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Creating Community: Art group transforms itself

Marian Herzer, co-founder of Monarch Arts, has some of her group's paintings stored in her Spokane Valley apartment, shown Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. The group promotes arts events and projects. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Marian Herzer, co-founder of Monarch Arts, has some of her group's paintings stored in her Spokane Valley apartment, shown Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. The group promotes arts events and projects. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Irene Dahl, 83, is a German-born psychotherapist who witnessed the death of her father in Nazi Germany when she was 7 years old.

At 69, Karen Harwood is a longtime attorney and teacher at Gonzaga University who is now retired.

Betty Bradley, 77, is a retired Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, a Roman Catholic religious congregation.

What brings these three very different Spokane women together?

The answer is simple: art.

The three are members of Monarch Arts, an outreach service arts program for those 50 and older. It promotes creative expression and exploration of the arts, and it’s committed to bringing art to the community, especially those populations who typically have no access to the visual arts.

After 18 years, Monarch Arts has undergone a nearly two-year transformation, similar to that of the monarch butterfly for which it’s named. The program is re-emerging as a rich resource to older artists and to the community as a whole, said Marian Herzer, a longtime arts advocate.

Herzer co-founded Monarch Arts in 1998 with Phyllis McKamey. They saw the organization as a vehicle for service and personal fulfillment – a gift for all ages but especially the retired, who could transform their lives, redirect energies and use their talents in service to others through the visual arts, Herzer said.

“What sets us apart from other senior arts groups is that we’re one of the only groups in the country that has traveling art exhibits,” she said.

Monarch Arts takes art on the road, with exhibits by older artists including Dahl, Harwood and Bradley, to venues around the Inland Northwest.

In late August, Monarch Arts became a nonprofit. It now can raise money and apply for community and government grants, Herzer said.

“Being a nonprofit eases the way to be able to raise money,” she said.

A transition team has been working to reconnect with those who appreciate the arts community, and has been getting acquainted and reacquainted with artists.

“Monarch Arts is being re-envisioned (to) meet the needs of, and bring inspiration to, the senior and general communities in the Inland Northwest,” Herzer said.

“That’s how it feels right now, like we’ve been in a cocoon for the last 1 1/2 years, and now we’re re-emerging in order to create, encourage and enhance the visual and to serve those unable to reach the arts,” she said.

Monarch Arts began with 16 founding artists and has grown to more than 80 who have participated over the years, providing 33 static art shows and 14 wellness events. Additionally, Monarch Arts programs have featured art classes, museum tours, educational luncheons, artist-at-work demonstrations, story-telling and poetry readings.

Here’s a look at three of the group’s members:

Betty Bradley

Bradley, or Sister Betty, has been a member of Monarch Arts for two years.

At 77, the retired nun and prolific artist paints, mostly in watercolors, and teaches part time. Art energizes her, she said.

“It stimulates me in good ways,” Bradley said. “It brings peacefulness to my life and that’s really good. And it leads me to truth and love, and I revel in the beauty of creation.”

Not only does her art bring her gifts, she joined the group to be of service.

“Someone once said to me that when they saw my work that they experienced a sense of peace,” she added. “I’m trying to reach out to others and bring God’s love and goodness, and visual art does that.”

Bradley said she hopes to teach classes at Monarch Arts as the organization gets reorganized.

“When I teach I can almost watch the healing process work on people’s faces. It’s something that happens in the way they express themselves. It goes from one extreme to the other … from a negative to positive – and goodness within themselves,” she said. “When I create, I don’t know what the end product will be. What happens in the process is beautiful and fun.”

Irene Dahl

Dahl has been an artist all her life and a member of Monarch Arts since the group’s inception 18 years ago.

After growing up near Frankfurt, Germany, Dahl studied to become a therapist and used art therapy in her practice.

“I used art therapy in my work to help patients’ drawing out the subconscious,” she said.

Dahl has an enormous body of work ranging from children’s portraits to landscapes to abstract. Today she paints with mixed media on aged copper sheets, creating works that illustrate her love of meditation, which she said “creates quiet and pleasing art that inspires the viewer to meditate too.”

Dahl’s work has been shown in local galleries as well as nationally in New York and Arkansas.

In addition to meeting other artists, Dahl said Monarch Arts gives her a way to contribute to society.

“I thought I needed to do something to give back to the community. And I do that through my artwork,” she added.

Karen Harwood

Karen Harwood said her most recent “incarnation” is artist and art teacher. While teaching at Gonzaga, Harwood decided to take art classes there when she was in her late 40s.

Harwood’s artwork has been called quirky and whimsical, expressive and unique. A series of paintings called “The Secret Life of Ties” shows off her artistic expression.

“It’s a surreal type of thing. I paint still life with lots of color and I like the quirky parts of (my work),” Harwood said.

“Art occupies a different place in your heart as you get a little older,” she said. “You find things that really mean something to you. I love it.”

She said she is often surprised at what “comes out.”

With Monarch Arts since 2014, Harwood considers the organization a “real asset to the community.”

“I’m a newbie to Monarch Arts but I’m interested in the mission to find ways to bring art to a number of different people and bringing art to the community,” she said. “It’s a really good idea linking seniors with art.”

Harwood said it’s difficult at times to get artwork out to be viewed.

“It’s so hard to do it on your own and find those opportunities. This is good for individuals and for the community,” she added.

As a member of Monarch Arts’ education committee, Harwood plans to help plan art workshops and other classes. “We would love to get more artists involved and my committee is looking at those things,” she said.