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Art Brings Community Together for Honey for the Heart Parade
Ohio Ag Connection - 11/06/2019

Walking into OHIO University's Central Venue days before the 8th annual Honey for the Heart parade was utter chaos. Dozens of larger-than-life costumes were stacked next to and on top of each other; one woman was seemingly buried under fabric and ribbon; old muffin pans and plastic yogurt containers were being used as paint palettes; and papier-māche heads and bodies were strewn across the room.

But this was only chaos to an outsider. To the artists, Ohio University students and community members using recycled materials to create the eccentric, colorful characters, the pop-up art studio was in a state of organized chaos. Especially artist Tina Kelsey's work area.

"My desk is the worst, but I know where everything is, don't I Patty?" asked Kelsey.

"That's what she says," replied Patty Mitchell, the director and coordinator of Honey for the Heart.

"That's what I say," Kelsey laughed. "I lost something the other day."

Honey for the Heart is a project of Athens' community arts center, Passion Works Studio. The parade is co-sponsored by Arts for OHIO, an OHIO College of Fine Arts initiative providing access to arts events at no charge to Ohio University students; and Ohio University Learning Communities, a group of students who take a common set of courses and build relationships together.

"The intention was to have an interconnect between community and university to have this shared experience to shift the narrative of Athens Halloween and create a loved event that's art-centric," said Mitchell. "I think it's working. I think it's working big time."

For the past eight years, the Honey for the Heart parade has showcased outrageous spectacles of phantasmagoric proportion, made from repurposed plastic, cardboard, sticks, fabric and more.

And it's an all-hands-on-deck event. For the 2018 parade, more than 2,000 OHIO students helped create the whimsical puppets that crowds flock to Court Street to get a glimpse of.

"Seeing how many of our new students participate in the creation of the unique puppets inspires us to continue the positive relationship we have with the project," said Wendy Rogers, first year programming coordinator at OHIO. "It's wonderful to see the students' amazement at the production center and their willingness to jump in and get their hands dirty.

"Students get the opportunity to explore their creative side, engage with the members of their Learning Community, meet members of the Athens community and experience something special," Rogers continued. "And the cherry on top is discussing recycling and reusing products that normally would end up in a landfill."

According to Mitchell, who is also the executive director of Passion Works, each year they have several artists-in-residence to help put the pieces together for the parade. In years past, they saw artists from Puerto Rico, Israel, Washington State, Alaska and several other places.

This year, all of the artists were local, and they worked right alongside the dozens of Ohio University students to bring the larger-than-life characters to life.

"We have stations set up, and people are invited to self-navigate to where they want to be," Mitchell explained. "The sewing table is often busy with people beading, and then papier-māche is very popular, and the painting. People find where they are comfortable and then people are just chit-chatting; community members are chatting with students and little kids are running around. It's a nice collective, and then the work is beautiful. We hire really talented artists who can take the bits and pieces that are made and then make sense of it."

On a Thursday afternoon just three days before the parade, two first-year OHIO students from their Fine Arts Learning Community were working on a papier-māche project together. Both Emily Moore and Hannah White are studying music therapy and had visited Central Venue several times with their Learning Community and on their own to help create items for the parade.

"I feel like it definitely brings the (town and university together,)" White said. "It's hands-on and helps you de-stress."

Across the room from the students, Kelsey was sewing away, almost buried under embellished and painted fabric. Kelsey, who's been involved with Honey for the Heart for about six years, said some students would stay at the studio for four hours because "it's so relaxing."

"To me that's just amazing that they see the therapy and the work and making something beautiful -- they see that," she added.

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