Nurturing the art of creativity

You don't have to earn your income as an artist to consider yourself a songwriter, painter, musician or photographer.

That's the philosophy behind programs at the Women Centered Art Co-op, open since March off South Tryon Street near Billy Graham Parkway.

Founders Brooke Hofsess and Shane McCormick are artists and art teachers. Through the co-op's workshops and programs, they focus less on a finished product and more on the experience of creating.

"We've become so results-driven as a culture," said Hofsess, 31, a teacher at Winthrop University. "I think there's a place for a softer, more soulful side. That's what we offer, a place for an absolute beginner to work alongside a professional, with each person valued for what they bring to the table."

The place where more than 40 co-op members work on tapping into their creativity is a one-story brick building in an old office park on Pressley Road.

The building was vacant for about five years, and the owner has donated it to the co-op for a year.

Now members - women and men - are using the 6,000-square-foot space for drumming circles, working with clay, learning photography and paper crafts, and painting on the center's graffiti wall.

Members also have access to studio spaces and participate in group and solo art exhibits, community classes, film screenings, monthly potlucks, yoga and movement classes, outreach projects and mentoring among emerging and professional artists.

"You don't have to pick one thing," member Darci McAllister said after a workshop on drumming. "You can try one thing one week and try something different another week."

Skill levels in the group vary from beginners to professionals.

Classes are taught by the founders or professionals from outside the organization. Members also lead programs in areas where their skills are strongest.

"Our culture has shifted away from the idea that creativity is a natural human inheritance," Hofsess said. "It's one of the most special gifts we have. It's possible for anyone and everyone to tap into that in the right environment."

The variety of programs available has filled a void in McAllister's life. The graphic designer and Charlotte native joined the group about six months ago.

"There was absolutely nothing like this co-op growing up (in Charlotte)," McAllister said. "You could probably find one mixed media group in one place and photography in another."

Building and strengthening the community of female artists is a primary goal, and some programs might have stronger appeal for women. Still, men also are welcome to join.

Memberships are $35 annually for individuals and $45 for a family. Students and seniors pay $15. Members get workshops for free or reduced prices.

For member Jessica Copeland, the workshops and programs are a way to balance the demands of work and responsibility at home.

"We all have regular jobs," she said. "Sometimes we lose that ability to be creative. This offers you an opportunity to find that piece of you again."

For others, the co-op refuels their creativity.

"It gives me an excuse to push myself to do more creatively and something to look forward to," said CMS art teacher Katherine Hutchens. "As an art teacher, it's important for me to continue to be creative for my students."