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Daily Planet Primes for Promenade

Twice a week, a large room in the shelter’s basement doubles as an art studio for anyone receiving services at the shelter. Supplies such as oil pastels, watercolors, charcoal pencils and paper are provided. And while formal instruction is not yet offered, it’s in the near future, say Polkadot organizers Karen Fitzhugh and Rick Tatnall. Since they started a month ago, the sessions have steadily attracted roughly 20 participants.

“So much of this is about the process, not the product,” Fitzhugh explains of an individual’s experience with art. She plans to expand the program to include a variety of art forms such as sculpture and music. “The sky is the limit,” she says.

Playing host to the general public is a departure for the Planet. Fitzhugh and Tatnall say they hope it dispels misperceptions people may have of shelters or of the homeless — for instance, that the Planet clients lack the desire or ability to change. They believe art can be an equalizer.

Derrick Walker, 37, agrees. It’s a warm and sunny spring afternoon, but he chooses to sit inside and draw. “Basically with my being bipolar, it keeps me focused and keeps my mind off a lot of problems I have,” he says. “It gives me relief.”

Fitzhugh has asked Walker to do a portrait of her son. Using a photo as a guide, in minutes, he sketches the boy’s eyes, nose and mouth with remarkable precision.

It’s just in him, he says, of his ability to “get the feeling into the picture.” Despite his first portfolio being stolen, Walker says he plans to exhibit a dozen pieces for the Planet’s inaugural First Friday.

“I want to try to get a name for myself,” he says, of where he thinks his talent can take him. It’s a slow process, he concedes. “If I walked into an office and said, ‘I can draw,’ people wouldn’t believe me.” Before him, a partition divides the room; on April 2, it will be covered with art, some of it his. He points to it, adding, “But if my work’s up there. …” — Brandon Walters

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