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A quarter century of making marks
Working on the collaborative piece.

"I Have Marks to Make" opens Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. at the Jepson Center and will be on view there through Jan. 12. Investment for the exhibition is provided by the City of Savannah, the Georgia Council for the Arts, and St. Joseph's/Candler.

One of Savannah’s longest-running artistic traditions marks its 25th anniversary this Sunday.

“I Have Marks to Make” began in 1994 as a partnership between the Telfair and the City of Savannah’s Therapeutics program.

“It started off very small,” remembers Harry DeLorme, Telfair’s Senior Curator of Education. “We weren’t doing a lot of outreach at the time; we did youth outreach mostly and we slowly began to grow from there.”

Telfair next partnered with a program for head injury survivors and have expanded in the years since. Now, the work in “I Have Marks to Make” include work from partner organizations like Savannah Center for Blind and Low Vision, Inc. and EmployAbility.

DeLorme explains that Telfair does different outreach through the year: older adults get the program in winter and spring, youth groups happen in the summer, and health and social services organizations are for the fall.

“A lot of the work in ‘Marks’ comes out of the social services outreach program,” notes DeLorme.

Through the years, the work from “I Have Marks to Make” has been impressive and inspiring, but the exhibition can also be difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t seen it before.

“It’s not easily definable,” DeLorme explains. “It’s not a curated exhibition, it’s not even a juried show, it’s not an artists with disabilities show. I think there’s a tendency to think of it that way, and while there are folks who are differently abled in the exhibition, it’s really a much broader thing, because we work with a lot of social service organizations. It’s really more about not only the healing power of art, but art as this meaningful, therapeutic activity.”

For the people who are involved in the outreach programs, making art has been therapeutic in a number of ways.

“I know it’s helped a lot of folks cope with different situations,” says DeLorme. “I’ve heard the artists who work in our veterans program say that artmaking helps them deal with various things like PTSD. I think anyone can find meaning in it. It doesn’t matter if what you’re making is a masterpiece; it’s enough of a masterpiece if it means something to you.”

“I Have Marks to Make” has consistently provided an artistic outlet for our community’s most vulnerable members, which DeLorme is proud of.

“It provides that kind of output, provides a way of dealing with the pressures of life,” he says. “I’ve seen it really have an impact across the board with so many different audiences of people within many different situations.”

Typically, “Marks” includes many pieces of art, but this year, coinciding with the Jepson Center’s “Summon the Sea!” exhibition, things will be a little different.

“We were trying to think of something that’s really tactile. One of the great things is that it’s an opportunity for people to use their fine motor skills, to work collaboratively, and we really took a collaborative approach this fall,” explains DeLorme.

Inspired by Frank Stella’s work in “Summon the Sea!,” artists in the outreach programs worked together to create a communal artwork. The large-scale piece is reminiscent of Stella’s process of assemblage, neatly tying the two exhibitions together.

“There’s a social aspect to art-making too,” says DeLorme. “When our veterans class gets together, it just feels like family. When a group of people are working together, making decisions about the artwork, everybody is validated; everybody is a part of making this beautiful thing, and I think there’s some value in that.”

Indeed, the inherent value of an exhibition like “Marks” is obvious.

“I think this is one of the really important roles that art can play in the community. It’s not something that’s just for artists,” says DeLorme. “You don’t have to be a trained artist to get something out of art, to find meaning from making art or trying to express yourself.”

DeLorme hopes that visitors to the exhibition come away inspired by the powerful role art plays in our lives.

“It’s not this elitist thing, not this rarified thing that only people who have gone to grad school can do,” he says. “Artmaking can have this impact on anyone, and I think the message that I hope people take away is, ‘I could do this too,’ or, ‘Maybe there’s something I have to do. Maybe there’s a mark I can make.’”