FROM NOW through Christmas, the place to be on a Monday night is in the lane behind Circa 1875.
Art in the Alley is as straightforward as it sounds: Every Monday evening, artists gather in the alley and paint. But it’s more than just an artistic happy hour.
The artists donate their paintings, and organizer Shelley Smith posts the works on Facebook for bidding and selling. All the proceeds are given to a family in need.
Smith stresses that the money doesn’t go through an organization—it goes directly to the family.
“It might not seem to encompass a lot, but it helps that one person directly,” she says. “The program is for such a short time and such limited funds. If I raise $150 off a painting and goes directly to that person, they can get food, pay their bills, buy some gifts. With organizations, you deal with the bureaucracy, administration fees. People are seeing just the smallest percentage—some are 15 cents on the dollar.”
Smith’s first piece of art benefited a woman in Haiti she kept in touch with through Facebook. The money helped her son, a talented artist, afford art classes for a month. The next beneficiary was found through a church.
“A grandma had sole custody of her grandchildren and didn’t have any electricity, and the money went directly to help them for the holidays,” Smith says.
The pieces of art aren’t at a high price point—the Haitian family received $80 from Smith—but that doesn’t matter.
“I’m no Katherine Sandoz, I’m no Marcus Kenney, but I don’t profess to be. That was never my aim,” says Smith, who traditionally works with metals. “I’m just trying to do positive things.”
After Smith’s first post about Art in the Alley, she received criticism from a user who said her paints were cheap.
“It was really nasty,” she admits. “I’m open to criticism and I have painted in the past, but this is for charity. I didn’t even have to respond to her because 130 other people did. Some people were like, ‘You really need to go evaluate your life right now.’ I felt sorry for her by the end.”
Smith admits it was hard to continue the project afterwards, but she felt emboldened.
“There’s plenty of people out there trying to do good,” she says. “Nobody here is trying to get into the Telfair. The paintings make me happy, and they make the people who buy them happy.”
The commercialization of this time of year was also a major inspiration for Smith to begin this project.
“The holidays become so capitalistic,” she laments. “Honestly, I am the Bah Humbug lady! I see a silly commercial and I start crying and then I see it’s for TJ Maxx. They’re pulling at your heartstrings and it’s just for money. I thought, I’ve gotta do something to counteract my own negativity.”
Participation in Art in the Alley is open to anyone interested—just show up with supplies.
“Circa is even offering the artist a couple glasses of wine on the house just for participating,” Smith notes.
Above all, Smith wants Art in the Alley to help others.
“This was my way of being therapeutic,” she says. “It’s about going, ‘Here is something to make you and your children better.’”