Local artists gather to paint for peace

By Karen Campbell

Special to The Press

Experienced and reluctant artists followed instructor Michelle Williams lead and transformed a sketch on a canvas into a color-filled interpretation of a well-known Martin Luther King portrait during the first MLK Day Painting for Peace event this week in Union City.

Current and potential members of Weakley Arts Can, the advocacy group supporting arts in Weakley County Schools and the local community, gathered at Historic Ann’s 1893 wedding and event venue, on Monday to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Painting for Peace.

Julie Hill, co-owner of the Union City event space with husband David Coffey, told the small group gathered for an afternoon of conversation, food, drinks, painting and history that the day is one of her favorite holidays as it is focused on “gratitude and community — not commerce.”

She and Coffey served as hosts and Coffey, chair of history and philosophy at the University of Tennessee at Martin, also shared thoughts and excerpts from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

The transformed historic home that recently has been the site of marriages and holiday celebrations became an art studio for the day. Williams tapped into her supply of brushes, paints and palettes to coach and coax the group taking turns at the easel.

As a volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club in Union City and a new art history instructor at UTM, Williams is accustomed to encouraging hesitant would-be artists to take the first swipe and experienced painters to try new approaches. Her patience and enthusiasm for being part of the creative process was evident throughout the almost two-hour experience.

“I think Dr. King would probably agree that this is a holiday for everyone who has been a part of civil rights and social justice,” Coffey offered when he began his comments. “Few people in the history of social justice have had such an impact.”

Coffey leaned into the active nature of King’s activism, drawing inspiration from portions of the letter such as “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Hill, who chairs the UTM music department, then followed Coffey’s comments and asked guests who were not part of the Weakley ArtsCan to consider involvement.

She noted that after almost two years of operating, the advocacy group recently determined it will make its regular gatherings working meetings initiating research and gathering background for potential grants and other means of supporting the arts in Weakley County Schools.

“We want to chisel out a model for rural districts,” she said of efforts that were recently highlighted in Tennessee Musician, the official publication of the Tennessee Music Education Association.

The next meeting of Weakley Arts Can is Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Weakley County Schools office in Dresden. The group welcomes new members.

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