Art can be therapeutic. It can tell a story. And for Jennifer Crickmore, it can do both. That’s why she eagerly agreed to be part of the Second Chances Art Exhibit to benefit Blue Jacket, a non-profit agency in Fort Wayne that provides job and skills training and career placement to people who are facing barriers to employment.
From client to advocate
Ten years ago, she was a client.
“It’s not just training. It’s professional development,” Crickmore explained. “It’s so much more than teaching someone how to navigate an interview or how to wear a tie the right way. It’s all encompassing.”
The support she received at Blue Jacket prompted her to go back to school and earn three college degrees. She discovered she enjoyed — and had a knack for — helping others. That’s how she wound up back at Blue Jacket, working full time as a career advocate.
“We try to attack some of those obstacles that people have,” Crickmore said. “Maybe it’s child care, maybe it’s mental health, maybe it’s addiction, maybe it’s chronic homelessness or generational poverty. We just try to hurdle those obstacles and place them in jobs that are sustainable. Not just jobs, but careers. Something that can lead to long-term employment.”
Blue Jacket also has a clothing store that meets two needs. It raises money to support programs like the career academy and staffing placement, and it’s also is a place where clients can get the professional clothes that they have to have while looking for work.
Stories of redemption
The organization is all about second chances, which is why the art exhibit and fundraiser are aptly named.
“The Second Chance Art Exhibit takes those stories of redemption that come out of our classes,” said Blue Jacket Director of Marketing Brad Saleik. “We take 11 or 12 of our graduates every year and we pair them up with a local artist. Essentially, they sit together and talk.”
Jennifer Crickmore told artist Erin Patton-McFarren about her childhood in rural Allen County, growing up with an apple orchard on their property. She also recalled a poem her mother gave her called “After a While” by Veronica Shoftstall. Slowly, an idea began to take shape.
“Our first exchange by email was full of wonderful information,” Patton-McFarren said. “I felt like I knew her before we met. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this woman is a powerhouse! I need to make something incredibly beautiful to celebrate her.’ I created cyanotypes on fabric. It’s a simple form of photography that turns light-sensitive chemicals a vibrant blue when exposed to sunlight.”
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Crickmore said. “She took paper-thin slices of apples and laid them on fabric. Then she took that poem and had her daughter, who’s a dancer, read it and put it into motion. She took pictures of her and put a silhouette of her dancing in the middle of the artwork and then did the same chemical process of it as well.”
Investing in success
Patton-McFarren’s finished work along with dozens of other pieces in a variety of mediums will be on display through May 31 in the Weatherhead Gallery in the Mimi and Ian Rolland Art and Visual Communication Center at the University of Saint Francis. The exhibit opens during a special reception on Saturday, May 18, from 6-9 p.m. Tickets are $10 per person.
All of the originals will be available to purchase, and all of the proceeds benefit the Blue Jacket Career Academy.
“In addition to that, we realize that not everybody wants to or can spend $500 or more on a piece of art, so we will take those pieces and offer smaller versions or prints that people can buy,” Saleik said. “There’s something there for everybody.”
The entire experience has been moving for both Crickmore and Patton-McFarren, who say they strongly believe in Blue Jacket’s mission and are honored to be part of the exhibit.
“The success of Blue Jacket is evident in the successes of its clients,” Patton-McFarren said. “What I love about the Second Chances Art Exhibit is that it’s a celebration of the accomplishments made by individuals involved in the program. The stories of triumph are inspiring.”
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