Milk Bone Heaven, Gear Head and Splat have been parading around the Triangle with their multi-colored pack in search of a forever home.
The lifesize, fiberglass dogs – painted by 11 artists in the Brushes with Life art program – will return to UNC’s campus on Thursday, Nov. 12, for a Dog Parade gala at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center. A free, public event will follow Friday at the Chapel Hill Public Library.
The Dog Parade Art Exhibit is modeled on previous art programs, including UNC’s CowParade North Carolina and the Goat Parade at Galloway Ridge in Chatham County.
The public will be able to bid on the dogs through an online auction starting Dec. 1. The gala event and auction are expected to raise $50,000 for the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health.
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UNC offers 18 programs for clients learning to live with their mental illness, including UNC PAWS (Peer Assisted Wellness Support), which operates two programs at The Farm at Penny Lane in Chatham County, where clients train and socialize dogs for adoption as pets or to become service dogs.
Brushes with Life is another program, which encourages clients to find healing and recovery through art. Some have shown their work in venues such as the N.C. Museum of Art, FRANK Gallery, UNC’s Global FedEx building and area churches. The program also has a gallery at the N.C. Neurosciences Hospital.
“Brushes with Life is all about bringing art opportunities to our clients,” said Grayson Bowen, program coordinator and a former Brushes with Life artist. “They get recognized for their talents. It’s really wonderful.”
The 11 Dog Parade artists chose their favorites from among several breeds of dog and a few fire hydrants, too. They designed their dogs over a few months, working one-on-one with professional artists to develop their ideas and find the best way to give them life.
Elite Auto Body in Chapel Hill finished the painted dogs with a free coat of clear acrylic paint to protect them.
Chapel Hill artist Mary Lamb helped Aidan Malsbary come up with a concept for his dog – an aqua-colored canine covered with abstract patterns. She offered suggestions and encouraged him to use paint pens to better control his lines, but Malsbary did the work, she said.
The Brushes with Life artists “were very talented, but what really impressed me was how supportive they were of each other,” Lamb said. “I’m used to artists being a little competitive, and they were just so supportive of each other and so good with each other.”
The artists brought wonderful, well-executed ideas to the project, Lamb said, including one young woman who painted koi fish on her dog and another who added clouds and dog bones.
Lamb said she grew up in an era when people with mental illness were locked away in hospitals. The project opened her eyes to how normal life can be for them today, she said.
“We had no idea what the problem was with these people. We had no idea what to expect. It was a very positive experience,” she said. “They were very open about it, too. It’s not anything to be embarrassed of or ashamed of, and that was very nice to see.”
Being able to start that community conversation and eliminate some of the stigma attached to mental illness are other Dog Parade goals, Bowen said. Researchers have explored the connection between mental illness and creativity, and there are many artists who have struggled with their mental illness.
“The clients are so honored about showing their work, and it is a lot of fun,” Bowen said. “That’s such a great feeling to see that perfect strangers are so interested in their work that they want to show it in their homes.”
If you go
The second annual No Limits Gala kicks off with a 6:30 p.m. reception at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center on UNC’s campus. Dinner and guest speaker Pete Earley, an author and mental health advocate, will follow at 7 p.m. For tickets and more information go to bit.ly/1OlDjl9.
The Dog Parade art auction starts Dec. 1 at bit.ly/1OlDjl9.
A free, public Dog Parade Opening Event will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, at the Chapel Hill Public Library.