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Finding community in digital age

I don’t know much about art. To be honest, most of the art in my home was purchased at craft fairs or department stores. The rest of it was created by youngsters armed with hot glue guns, old magazines and magic markers. Alas, the only prints on my walls are those left from small, sticky fingers.

But I love strolling through galleries and museums and discovering more about artists and their craft. My education has thus far been a rather solitary pursuit. That’s why I was thrilled when I received a note about a new Meetup group called “For the Love of Art.”

Meetup is an Internet phenomenon founded in 2002 by three New York City men who’d mourned society’s loss of community and connectedness. Instead of blaming the Internet, they decided to use it and create a way for people with common interests to “meet up.” With an estimated 6 million members worldwide, and thousands of Meetup topics of interest, the organization’s goal of fostering community has been amply achieved.

For the Love of Art is just one of 67 groups within our area. There are Meetup groups for moms, dads, singles, entrepreneurs, pagans and philosophers. The list is dizzying and intriguing. Who knew we had 242 pagans and 124 philosophers in the region? And while I’d love to nosh with the Foodie Group, and I’m curious about the exploits of the Social Adventurers, I decided to make my maiden voyage into Meetup an artsy one.

Some groups, like For the Love of Art, are private, which means you can’t read the calendar of events until you join the group. But signing up was quick, easy and free. Within minutes I had a list of events to choose from. These art lovers have been busy – though they just formed on Sept. 6, they’ve already had nine Meetups.

However, there’s no pressure to attend all of the outings. Members pick and choose what interests them. And the events aren’t limited to only visual arts. The calendar includes concerts, author readings and plays.

Organizer Bonnie Cooper said she got the idea for this group after making some new friends at the Social in the City Meetup. They discovered that they shared a mutual passion for art, so Cooper created this group.

“This was my birthday gift from my son,” she said, smiling. It cost $15 per month to host a group on Cooper’s son sponsored their first three months, and she’s hoping local businesses will come on board to sponsor additional time. Some groups charge a small monthly fee to cover the cost.

Many members of the group are artists themselves. Cooper designs jewelry. Assistant organizer Sheila Peters is a former art teacher who has taken up oil painting. Peters said their group is “for artists, art lovers and those who think they want to be art lovers.”

That sounded like me. So on Oct. 1, I joined For the Love of Art members at the Jundt Art Museum at Gonzaga University to attend the Corita Kent exhibit and reception.

Sister Mary Corita Kent (1918-1986) entered the order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at 18. She became an artist and educator, known for her work in silkscreen. During the turbulent social upheaval of the 1960s, her artwork featuring themes of peace and love expressed the longings of many. She’s best known for a very small piece of art – the 1985 Love postage stamp, with its rainbow hues.

I wandered unhurried through the gallery, soaking in the vibrant colors and communal message of Kent’s work.

“The sharing of art has a social aspect,” Cooper said. I learned what she meant when, after browsing the exhibition, group members met in the reception area to enjoy appetizers and discuss what we’d seen.

Peters said as an artist she appreciates the kinetic energy generated by these outings. In addition, local artist Gina Freuen told her, groups like For the Love of Art increase patronage and awareness of area artists.

While I’m not ready to throw a pot or discuss brushstrokes, I enjoyed my outing with this congenial group. In fact, I had such I good time that I’m thinking about joining the Spokane Elvis Meetup, or perhaps I’ll find out what the 92 Spokane Novel Writers are working on. And if I join Psyched Out, I can find out what a “Freudian Grand Slam” is.

Looks like I’m going to be busy.

Stay tuned.

Voices correspondent Cindy Hval can be reached at Previous columns are available at columnists.