With paint-splattered easels and wooden drums waiting to be played, Sidestreet Art Beat provides a therapeutic place where individuals feel supported and empowered despite the challenges they face.
Photography BY John Kazaklis
Sidestreet Art Beat became a nonjudgmental refuge in 2014, and a year later earned a nonprofit status not long after filing for one. It runs solely on donations. Focusing on the needs of individuals with life challenges such as Alzheimer’s, related dementia, and autism, Sidestreet Art Beat provides a safe place to become lost in art.
“I am not an art therapist. I am an artist, and I just have a passion for sharing art,” says Tinia Clark, executive director of Sidestreet Art Beat Inc., located at Sidestreet Studio in downtown Winter Haven. Tinia became involved with art as therapy when she had breast cancer almost 10 years ago, realizing then how therapeutic it was to heal yourself with art when going through a rough journey.
Shortly after overcoming cancer, Clark started volunteering with the Florida Gulf Coast Alzheimer’s Association. After she learned the Arts Ensemble Education Foundation had a studio space, she began to work at the studio once her regular job had ended. What started out as a one-on-one session quickly grew to the size of a small class. Eventually, the space was sold, but Clark didn’t give up the arts. She resorted to working out of her car, which she found difficult because of the great ambiance she had created at the studio. But she was not deterred and knew she would find a space to pursue her passion of helping others, mainly those suffering from dementia and autism.
Today, Clark has a regular group for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, which she teaches twice a week, each Tuesday and Wednesday. “We don’t really talk about the disease process as much as we talk about other things and engage the person socially in the group,” she says. “As students progress through the disease [dementia], they require more one-on-one attention.” Local businesswoman Jessie Skubna offered a wonderful space in downtown to continue programs of helping those suffering with dementia and autism.
There are many forms of dementia with which someone can be affected. Alzheimer’s falls under the dementia umbrella. Last year, Sidestreet Art Beat did a project about a gentleman who was diagnosed in his forties with early onset Alzheimer’s which impacted his ability to control his brain’s language center.
When the students arrive for class, Clark finds them comfortable chairs to get them settled in, asks what they’re in the mood for, or if there there’s anything special they’re wanting to do. With a strong sense of emotional intelligence among this community, she will at times even go so far as to give them options, as to avoid the overwhelming feeling of too many choices. Many students create abstract works of art which is often the ideal activity since there is no right or wrong, there is nothing to compare it to or judge, making it all the more easier on them.
“It’s usually small groups, so it’s not like I’m affecting a lot of people, but I’m efficiently affecting some people,” says Clark. The program is called Access Art, providing a homey, warm environment to all who walk through the door. Depending on the mood, Clark will play music, and sometimes the students even start to sing along. “A day when they are singing is a day when I’m really happy,” she says.
Every three months, students from Sidestreet Art Beat visit the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland to talk about the art but also not to talk about the art, in an effort to not necessarily teach, but to engage students either through their thought process, how a piece of art may make them feel, or to sort through their own interpretation of what they think the artist may have meant.
“They don’t all see the same thing,” says Clark. “And I’ve learned, it’s taken me a while to figure this out, the best thing to do is let them play. That’s what they’re here for. They’re here to have a good time and have fun; they’re not here to learn. And if they’re not having fun, then I’m screwing up, because the whole purpose is to have them come out of their house and have fun.”
Other classes are offered in addition to Clark’s Alzheimer’s and dementia classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. On Thursdays, the Fun Drumming class is open to everyone for a time of drumming (all drums provided). And, whether you’re an established writer or an amateur, resident writer Donna Kelly hosts each second and fourth Saturday of the month where writers can meet to discuss various topics related to writing, while offering critique and support.
Last year, Sidestreet Art Beat held their first fundraiser: “Be One With One Hundred,” where they showed Steve’s Story, in honor of the gentleman with early onset Alzheimer’s. It was a legacy piece for him. Their next fundraiser, on April 20, will be held at the studio, where a film will be shown that features embedded memories. The movie focuses on the preconceived notion that most people think individuals with dementia are unable to recall anything. But that is simply not the case. The film will show they can carry on a conversation or tell a story with the best of them.
Clark wants everyone to know: “We don’t turn anyone anyway. We don’t charge anyone. Most of the materials are donated either by artist friends or the Florida Gulf Coast Alzheimer’s Association.”
If you would like to donate to Sidestreet Art Beat, please visit their website at sidestreetartbeat.com, call Tinia Clark at 863.224.8557, or stop by the studio for a class. Your donation will enable Sidestreet Art Beat to create and facilitate programs, provide materials, and a place for individuals to share art-making and drumming experiences in our community.
SIDESTREET ART BEAT
110 3rd Street SW
Winter Haven, FL 33880