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Sandra Canning: The Neighborhood Beautification Project

Emerging fine arts photographer and Florida resident, Sandra Canning was drawn to the art of capturing spaces because it offered her serenity and peace.

It began as a hobby for self and grew into an arsenal of accolades, appearing in galleries and being approached to share her works in a local library. At that moment, her purpose became more clear and stretched beyond self-gratificatioin into wanting to provide works for neighborhoods who catered to low and middle class citizens.

Enter the Neighborhood Beautification Project which carries a mission to allow art accessibility to all.

After Canning tweeted JET about the project, we caught up with the artist to gain more insight on her efforts and how folks can get involved.

JET: How did the neighborhood beautification project come about and what is the goal?

Sandra Canning: A local library had approached me about putting some art work in their library and I knew the kind of neighborhood that it was in, low to middle class, so I wanted to do something special. I told her to just wait and when I had something unique I’d bring it in. So I brought in 5-foot wide canvases that are huge and when I hung them, the people that were coming in were just extremely attracted and like woah! and asking all these questions. I’d never had that type of reaction before. And so I wanted to see more, and my friend who was with me, we hid in the bushes – that’s embarrassing but that’s what we did- and the cutest little girl was sitting on a chair and she was reaching into the picture like she wanted to be inside the picture. It touched my heart in a way that no other experience I’ve had in photography has touched my heart.

I was like, ‘why haven’t I been doing this all the time?’ This is what I need to be doing with my pictures. A lot of people working in photography and art, I don’t think realize that if we put our work in the right places it’s going to be a more rewarding experience. So this is now my mission and that’s why I started the project.

My approach is I want to make them big and fabulous but really just show these art works in places that’s really going to brighten that space.

Schools have been asking me who is eligible? Any public venue in a low-income neighborhood and your clients are low-to middle income people and you want art to brighten your space, you are a candidate.

JET: When we talk about art accessibility, there’s sometimes a fear that the art won’t be protected – reasons as to why works are preserved in galleries and museums- but as we know those establishments aren’t accessible to everyone – so with making it accessible to neighborhoods, what is your hope and was it a process to not be afraid to “free” your art?

Sandra: For me, when I got into photography it was a life changing experience. When you really change your perspective of how you see the world, how you see the beauty in the world – it changes you and it uplifts you and you have a better outlook on life.

My dream is I want some person to make a connection and say “you know what, I have a cell phone camera and I’m going to start taking pictures,” and then see how their outlook on life is going to change. Art is food for the soul and that’s why the idea of making it accessible and sharing it, artists are starting to come to me and say “hey we want to participate.” People want to share their art and the typical platform that we have out there are the galleries and museums and that’s not necessarily targeting the audience that I want to share my work with.

JET: Along with that is often art intimidation and people feeling that they have to be a certain type of person or way in order to understand and connect with the art and/or certain institution.

Sandra: I always makes jokes and tell people that some of the galleries that I show my work in, on a normal day, wouldn’t even want me walking in the front door. And you know I say it jokingly but, there is an intimidation, people do feel like it’s an elitist type of thing. That’s not what real art is about. Art is about the human heart and sharing what we have with each other. It’s a bond to create with one another and I firmly believe that everyone has inside of them, the ability to create something and through my little project I can get people to start thinking about how they want to create.

One of the things I’ve done with this is created a titled called “Art Ambassador” for people that donate to the program because by donating you are being an art ambassador and putting the art in front of people that aren’t normally exposed to it. Also, I am hoping, and I already have four people that said they’d like to do this, volunteers are art ambassadors. I’m here in Florida and have someone in Arkansas interested in putting art work in her facility. She would be the one to suggest venues and be there the day the art work is delivered and hung upon arrival. She would also check in once or twice a year to make sure the venue is happy and not having any problems.

This is a project where I hope people understand that if we all chip in, we’ll all deposit something that will make us feel really good. If you want to help, you are an art ambassador!

JET: I notice in your photography and architectural design that you allow the visuals to breath in a sense – shooting for a wide or long angle. Is that your staple identity when it comes to your craft? What attracted you to this specific style?

Sandra: A lot of people have told me that they know my work. And I think that is something that is coming through. And I think it has something to do with why I do this, why I do photography. I do it for spiritual reasons. I do it to experience peace and serenity and that wide open feeling is sort of like you’re giving a breath – and that’s something that I want to convey in my work.

Some artists want to do work that will change society by showing you landslide failures and there’s a lot of that and we need it because we need to remember where we’re failing and how we can do better but I want to use my work to lift us up, to share optimism, to share hope and help people get in touch with serenity and peace. Every piece that I create, that’s what I try to get across to the viewer.

To donate to the Neighborhood Beautification Project, visit their GoFundMe page.

For more on Sandra Canning’s photography, visit sandracanning.com.