arts and culturefeatured-art-and-cultureIssue 38

The Healing Power of Creativity

WRITTEN BY: JUSTIN SOUZA
PHOTOS BY: PHOTOS JUST SO

THERE’S A NEW STOREFRONT OPEN FOR BUSINESS ON J STREET THIS WINTER, AND IT’S HERE TO IMPROVE THE LIVES OF EVERYONE IN THE COMMUNITY. On a cold afternoon in December, Barbara Asher is radiating warmth from just inside the glass front door of The Dragonfly-Art for Life, the new gallery, studio space, and art location she has recently opened in Modesto.

The new business, which opened at 1210 J St. in Modesto in late November, has been a welcome addition to the city’s booming downtown business scene. The gallery and art space fills a storefront long left vacant in the block between 12th and 13th Streets downtown.

“It’s just great to be here, it’s such a nice space,” says Asher, gesturing at the expansive, wood-floored open-air studio she’s established. “We put in new floors, painted and painted and painted in here. It really ended up being so much more beautiful than we’d anticipated it to be! We’re trying to get that good, happy energy through here. That can help make it work and help connect people again.”

Asher is still in the process of developing the new space. Currently, the storefront offers an airy main room with long tables and racks loaded with art supplies, from paintbrushes and pencils to stacks of canvasses. Within the coming weeks, Asher plans to extend the art space to include a back room where kids— whether they’re preschoolers or teenagers—can explore art.

“This space is really designed for families!” she says. “I’ve been in early education for years and years and I just feel like children need art, adults need it. It’s so important for kids to do art and for them to be able to do their own things! I’m all about giving them the opportunity to do what they want to do. They come in and they want to draw a unicorn or they want to draw Spiderman, or want to create this big adventure on the canvas and they need the time and space to create and explore. It’s about giving them the freedom to relax and express themselves.”

Instead of structuring her business as a gallery or a studio space for select artists to work, Asher designed The Dragonfly as a collaborative public space meant to bring the meditative and therapeutic benefits of art to the community.

“Art is really healing in so many ways. And it really helps you with your focus and concentration. It has so many benefits, almost like a meditative quality to it when you’re engaged with it,” says Asher. “It’s really not therapy, but it’s stress relief and it really helps increase the quality of your life.”

According to Asher, the seed of this idea was planted almost a decade ago. “About ten years ago, my sister had cancer. I was invited to go with her to the Mistlin art therapy group through Memorial Hospital. Through that program, my sister and I got three hours once a week to go in and have a free art night. There were no lectures, no guidance…. It was just you and your art and the connection you were making with the other people there. It was all about going with her and for her, but I think it helped me as much as it helped her! It was so nice and it felt so great to be part of it. I just remember thinking ‘why can’t more people have this?”

Today, Asher hopes to recreate that transformative experience for others.

“I just want to offer this space where people can come in and create! If you’re coming home from work at 6 p.m. and you just need a minute to chill before you go directly home, you can come in and enjoy the space.”

According to Asher, she puts no limits on how long her clients can use The Dragonfly. Instead, she offers open ended passes under a single charge ($15 for kids, $25 for adults), a low-cost monthly membership (“They can use it like a gym for art!” says Asher.) or directed classes under the guidance of herself or another experienced artist. “We’re open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week, and you’re welcome anytime!”

For now, Asher says that her goal is simply to introduce more people to the healing aspects of art that she has learned to rely on. Even though the business has only been open for a few weeks, she’s already begun to do just that.

“Just last week I had a couple girls come in for a class. One of them had had a health issue and at the end of the class she cried, said thank you and hugged me. That was exactly the reason why I did it. Because it helps.”

THE DRAGONFLY-ART FOR LIFE IS LOCATED AT 1210 J ST. IN MODESTO. CLASS SCHEDULES AND MORE INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND AT THEDRAGONFLYARTFORLIFE.COM

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