April 2017 Writer / Cindy Argentine “It’s fun, colorful, active, and peaceful.” Leavesley has taught painting at Zionsville’s Sullivan Munce Cultural Center for the past ten years. A highlight of her experience has been seeing how art has benefited her students. One woman told Leavesley that painting changed her life. This woman was grieving the loss of a loved one when she signed up for a class. After a few sessions, she realized the class was helping her cope. When she was painting, she said she was so focused on what she was doing that her sadness just evaporated. Other students have also told Leavesley how serene they feel when they paint. Leavesley agrees it can be meditative: “You slow down, you focus. Art calms the mind from anxious thoughts and boosts the spirit with color and motion.” Leavesley admits that as therapeutic as art is, it can sometimes be isolating. To counteract that, the center offers ways to create art in community. These opportunities allow new friendships to form. On Mondays, a group gathers at the Sullivan Munce to paint wooden boxes with German and Norwegian folk designs. On Wednesdays, the center hosts open painting, where Leavesley and other artists work on individual projects in the company of others. On Thursdays, there are classes in watercolors, ceramics, and other media. A prime example of social art is the Canvas + Cocktails series. Leavesley has led these on Saturday evenings for about three years. They are part of a growing national trend that brings people to art studios to chat and paint between sips of wine. People simply sign up and walk in; all the supplies are provided. At the Sullivan Munce, they can register for a single class or come every month. They can arrive alone or bring a whole group. Leavesley has seen husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, and business organizations bond over the experience. Leavesley designs the painting for each Canvas + Cocktails class herself. As she creates it, she comes up with a methodical way to teach it. During class, students paint the picture onto their own canvas as Leavesley demonstrates how to do it, offering tips as she goes. “I’ll talk about how to use the brushes, how to mix colors. I teach foreground and background, how to gradate a sky, and atmospheric effects.” Sometimes adults have had a bad experience with art or don’t feel they have any ability. Occasionally these people arrive for class and then hesitate to start. Leavesley encourages them to relax and lets them know they can paint over anything they don’t like as soon as it’s dry. She also tells them that learning to see like an artist can be taught. One student shared that painting has opened her eyes to a whole new world, one with variations in the greens of the leaves and the colors of shadows on the ground. Some artists are critical of the wine and canvas concept, saying that copying what a teacher does hampers creativity. Leavesley disagrees: “I would argue that any time you put paint on a canvas, it’s art. You’re starting the artistic process, the creative process.” Besides, with her classes, people can decide whether or not they want to follow along exactly. For a class where the subject was a cat curled up on a table, every person chose a different color palette, often to represent their own pet, and created their own background setting to complement it. Leavesley recognizes that people engage with art for many reasons. It might be the joy of seeing bright colors, the accomplishment of completing a canvas, or the feel of the flow of the paint. She’s particularly attuned to the benefits of the tactile experience of making art. She believes many people feel best when they are using their hands and making things, and she acknowledges that we do less and less of that in our present culture. “Human beings were really designed to be active and to be creating,” she says. “When we are repairing, when we are creating a meal, when we are raking leaves and making piles, all of this is a way of calming the mind and keeping things orderly.” Research shows that positive neurochemicals are released when people make things with their hands, which helps explain the feelings of calm and delight her students express. Art has been a part of Leavesley’s life since she got her first box of pastels as a child one Christmas. Though she worked in food science right after college, she always somehow knew she would follow her high school art teacher’s advice and come back to art. Now she urges others to explore their creativity. “If I can encourage people to see what they can do,” she says, “then I feel like I’ve made a difference in expanding their ability to appreciate the artistic spirit that is inside of them.” Springtime Art Activities at the Sullivan Munce Cultural Center The Sullivan Munce Cultural Center is located in Zionsville behind Dairy Queen at 225 West Hawthorne Street. Please register for classes or request special events by going to SullivanMunce.org or calling (317) 873-4900. Canvas + Cocktails will be held Saturdays, April 15 and May 13, from 7 to 9:30 pm. After that these monthly events will resume in the fall unless a special event is requested. Classes for Adults and Youth in drawing, ceramics, watercolors, oil or acrylic painting, and art history are happening this spring. For certain classes, students may join anytime, even if a session has already started, and prices may sometimes be pro-rated. Special Events and Parties are welcome. Cindy Leavesley is happy to host a special “Canvas + Cocktails” event for adults or a “Canvas + Cookies” party for kids. Summer Art Camps are available weekly for youth (7-11) and teens (12-17).