"I gather people; I open their hearts and grow their soul," says Nerissa Street, a New York native who teaches theater, storytelling, and public speaking to both kids and adults.
"I see adults as just grown-up children," she says of her teaching experience. "I see the potential in children, and I've seen it get squashed in adults. I spend a lot of time reigniting the light in adults that was somehow lost in them since they were children."
Street has led spoken-word courses at the Actor's Playhouse and Broward libraries and directed the musical Seussical Jr. at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. She's also a resident at Fort Lauderdale's Sailboat Bend Artists' Lofts — a somewhat hidden gem tucked in residential streets south of Broward Boulevard that offers apartments with studio space to professional artists at a discounted rate.
To snag one of the 37 apartments there, potential tenants must apply and prove they work in a creative field and have low incomes. Rents are priced at 60 percent of market value, so currently, a one-bedroom goes for $825, two bedrooms cost $987, and three bedrooms are $1,141. Depending on what size apartment they want, residents' salaries cannot exceed certain limits. So, an individual wanting to move into a one-bedroom cannot make more than $33,000.
Current residents interview applicants and score them based on their art portfolio and what they can contribute to the community. The idea is to keep the place diverse with photographers, writers, painters, sculptors, and arts educators. The wait to get in typically lasts from two weeks to up to a year, depending on turnover and available space. Every year, residents are required to reapply. They can continue to stay as long as they meet the desired requirements. The community is rather quiet. Families with children live there, so the place isn't conducive to raging parties. But having the creative network in close quarters is the sweetest part of the deal.
The artist lofts are owned by Artspace, a national nonprofit organization that creates affordable housing for artists, which stepped in to help create the units at the urging of a past Broward County cultural affairs director, Mary Becht, in 1998. The state kicks in the 40 percent of the rent not covered by tenants, according to Carrie Staley, the lofts' property manager.
As part of the living arrangements, residents must contribute to art shows at the lofts. So once a month, a new art show goes up inside the lofts' three-level 1310 Gallery, but despite the frequency of shows, attendance is somewhat lackluster. There is an opening reception every third Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m., with a rotation of curators. Since there is no funding for marketing, the show's organizer is tasked with getting the word out on his or her own. Curators can invite any artist to participate; they do not have to live at the lofts.
Since 2009, Street has organized the annual May extravaganza show. This year, she is curating the exhibition "Resilience," which opens Saturday with a reception from 7 to 10 p.m. She anticipates a crowd of about 150.
In the exhibit, the conceptual theme of resilience is portrayed in nearly 50 multimedia works — photography, video, site-specific installation, sculpture, and live performance — that span the gallery's three floors. They examine the ability of individuals to adapt under stress.
And who exemplifies that better than foster children? Included in the exhibit are photographs shot by foster kids involved with Cameras for Kids (CFK), a Broward-based nonprofit. CFK hopes the "Resilience" exhibit will also serve as a fundraiser; proceeds from art sales will be used to buy more cameras for the program.
Kara Starzyk, a Cameras for Kids instructor and freelance photojournalist, will include a photo essay. She shot the day-to-day life of wheelchair-bound Mindy S. through permission with the Ann Storck Center, a group home for the disabled. Mindy, 36, suffered a debilitating stroke at age 11 and has since been paralyzed on one side of her body. Starzyk says Mindy is "really confident and frustrated having other people help her with things that she was once able to do herself."
Starzyk hopes the exhibit will illuminate Mindy in all her complexities: "She has all these life goals and ambitions, drops the f word a lot, and wishes she could quickly overcome her situation," says Starzyk. The photo essay captures Mindy's world — getting ready in the early morning with her caretaker, eating breakfast, and painting. Vexation marks Mindy's face.
In addition to photos, a ten-by-six-foot makeshift "room" installation is included in the show. Inside is a totem pole in which the creator, S. Laraia Dean, has pasted strips of words addressing life occurrences that shape and stretch us. She will leave a notebook near it, inviting people to write down personal messages. The strips are strung up in such a way that they will lead attendees into a makeshift room with one entry and an exit.
Street will give a five-minute monologue in which she'll reveal personal tidbits on what she overcame in the past year. Before, she was content sitting on the sidelines and letting other people take charge, but now she's stepped up and learned to take on a leadership role in her life — a transformation she's proud of, she says.
Other participating visual artists include Susan Buzzi, Andrew Innerarity, Noah Jones, Terri Meredith, Dennica Pearl, Patricia Roldan, Debra Kaszovistz, and loft inhabitant Angela Yang. During the reception, Jacqueline Hazel of Supreme Esteem will perform, and DJ Onestar will spin.