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STREETSEEN  |  Megan Banaskez

Photo by Steve Roberts

Megan Banaszek: Helping Grow the Carpenter Art Garden

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

As her contract with AmeriCorps was coming to an end, Megan Banaszek started looking at options for her next move. Originally a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Megan knew that she wanted a location that was no more than a day’s drive from home. Memphis made the list.

“I came to Memphis for a weekend visit and stayed at a youth hostel in Cooper-Young,” recalled Megan. “That environment allowed me to not only meet locals, but also to talk to others staying in the area who had been to Memphis before.”

“Memphis felt very ‘livable’ and offered a reasonable cost of living,” added Megan. “Prior to my actual move, I connected with Sarah Petschonek of Volunteer Odyssey and joined the organization’s Job Seekers program when I got to town.”

Over seven days, Megan volunteered at seven different nonprofits, one of which was the Carpenter Art Garden. The old adage “timing is everything” rang true.

“I really enjoyed my stint at the Carpenter Art Garden,” said Megan. “When I met Erin Harris, founder and Executive Director of the Art Garden, she had been running everything herself with the help of a crew of volunteers. At that point however, she was looking to hire a full-time person.”

Megan signed on to be the Director of Programs and Community Outreach at Carpenter Art Garden.

“I believed in the Art Garden’s mission of working with children from the Binghamton area to promote each one’s creative potential and self-worth through exposure to free artistic education and vocational programs,” said Megan. “And, I have seen the difference our programming has made in the lives of these children, as well as other residents of the neighborhood. Now at our five-year point, we’re working with a group of consultants to develop a road map to continue our growth.”

Three years ago when Megan started at the Carpenter Art Garden, there were only the original art garden and a community vegetable garden serving about 70 kids (the program initially started with six or seven children). Fast forward to today. With the addition of another community vegetable garden, two indoor spaces, a mosaic sculpture garden, and a new lot on Tillman, there are seven properties where approximately 120 kids participate in programs throughout the week.

“We are sited just off Tillman, near Cornerstone Prep and Lester elementary schools. A lot of who we serve are children who walk by or near our properties,” explained Megan.

Megan described her role saying, “I do have a title, but we all pitch in to cover all aspects of our operation. I recruit kids, artists and volunteers. I give tours. I help coordinate donations and events, like our five-year anniversary party. And, I write grants—putting things in place to keep our programs going.”

Programming encompasses life lessons as well as art lessons. Children are exposed to a variety of artistic endeavors, including an ongoing art installation by neighborhood teenagers called a ‘mosaic park,’ led by Binghamton resident Eddie Johnson. Cristian Anzures, a Memphis College of Art student, headed the Comic Club, leading students to publish a comic this year featuring their own animation and graphic art.

“We recruit community volunteers and local artists to lead art projects,” explained Megan. “And while that interaction is art-related, it is also very much about building relationships. Some of the children’s artwork becomes permanent art installations, like the ‘yard hearts’ and ‘GrizzHearts’ or painted tires that become planters given to neighbors. Our kids are also engaged in painting murals around the neighborhood.”

Other activities include community bike rides, as well as bike mechanic programs for area teenagers, led by Bike Shop Manager Lee Evans and program assistants Mario Watkins and Eddie Johnson, all Binghamton residents. Community Garden Coordinator LaTonya Hunt lives just steps away from the garden and leads the Kids Garden Club. She oversees two gardens; one for neighboring families who are responsible for taking care of their raised beds, and the other for the students.

“We’re located in a food desert,” said Megan. “Our gardens are a means of providing fresh produce. We have a traveling vegetable stand and we also sell at the Overton Park Farmers Market.”

Volunteers provide leadership for weekly sewing classes, homework help and ACT prep. Through a partnership with IRIS Orchestra, students have participated in percussion (bucket drumming) and voice lessons. And there are benefits for adult area residents, too. Community Liaison Tarlisa Clark, who leads a Brownie Scout Troop (the first in Binghamton) at the art garden’s Purple House, lives in the neighborhood and holds monthly meetings for the women of the area to get together and talk.

“I spend a good deal of time visiting with people and talking with neighbors,” concluded Megan. “In my three years with the Art Garden, I’ve seen so many positive changes in our kids. A lot of them are transitioning into leadership roles, leading art projects here. But more than the art, the point is for these kids and adults to create and build relationships—and then pass it on."

STREETSEEN  |  Brian Maness

Photo by Steve Roberts

Brian Maness: Inspired by Beauty

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

As a child, Brian Maness knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“I wanted to be a professional athlete,” recalled Brian. “I loved basketball, baseball, football and soccer and often dreamed of being an NFL specialty kicker.”

A native Memphian, Brian grew up around sports. His father, Roger Maness, was the Director of Recreational Ministry at Idlewild Presbyterian Church. So after graduating from Harding Academy on Cherry Road, Brian set off for college at Lambuth University, majoring in Leisure Studies with an emphasis on program planning. He also played college soccer at Lambuth. And it was because of a request from his soccer coach that Brian found his other passion.

“My coach wanted all of us to take an ‘easy elective’ to maintain our requisite courseload,” explained Brian. “I chose a three-hour elective course in stained glass.”

Subsequently, Brian fell in love with the idea of working with his hands, and developed a respect for the attention to detail involved in the craft of creating glass art.

After college, Maness has worked in the field of sports and recreation,  but always, he has stayed involved with glass working. Through the recreational ministry work at Idlewild Presbyterian Church, Maness has taught stained glass and fused glass classes at the church and at Montreat Conference Center. He started building his part-time glass art business in 2010 and has continued to grow it ever since.

Now Brian makes a living as the Recreation Director at Colonial Park Methodist Church. And he referees youth sports; soccer, flag football and basketball. But he says being in recreational ministry has allowed him the time to further develop his artistic side, too.

“I didn’t have to ‘punt’ my art for my other career,” joked Brian. “I can make my hours in my home studio work around my recreational ministry schedule.”

Working with both leaded and copper foil techniques, Brian does a lot of custom stained glass art for doors, windows, transoms and side lights. Additionally, as a glass artist, Brian works with fused and slumped glass to make items such as candle holders, sun catchers, Christmas ornaments, platters and jewelry.

“Sometimes I find discarded metal pieces and incorporate them into glass designs for items like lanterns, sconces and lamps,” added Brian.

When asked what he likes about working with glass, Brian said, “For me, the ultimate thrill is seeing the finished pieces emerge, watching the beauty of the way light plays off the glass.”
    Brian noted that only a small percentage of local artists work in glass, and while they may “do the same thing,” much like potters, they all have their own look.

“Customers come from meeting me at events like the Cooper-Young Festival in September and the Pink Palace Crafts Fair in October, as well as from word-of-mouth recommendations from former clients,” said Brian.

For his next big project, Brian says he will be working on a dozen custom orders for traditional stained glass windows.

“Most of my clients are local, but some live in other towns across Tennessee and the Mid-South, as well as North Carolina and Kentucky,” said Brian. “All are places where artisan craftsmanship is highly prized and appreciated.”

Serving as the current president of the Memphis Arts Collective, Brian is also working to showcase his items along with works from other local artists.

“I’m helping coordinate a Holiday Pop-Up Market that will take place from Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving) until Christmas Eve,” said Brian. “It will be located in Midtown, on Union Avenue near Kimbrough Towers.”

To learn more about Brian Maness and his glass art, check out his page on Facebook, Midtown Glassworks, or email him at brian.maness@gmail.com .