Lebanon’s mayor sees art as therapy and as community development tool.
Natasha Baker Artist, therapist, educator, entrepreneur and public official Amy Brewer has finally found a place where she can step back and enjoy the process and outcome of the art she so loves.
Art as Therapy
As a member of a creative family Brewer always knew the arts would play a role in her life.
“My father was an innovator and designer. My brother is an illustrator and animator. My sister works in the culinary arts. Even my grandparents were very creative,” says Brewer. “My art was always encouraged.”
But she was also driven to do more—to find ways to help others through her art. Brewer came to understand the benefits of art in her first career as an art therapist working in the mental health industry for 17 years. She worked both in hospitals and in private practice using art as a way to reach her patients and give them a voice. The work had a profound effect on her and still drives much of her public sector work today.
“Art can give someone who has lost their voice a powerful way to express themselves, particularly those who have gone through significant trauma. Every day I am able to use my skills, my appreciation of the ability of art to bridge between those suffering in our community and access to the services they need. That’s an incredible thing,” Brewer says.
Art as a Teacher
Brewer switched gears from therapist to educator serving as a third- and fourth-grade art teacher at Donovan Elementary School in Lebanon for 22 years. Focusing on the creative process, Brewer says she hoped her students understood that art isn’t just about the end product.
“Learning how to work through the creative process has benefits outside the classroom and other than just the production of art. This is a skill I believed would help them in various areas of their lives and careers.”
Art as Change Agent
In the midst of these careers she began her public official career, serving first as a city council member then as vice mayor and now having served as mayor of Lebanon for 16 years. She is proud of the work the city has done to grow and develop for the residents.
In particular, she is pleased by the creation of a Crisis Mobile Unit, which is a partnership between Solutions Community Counseling and the Lebanon Police Department. The group is called in to assess situations where mental health issues may play a role. The goal is to intervene when jail time might actually be a worse fate for an alleged suspect. She says the police chief is well versed in mental health issues and has even served as the president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for Warren County.
“I always strive to serve as a positive voice of this community,” she says. “I walk by the homeless in our community and am driven to help them find the support they need. Even we are dealing with the heroin epidemic. But working together we can continue to be a positive and growing community. So many communities these days have lost their core. We have continued to be vibrant, preserving our history and charm, while updating to meet our residents’ needs.”
Art as an Entrepreneur
At the end of the 2015 school year Brewer decided it was time to retire and focus on her own art again. She wanted to create her own studio space to focus on her art.
Her storefront, East Main Artworks, features mostly metal and wood furniture and artwork designed by Brewer from recycled and upcycled pieces. Brewer says she collects pieces from auctions, garage sales and even the side of the road, “I’m not above the occasional dumpster dive!” Her favorite eras of furniture to work with include the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but she will work with anything that catches her eye.
Her design process is free flowing. She might break a piece down into parts turning cabinet drawers upside down and using them as shelves or repurposing doors into wall art. She has also been known to donate pieces for the occasional auction. Recently, when a former client offered her 75 Mason jars, Brewer decided to paint them to match furniture pieces and now gives them to clients as a fun way to add more color to their rooms.
One of her favorite parts about her current art is when former students come in the store to select furniture for their first apartment or house. “It’s so great to see them and to help them select that perfect piece.”
Brewer says she sees growth in the arts organizations and the importance of the role of the arts in Lebanon’s future. Recently, the community created the Arts Council of Lebanon to serve in the role of preserving and fostering the growing arts community. She says for her community to remain vibrant there needs to be continued collaboration between the public and private organizations in town.
“I see that as my role as mayor is to facilitate those relationships, to make the connections between them,” says Brewer. “I hope to continue to nurture existing relationships while forging new ones to secure an even brighter future for Lebanon and our citizens. And I believe a thriving arts community will help with that endeavor.”
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