Brooklyn-based street artist Swoon founded the Heliotrope Foundation in 2015. By targeting three specific initiatives, Swoon (aka Caledonia Dance Curry) has the opportunity to bring fathomable missions to fruition: restore the Jones Street church in Braddock, PA, build a community center and a new standard for shelters in Haiti, and remind New Orleans of its rich, musical past. Each reach and heal a community by restoring an economic and social health beyond a city’s misfortune from the oblivion of time or its natural disasters.
Swoon began practicing street art around 1999. With a landmark exhibition at Brooklyn Museum in 2014, Ms. Curry is one of a small handful of celebrated street artists in yet another male-dominated subset of the art world. Her long-standing theme in her work of social inequality was met with a new opportunity when a local community member in Braddock, PA introduced her to a church he was trying to save from demolition. “He said, ‘I know you do crazy projects, what do you think?’ I took one look and fell in love,” Swoon recalls.
Swoon’s call to action for the Braddock Tiles initiative, to renovate and revive the dilapidated church on Jones Street, inspired hundreds to pledge a total of over $100,000. “We’re still working on it! The process of bringing the building up to code has been formidable. We’re making great progress though,” Swoon says. “The project has evolved over time, and has included collaborations with the Braddock Youth Project, and tons of work with the artist collective Transformazium that does farming and arts programming in town. It’s evolving organically and we are so grateful for the support people have given it over time. Over 150 artists from all over the world have been involved in the fundraising at every stage–so it’s a community-based project in two senses: first within the community of North Braddock and also within the community of artists who’ve lent themselves to it over the years.
The Heliotrope Foundation has also taken on sister projects in New Orleans and Haiti, expanding on its mission to empower local communities through engagement. The ripple effect is immeasurable in its potency. We asked Swoon what inspires her continued dedication to aid such specific causes, many of which have been out of the mainstream media’s spotlight for some time.
“What I have learned from each of the projects is that the process of communities recovering and rebuilding themselves after disasters is long and slow. There are the immediate needs and those get all of the media attention. Then there is another kind of work, which is much longer, slower, and more dedicated; it only just begins when the immediate damage control has ended. After my first year of involvement with Haiti, people would say, where are you going next? And I found that my answer was, ‘Back to Haiti.’ Because I was learning that I wasn’t just passionate about summoning an immediate response but we had bonded with a whole community. We cared about their welfare in the long term and about the impact of our relationship. There were elders who wouldn’t even say hello to us until our second trip. They had seen groups come and go, and they were weary of connecting with anyone who was just going to sweep through, start a project, never finish it and then leave. We knew without a doubt that we didn’t want to do that and that the process of maintaining passion, commitment and dedication over the long haul was going to be the core of our work.”
Swoon’s strategy to address problems by seeing each from its start to its finish doesn’t just make the ultimate resolution heartening but, more importantly, possible. Her passion for Braddock Tiles, The Music Box and Konbit Shelter is palpable through unceasing commitment and a blessed star power. And it’s a combination of such that can bring on the likes of Shepard Fairey, RETNA, Kiki Smith, Swizz Beatz and oh, so many more to her Pearly’s Beauty Shop this Saturday, May 21 at Superchief Gallery in Los Angeles. All proceeds from this dance party/pop-up exhibition/unisex art salon will go to supporting Heliotrope Foundation. After all, no one said fun and fundraising had to be mutually exclusive.
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