Arizona ArtBeat: Street Gems of Arizona

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Valley artist Ann Morton talks about Street Gems of Arizona, a program sponsored by ASU’s Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, that gives homeless people an opportunity to earn money while creating art with found objects and recycled materials.

Ted Simons: On tonight's Arizona Art Beat we look at art as a social enterprise. Street Gems Arizona gives the valley's homeless an opportunity to make money while making jewelry out of found objects and recycled materials. Here to talk about the program is its found other Ann Morton, who recently earned her master's from ASU's Herberger's Institute for Design and the Arts. Welcome to the program, good to have you here.

Amy Mortan: Nice to be here, thank you.

Ted Simons: Street gems. Its pretty established now? Talk to us more about it.

Amy Mortan: It's pretty new. We started in the summer. June. Kind of trained over the summer just to be ready for the holiday season this year. We're pretty fledgling. Pretty new.

Ted Simons: And this is wearable art from what? Things like plastic bottles and tapes?

Amy Mortan: We use plastic bags. We use caution tape, plastic bottles mixed with small seed beads and jeweler's wire.

Ted Simons: And this is stuff that has been discarded. You're not going to the store to buy these bottles.

Amy Mortan: The bottles are discarded. We are buying the caution tape new, but the plastic bags are discarded. Caution tape may not be clean enough to wear, so we do buy that new.

Ted Simons: I understand you're working with the load star -- the LODE star daily special.

Amy Mortan: They are great. We wouldn't be able to do this without them. Early in the summer I went to them and I showed them the designs I had been working on, and they have products already which is another social enterprise. It's soaps, chapstick, lotions. So they are already set up as a small social enterprise. They were very interested in adding street gems to that. That enterprise. Making two enterprise there's. That's what we're working with them on that.

Ted Simons: I notice your necklace. That is -- I think we have another shot. That's caution tape.

Amy Mortan: That is crocheted.

Ted Simons: That's amazing. Who thinks of doing something like this?

Amy Mortan: Well, my history with crochet caution tape is very strong. I did a huge project in my master's thesis where I paid homeless a square foot to crochet caution tape and we made a huge 16 by 16 foot caution field out of that. So caution tape is definitely in my history.

Ted Simons: That's basically just a big old rug made of caution tape?

Amy Mortan: Yes.

Ted Simons: what is it like to walk on? Is it crunchy?

Amy Mortan: Very soft.

Ted Simons: It is? You mentioned you got an idea. How did you really get started with this system what made you think I have to work with some of these folks. I bet they could put together some interesting ideas?

Amy Mortan: Well, I had a studio practice during my graduate career. As much as I enjoyed that, I felt like there was something missing at the heart of that practice. So I started to explore a more social practice combined with my studio practice. My studio practice was I had been picking up discarded items and affecting them to make this giant collection, but those discarded items it was an easy leap to think I'll work with homeless people and maybe get to know a community that I really am pretty naive about. So I did a project called 13 Fridays where I invited gentle knitters to come down and knit on the human services campus on 12th avenue and Madison. 13 different Fridays for four hours an we would knit woolen hats during November and December through the coldest months of the year, and so through that I met a lot of people. I realized that this is a whole community there of people that I'm a native and I had never stepped foot on that campus before. So I learn a lot and just through different associations started working with people that I had met to make things.

Ted Simons: when these people do make things, talk about the impact of creating art on the homeless. What does it do for these folks?

Amy Mortan: Well, many of them just want something to do, and so -- when they finish these pieces can be finished in a relatively short amount of time, so there's some gratification in completing a project. There's also benefits for being involved with street gems. They get an internship eventually. They might get housing. They might get bus passes. We might give an eye exam and new glasses to a participant. They take part in different programs like toastmasters, ballroom dancing, so it's not just doing street gems. It's getting involved in this community and learning how to get back integrated back into the community again.

Ted Simons: I would think just the feeling of accomplishment would be big.

Howard Fischer: Absolutely. And a lot of people like I used to crochet when I was a little 10:04 AMkid. My mother taught me. This unearthed that skill they once had as a child or young person.

Ted Simons: Do you think this can also maybe help educate the public, maybe break down some stereotypes regardless the homeless when they see what they are doing? That's not easy to do. That takes time, takes commitment, takes a lot of things that some folks think the homeless don't have maybe.

Amy Mortan: Right. I hope that happens. I hope there is some barriers that get broken down. Just an awareness. That's why some of the photographs of our makers, I like to put them out there so they can see them making and that these are real people behind these objects.

Ted Simons: where can you buy these things?

Amy Mortan: We're available in retail locations and online. So we're available at may boutique in downtown Phoenix. We're available at the ASU museum store at Scottsdale center for the arts in smoka. They are in both stores there. Schumer center for the arts and in Chandler at their city hall visions gallery. Then we're available online at the BB -- just BB just with just a B, we're street gems Arizona on

Ted Simons: Last question, what is next for you?

Amy Mortan:: Well, I continue to find projects where I can have a broader focus of the homeless, broader community, so I'll be doing a public art project soon with the city of Phoenix that is another big project where it will end up making blankets for the homeless. That will take over the next year's time.

Ted Simons: Very good. Congratulations on street gems. Thank you so much for joining us.

Amy Mortan: Thank you, appreciate it.

Ted Simons: Friday on the journalists roundtable Maricopa County vows to keep fighting the legality of marijuana dispensaries. Why was representative David Schweikert removed from a key house committee by fellow Republicans. Those stories on the journalists roundtable. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Ann Morton:Artist;

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