental illness. Some 300 of those clients take weekly art classes with Jim Tindall as part of their journey toward recovery. Starting eight years ago, Birch Tree began offering a way their artwork could bring them financial rewards as well; all profits from the sale go to the artists.

“Expressions” has packed the Governor's Mansion's ballroom the last two years. The show and sale starts at 6 p.m. and that is when you should be there to make sure you get the piece you want. There will be 250 works by 100 artists in the show; prices are mostly in the $90 to $130 range.

Four paintings — including Skripko's painting and first, second and third place prize winners to be determined the morning of the show — will be auctioned live by TV anchor Pamela Smith starting at 6:45 p.m. Last year's featured painting brought the artist $5,000; that artist, Ben Bennett, will again have work in “Expressions.”

Skripko's painting, “Lost in Time,” is a collage of sorts; he said he tries to introduce dimensionality into his work. He hopes to become a fashion designer when he recovers. “Birch Tree has helped me quite a bit,” he said.

This year's “Expressions” will also feature 20 works by persons treated at Ozark Guidance Center, MidSouth Health Systems, Little Rock Community Mental Health, Counseling Associates and the Arkansas State Hospital. Luke Kramer, spokesman for Birch Tree, said the organization's attempt to duplicate its art recovery program at other facilities is “getting traction.”

The Ford Foundation is offering planning grants of up to $100,000 to nonprofits that are building or renovating space for artists, and what better applicant could there be than an Argenta organization?

Brad Williams of the Argenta CDC said the non-profit would like to renovate property it owns in the 700 block of Main Street for arts “programming” — retail space for the visual, performing and literary arts — as an adjunct to the 56-unit apartment building the CDC is proposing for the 700 block of Maple, backing up to the Main Street properties (which includes the old Kohler bakery). Williams said the CDC was inspired by the Studioplex development in Atlanta that combines studio space and living space. “We're looking at ways to bring literary arts and expand on the burgeoning visual arts” and music scene in Argenta, Williams said.

The Ford Foundation's Space for Change Planning and Pre-Development Grants are meant to encourage projects that will “function as engines of cultural equity and social change,” according to the foundation website.

V.L. Cox, founder of Argenta Studios, at 4th and Maple streets, said the studio is applying for a different Ford grant, the Ford Foundation/Met Life Foundation Innovative Space award. The awards are between $10,000 and $50,000.

Argenta Studios is part of an active arts scene in downtown North Little Rock that includes several galleries, a bead shop, a group art market space. The Thea Foundation is adding artist studio/gallery space in its building at 401 Main St. The venues are open late every third Friday of the month for the Argenta Artwalk.

The Argenta CDC apartment complex on Maple Street will include one- and two-bedroom apartments in a mid-price range. The cost of the project, including the renovation of the Main Street properties, is estimated at $7 million to $8 million; the apartments alone should come in around $5 million to $6 million. Elevations are before the historic district planning board now. The CDC hopes to break ground in June, Williams said.




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