Stacy Underwood wasn’t given the artistic gift to be in gallery in New York City — or so she believes. She just loves art — and helping people.

How she fused the two together is a moving, nearly decade-old story that’s taught her about relationships – and love.

It was the book, “Same Kind of Different As Me,” the tale of an unlikely friendship between an art dealer and a homeless man, that initially sparked the idea for Underwood.

“I was so inspired by it and that’s as far as it went for a while,” she recounts. Underwood says she searched for years to determine how to use art — her passion — and her love of helping. “And that moment came! I‘ve got it now! Art for the Homeless,” she says, as if remembering the light bulb that turned on. “There were programs all over the U.S. but not here. A “kind man” in Austin emailed an outline, but she forged much of her own way.

Underwood contacted Don London, the facilities manager of Stewpot Services, a downtown non-profit that provides hot meals, groceries, clothing, shelter and other programs. London gave her the chance to start art classes in their library. Over nine years of “ebbs and flows,” Underwood still leads the program — heARTworks (“He Works” Through Art) – today.

Art lessons are the draw, but Underwood’s teaching is all about encouragement, driving reluctant artists to push themselves further. “They often stop [working on a piece] and think they are finished. But as their teacher, I realize, ‘Ooh: one more layer, one more detail or color… one more step’ would make the art sing for them or the purchaser. I push them out of love — because I care about them.”

Each year, she — and the artists — get to see the payoff. A one-night-only show (held this year at The Cedars) is where works in many mediums, all began in class, go up for sale. They’re priced from $5 to $180 — on average, around $40. Eighty percent of all proceeds go to the artist and twenty percent goes back to Stewpot. All art is presented with a spoon glued, tied or nailed to it. Underwood says this unites the program and reminds us we’re all not as fortunate, and gives the purchaser a story to tell about how they came about the piece.

A special brunch was held for the clients on Wednesday. They are able to browse and see their art, to feel important and respected — “like a true professional artist for a couple of hours,” Underwood says. “It’s a time to get together, away from the art room, the best day of the year for everyone in program.”


Image courtesy of Stacy Underwood

Keeping On Keeping On
Every Tuesday – part of her weekly routine — Underwood admits she doesn’t always want to go and teach. “But there’s never been a Tuesday I have regretted going downtown,” she says. “And there’s always a moment where I was like, ‘That’s why I went today.’”

The painter and mom of three (her children are 16, 14 and almost 12) says her kids help out during school breaks. “They appreciate and see how important it is to help others,” she explains. “They’ve been going since they were little. They’ve grown up with it, and pray for the clients. It’s a wonderful relationship.” (A “core group” of Underwood’s friends — usually four or five at a time — help, too, with Tuesday lessons).

heARTworks, Underwood explains, has made her a better person. “I was always taught to serve others. But serving is not for others. Serving changes you – for you; you receive the benefit. Your outlook changes, your heart changes and your eyes are opened.”

In the end, Underwood feels, it’s about relationships, fellowships, a pat on the shoulder — a smile: it’s about knowing someone’s name. “It’s not about the art; the friendships are the reason we keep doing what we do. [I’ve made] real friends that I will never forget that have taught me a whole lot about love.”

The annual heARTworks show is Thursday, 5pm – 8pm, at The Cedars (4145 Old Canton Road). Admission is free.