Drivers through the streets of Columbia have an eye-opening opportunity to see our city’s homeless or mentally ill. It can be heartbreaking to see them on the streets and wonder what led them there. Many residents remember Tony, a Vietnamese man who haunted the Devine Street corridor for 18 years and then suddenly disappeared. He was a very distinctive character, with a massive crop of dreadlocks, which were often stuffed into a heavy duty, cold-weather knit cap. He also wore layers of heavy sweaters, made even bulkier because they were loaded with all of his worldly goods, even in the hottest weather. Anyone who tried to help him was usually rebuffed. But now there’s a chance to help Tony and others like him through the Mental Illness Recovery Center (MIRCI)’s 52 Windows Gala, which will be held on May 10 at 701 Whaley.
Because of MIRCI, Tony’s story has a happy ending. He didn’t disappear — he was given a second chance at life, off of the streets, and his mental illness is being treated. He’s now on medications, is talking again, learning to take care of himself and living successfully in an apartment of his own. He’s one of the award-winning agency’s many success stories. For every dollar that MIRCI receives, 92 percent goes directly to help people with mental illnesses.
Julie Ann Avin, executive director of MIRCI, never dreamed she’d have such an enthusiastic response from artists interested in donating their time and talents to the mental illness recovery cause.
The 52 Windows Gala will offer chances to bid on art pieces created from windows donated by Marcy Coster-Schulz, a MIRCI board member and volunteer. Marcy and her husband remodeled an old Shandon home a few years ago, a project that included installing replacement windows.
Laurie McIntosh’s stained glass creation, “A Tall Orange House,” is just one of the windows that will be up for bid at the 52 Windows Gala.
Not wanting to see the beautiful original windows go to the landfill, she challenged MIRCI to use them for a fundraiser. After much thought, and the creative input from volunteers at Riggs CreateAThon, the 52 Windows project was born.
Now, those vintage windows have been turned into amazing works of art by Columbia’s finest and most loved artists, including Toni Elkins, Mike Williams, Bill Davis, Steve Jordan, Laurie McIntosh, Susan Lentz and Ernest Lee.
“I have been awed by the responses from artists in the Midlands,” says Julie Ann Avin, executive director of MIRCI. “I never dreamed we would have all the windows claimed within the first few weeks after the call went out for artists – and I certainly didn’t expect to have to tell folks we have no more windows! We’ve been amazed not only to see the artists embrace the project, but to also see them embrace and champion the cause of helping individuals with mental illness.”
Bill Davis, a self-taught artist and mental health professional who is known for his whimsical “DIVA” series, says, “I have seen clients being served by MIRCI over the years, and the staff consistently goes the extra mile to assist folks in need. This has impressed me greatly and made me happy to be a part of their fundraiser. As you could probably guess, painters and other artists get known quickly in fundraising circles. In fact, hardly a week passes without my getting requests for donations. You certainly have to become selective, but knowing about the good work done by the MIRCI staff makes it a no brainer for me to want to participate.”
“The window I painted for MIRCI is another in my ongoing ‘DIVA’ series and is called ‘DIVAS and More DIVAS Looking Thru the Window.’ Of the more than 2,000 DIVA paintings I have done, probably only 25 or so have had the bulging eyes like this piece,” Bill says. Recently a woman in London – who bought a DIVA piece on a U.S. tour seven years ago and has bought herself one every Christmas and birthday since – made contact with the Simons Gallery in Beaufort asking for one of the DIVAS “with eyes.” Bill says, “This made me think maybe the ones with eyes are unique, and hopefully this will increase chances for a sale for MIRCI!” Bill currently shows at galleries in Columbia, Charleston and Beaufort and has had works at galleries in Edisto, New York and Richmond. His works have been featured in eight shows at the McKissick Museum and are in the South Carolina State Museum’s permanent collection.
State Representative James Smith, who has been an advocate and supporter for MIRCI in the State House, courthouse and even on stage while playing in his band for MIRCI’s annual shrimp boil fundraiser, says, “When most politicians speak, issues related to severe mental illness and emotional disorders rarely rank in the top five, but they are important issues to the overall wellness to our state. MIRCI provides the very best and highly cost effective services to some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens, to those many would rather avoid thinking about. Every time I visit, I am inspired by the dedicated staff, moved by their compassion and commitment, and encouraged by their meaningful impact on improving the quality of life of those they serve.”
Nelson Mullins is a long-time MIRCI supporter. Ed Mullins says, “Nelson Mullins has actively supported the local and national mental health communities for many years, not only financially, but with sweat equity too. Several Nelson Mullins members have served on MIRCI’s board, including Kristen Horne, who is a current board member. Also, Nelson Mullins is representing the mentally ill in South Carolina’s prisons in a class action case being tried right now. I feel that MIRCI touches on a lot of the important issues that our firm cares about and is unique because it helps those who are both mentally ill and would otherwise be homeless. It is especially significant to me that a part of MIRCI’s service is its proven ability to help those who they treat, and who are able, find employment.”
Columbia artist Kirkland Smith – a classical painter who creates assemblages of post-consumer waste as an evocative way to drive home the message of the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling – is donating her time and talent to the 52 Windows event. Kirkland, who is the wife of Rep. James Smith, says, “MIRCI is an organization that has worked hard to help members of our society who many would prefer to ignore. Mental illness is not a glamorous disease and is often misunderstood.
“I love the idea behind the fundraiser this year — of taking old, discarded windows and asking artists to use their creativity to make them into something new, interesting and beautiful. I joined the board for this event to help coordinate the art, artists and installation. Although I planned to do a window, I purposely waited to let other artists have a chance to choose their windows first, thinking I would tackle whatever was left at the end. There has been an overwhelming response by artists and all the windows have been chosen. I now plan to work on promoting the event and the other artists.”
The 52 Windows Gala is an event not to be missed. To find out more, visit www.mirci.org.
MIRCI’s 52 Windows Gala
May 10, 2012
6 to 9 p.m.
Heavy Hors d’oeuvres by
Jack Brantley, Aberdeen
Open Bar and Live Music
$75 per person
$125 per couple
Advance tickets available
(via PayPal) or by calling
(803) 786-1844, ext. 104
Photo Courtesy of MIRCI