Tiffany McAnarney, an Oak Cliff-based painter, designer and muralist, approaches her work with precision.
“We specifically crafted the pieces in this series to fit one exact space in the living room. The sun will hit it at just the right spot through the window,” she says of her most recent endeavor, a series of 50 paintings.
However this time, instead of larger-than-life murals in beautiful Preston Hollow homes or fine art mounted in well-lit Deep Ellum lofts, McAnarney’s commission is to create original work for the future living rooms of the most at-risk members of Dallas society — the chronically homeless.
Last fall, when McAnarney’s community group learned that CitySquare was finalizing construction of The Cottages at Hickory Crossing, the group jumped at the opportunity to contribute. The Cottages at Hickory Crossing serve as long-term housing for the chronically homeless, the people costing taxpayers countless dollars and sparking heated debates over how to eradicate their pan-handling and remove them from the sight of other Dallas residents. CitySquare’s approach to solving Dallas’ homeless problem is to first solve the “home-less” part of the equation. The company is building 50 cottages to house 50 chronically homeless individuals, many of whom are mentally ill. There will also be on-site resources such as mental and medical health care and social services.
CitySquare’s home-first approach resonated profoundly with McAnarney and friends. “People need stability, they need to feel settled, that they have a place," she says. "As an artist, I look back over the past 10 years, and my greatest work has been when I felt safe and had shelter.” In lieu of donating furniture or purchasing items off The Cottages’ gift registry, the group, comprising mostly artists and architects, was inspired to design something original for this new neighborhood.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we best make an environment for someone that doesn’t feel sterile or fake or like a hotel or a hospital room?’” says McAnarney. “We decided to give them something of value made uniquely for them by members of their own community.”
And thus the artists’ process began. Reminiscent of Jane Austen’s comment, “An artist cannot do anything slovenly," McAnarney served as art director and approached this series as she would any other gallery show – with fervor, excellence, and maybe a bit too heavy dash of perfectionism. After surveying the completed series, McAnarney says she “went through with fresh eyes and held each piece up and asked, ‘Would I want this in my house? Would I want to look at this every day? Do I think this is interesting?’"
At the core of these artists’ endeavor is a rejection of the notion that these formerly homeless residents deserve anything less than aesthetically excellent paintings which will accrue value over time. Group member Mark Gerner, President of RAD Designs, served as the creative director and helped the group concentrate on the chronically homeless as clients, encouraging McAnarney and the group to keep the needs of their clients at the forefront of their designs.
“One thing that was really important to Mark and I was color. Color is huge.” McAnarney explained.“We really focused on blues, as blues and greens are pretty peaceful.”
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McAnarney used a layering technique to capture her signature bright, wave-like movements, and
the result is cool, tranquil shapes with a dynamic iridescent treatment. For the teams behind the construction of the Cottages, which are projected to open in April, effective design has always been a primary concern. Aesthetics will play an essential role in the success of the new community.
“If our residents are proud of where they live, they will help keep the Cottages a good place to live,” says John Greenan, executive director of the Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, the group responsible for construction of the Cottages. “We are very pleased that residents will be able to choose a piece of visual art for their Cottage. The more parts of their life that our residents are able to control, the more successful they are likely to be.”
The question behind CitySquare and McAnarney’s endeavors, “How can one best design for the most forgotten members of society?” is in itself a radical act of inclusion; an invitation to not only acknowledge, but in fact create something beautiful for those whom most Dallas residents try their hardest to ignore. In the same way the leaders at CitySquare are addressing an immediate need for shelter, the artists of the community are addressing a still more fundamental need — to be surrounded by beauty.
For the new residents of The Cottages at Hickory Crossing, that beauty will be represented by a painting in a room, both of which are theirs alone.