Anne Cameron Cutri
Founder / Owner
When Anne Cutri founded AWE…
AWE started with the idea of offering self-care-focused art classes for helping professionals in Erie—an established medical arena with many people in such professions, conceivably experiencing burnout. In my recent employment as an activities coordinator, I observed caregivers, both professional and family members, show exhaustion and demonstrate a need to replenish their own health and well-being, after giving so much to the people they were caring for. Care for these caregivers was AWE’s original mission, and a need in this region, that I will continue to attempt to fill, through team building events and corporate wellness programs
But, when I began my “boots on the ground” market research, offering classes to the general public, I noticed something I had not expected: many participants had a basic sense of fear in creating art. It was later that I learned that in process of writing one of her books, Dr. Brene Brown researched this topic.
She says and I quote, “there is no such thing as non-creative people. There are just people who use their creativity and people who don’t. And unused creativity is not benign… What I really mean is it metastasizes into resentment, grief, heartbreak. People sit on that creativity or they deny it and it festers.”
Dr. Brown found a high percentage of participants felt shame around the idea of creating due to what she called “art scars”, something in their childhood that squelched the creative impulse. This concept rang true, based on my experience as an artist, a teacher, and a caregiver. I began to look more deeply into my own work as an artist, other artist’s work, and my understanding of creativity and wellness. I realized that there was a broader issue at hand.
One of the reasons art-making is restorative, is that creativity stimulates imagination, which then encourages wonder and hope. Through hope, growth and change may take place. In the first six months of AWE classes, an informal survey of the participants revealed that 1 out of 4 had some fear around creativity. And these are the people who dared to take a class. Is this a reflection of their art scars, or their fear of the future, and the change in themselves that being creative may represent?
We all know that the Erie-area, historically, has been resistant to change. Change is inevitable for Erie—as we all know who live in this area—as an economy intertwined with the manufacturing sector. Erie is mourning its past, when a hard day’s work could earn honest pay—enough to support a family. As companies that were the backbone of this community moved, closed, or shrank, a void was left with grief in the center. That heartbreak can be healed through honoring the past, so that we may embrace the future. Through a creative community endeavor, healing can take place. This is where my broader vision comes in.
Picture a community arts center that, from its inception, is built by and for the people. An arts and wellness center that does not draw a line between artistic Erie and manufacturing Erie, but instead invites, plumbers, welders, concrete and brick layers, to create art work in and outside the structure. In the process of building this center, it creates a renewed hope, a sense of camaraderie and sharing of strengths of creativity, that promotes buy-in for Erie’s new beginning. My vision is one of aesthetic uplift, a place of sanctuary, where one could visit and get a renewed sense of wonder and possibility. Picture an indoor botanical garden, an area with birds and a small waterfall or fountain. A gallery space with exhibits relevant to the community rather than medium or genre. It will be a place to go on the long cold days of winter. Perhaps there is a sculpture made by steelworkers of the locomotive industry or a tribute to that which built our community. Community scars can be further healed through creativity with classes that integrate trades, like paper making, printing and welding, affordable to the greater community. Classrooms can potentially host alternative health and wellness sessions by some of the 75 practitioners in the Erie Wellness network. If we heal from the past -- I know we will be better equipped to embrace a new future and a new economy. Look at the Pittsburgh economy that benefited from the arts to the tune of 2.8 billion dollars according to a 2017 report. Will you join with me to raise the identity of Erie by partnering in creativity through building this center? I am looking for business partners and investors.