Joe Rob practices many forms of visual and performing art: woodcarving, sculpting, painting, singing, dancing and poetry.
“Wood came naturally,” Rob said. “And so I think my God-given gift is carving wood.”
As much as he enjoys creating art, there is something he likes even more.
“Giving someone else the opportunity to showcase their art is what I love the most,” he said.
In 2006, Rob founded Restored Dreams, a grassroots art organization, to help undiscovered artists share their talents.
“When I started the Restored Dreams project, I was actually homeless at the time,” he said.
He describes being in Georgia in the cold of night, walking the streets “asking God to give me something that I could do to change my life, and he showed me art.”
Art had been a favorite childhood pursuit for Rob, 45, whose legal name is Joseph Robinson. He uses the name Joe Rob now. As a 7-year-old, he had a penchant for drawing on walls, he said, then trying to hide his handiwork.
For a time after starting Restored Dreams, the Internet was Rob’s main artistic venue. He recorded impromptu performances by people he met while waiting at bus stops and uploaded the videos.
There also were events at the Urban Ministry Center, an interfaith organization in Charlotte working to end homelessness. There, several years ago, he met the Rev. Chris Ayers, pastor of Wedgewood Church.
Rob had landed an apartment and been off the streets a couple of months. He said he sold Ayers some artwork – a piece influenced by themes from Christianity and Judaism – and the two have been friends ever since. Rob became a member of Wedgewood, a progressive south Charlotte congregation, and designed its art gallery.
Now, he recruits performers for Wedgewood Artistic Café, a monthly event combining established acts with up-and-coming talent. The café hosts belly dancers, cloggers, poets, church choirs, jazz bands and other entertainers. Rob said it is the “not-so-established” talent he brings.
“Joe is an incredible artist himself, but really enjoys bringing diverse communities together through the arts. He loves organizing shows,” wrote Ayers in an email.
Other shows Rob organizes are at Bunny Gregory’s NoDa warehouse space she calls “The Underground Railroad,” a performance venue, art studio and gathering space.
“I just am trying to provide a place for people like Joe to do the things that he wants to do,” Gregory said.
Emanuel Bey, an artist visiting the warehouse recently, said he has learned from Rob.
Rob estimates Restored Dreams has helped as many as 5,000 artists in three states through the years. Few have kept in touch, but that’s OK. People come and go quickly, and it isn’t always possible to form attachments, he said.
Rob said his father, a church pastor in Georgia, wanted Rob to follow in his footsteps. “I have a ministry, but it’s not a church ministry,” Rob said.
Hope Yancey is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Hope? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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