WESTERLY — The three people standing in front of the large, round, oil painting hanging on the bright, yellow wall inside the Hope Recovery Community Center of Westerly Thursday morning were all in agreement.
The painting, "Coleus Rondo," by Providence artist Janet Alling — featuring six enormous green, yellow and red leaves upon a baby blue background — was an eye-catcher.
"I don't know much about art," said Donna Sennett, Hope Recovery Community Center's director, "but I know I love this."
Michael Fry and Robert Malley stood nearby nodding and smiling behind their COVID-19 masks.
Fry, the director of Hope Recovery Community Center's Parent Support Network of Rhode Island, had driven over from Newport to see the artwork recently placed on the walls of the Beach Street recovery center.
Malley, who lives in Westerly, is the development director for Art Connection Rhode Island, the organization responsible for placing the artwork on the walls at Hope Recovery Center.
A Pawtucket-based organization dedicated to sharing works of art with others, Art Connection Rhode Island has been slowly expanding into Westerly. So far, the organization has placed art on the walls of Wood River Health Center's Westerly office and the WARM Center.
Statewide, they've arranged for the placement of artwork in Providence County at places like the Dorcas International Institute, Meeting Street, AIDS Care Ocean State and Progresso Latino; in Newport County at the Boys and Girls Club of Newport and Lucy's Hearth and in Kent County at Pilgrim Senior Center and Friends Way. More than 1,300 works of art have been placed at a total of 84 nonprofits throughout the state.
Now in its ninth year in Rhode Island, the organization is an offshoot of Boston's Art Connection, which was started by the late Fay Chandler — a noted artist and sculptor — and a group of friends. Providence artist Wendy Ingram, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and a friend of Chandler's, brought the idea for a sister organization in Rhode Island when she moved to the state.
The idea behind Art Connection is still simple, Malley said: "making art accessible to everyone lends power to inspire, challenge, heal, communicate, and transform."
"Making and experiencing art is an essential element of the human experience," Art Connection states on its website, "regardless of socio-economic circumstances."
The artwork beautifies the spaces of selected nonprofits, Malley said, thus creating warm and inviting spaces with paintings donated by Rhode Island artists.
"The process is simple, and the end results will transform your public space with beautiful original art," reads a post on the Art Connection website.
Interested nonprofits are invited to submit an "Application to Receive Art" from the organization's website. Next comes a site visit and a selection visit.
Agencies are asked to gather a selection committee consisting of six to 10 people, including staff, board members, clients and volunteers who collectively make decisions on which pieces are best for their site.
"We had our members help choose," said Sennett, who facilitates groups for women, meditation groups and peer support services for people struggling with substance abuse disorders and mental health issues. "It's good to get everyone involved ... this is their center, after all."
Inside the Merchant Square-based nonprofit Thursday morning, Malley toured the facility with Sennett and Fry, stopping before each painting to admire and comment.
"It's been a long road," said Sennett as she stood near a vibrant oil painting of yellow daffodils and orange tulips. "But everything is finally here."
Sennett said she had begun talks with Malley at the beginning of the year.
"Then COVID hit," she said. "COVID threw a monkey wrench into things, but it was nice that Bob stayed on top of it ... we've developed a nice relationship."
"We're just thrilled," she added. "We didn't even know [Art Connection Rhode Island] existed."
"I saw an article in The Sun about this place back in August of 2019," explained Malley. "So, I made a cold call, and one thing led to another and that's how I got here."
"We are really very interested in serving more nonprofits in this area," he added, "and in having artists from the area get involved with us."
Journalist Alison Bologna, who anchors NBC-10 News Sunrise with Mario Hilario each weekday morning, has served as emcee for the center's annual art auction for the last five years. This year's 9th annual Celebration and Online Auction was held last month via Zoom.
"I've made a nice connection with them," said Bologna, who has also purchased art from the organization for her home and for her nonprofit, Shri Yoga in Pawtucket.
"I love art, I love local art, and I love the fact that the artists are willing to donate their work to brighten up common spaces," said Bologna. "Art really does lift people up."