Elementary-age students from Sayre School and the East Seventh Street Center created, painted and connected puzzle pieces that became artwork that adorns the walls of The Plantory.
These children from diverse economic backgrounds worked together to make something beautiful. And that is exactly what The Plantory is all about.
A multitenant center for agencies that work for the good of this community, The Plantory provides shared staff, services and mentoring for non-profit and for-profit organizations.
Debra Hensley, a volunteer with the Kentucky Conference for Community and Justice, the birth mother of The Plantory, said this is phase one of a Center for Social Innovation, which will help agencies stay viable while attempting to solve problems in the community.
So, when Hensley looked around the common area of The Plantory, she thought the walls begged for artwork.
"We wanted to collaborate with some of the kids in the neighborhood to do an art project," she said. "I knew this would require supervision, and an artist who is committed to the neighborhood. So I called Georgia Henkel."
Henkel is an art instructor at Sayre School who had worked on an art project at the Lyric Theatre, just down the street from The Plantory.
After looking at the Plantory space, she and fellow Sayre teacher Jarah Jones, decided to try a project that would incorporate puzzle pieces. Henkel contacted Jodie Koch, program director at the East Seventh Street Center, and the project began to roll.
"Sayre is so close to William Wells Brown (Elementary), where most of these children go, it was important to make that connection," Koch said. "All these kids go to schools downtown. It opens their minds as much as possible on both ends."
The instructors first asked students to draw a bird, a tree and a person, Henkel said. The adults then chose five images to be enlarged, traced on wooden panels and cut into pieces.
The students sanded and painted the pieces, learning various techniques along the way.
"The best part was the surprise of not knowing which puzzle piece they were painting," Henkel said.
During a couple of visits to Sayre, "the kids were talking about how many kids they had in their grade and class and comparing their schools," Jones said. "I didn't totally expect that. I thought they would be shy with each other. They saw no differences."
When the painting was done, they pieced their art pieces together to solve the puzzle, Henkel said.
The Plantory hopes to do the same thing. There is space for several organizations or individuals to set up offices there. It has three tenants, but there are three vacant offices and desks set up for individuals who need high-speed Internet access, office equipment, a file cabinet and a conference room.
"They will have voice mail set up, a regular mailing address and someone to answer the phone and all the coffee you can drink," said Shannon Stuart-Smith, the director. The rent is $50 a month to use a desk for a few hours and a meeting room. Office space ranges from $350 to $500 a month. Phone service is $50 a month, but shared services, including WiFi, are included in the rent.
"One of the value-adds that we have is helping them to build their capacity," Hensley said. "So there is mentoring going on."
The Plantory is a new initiative launched and managed by KCCJ, and it is the only one in Kentucky, Stuart-Smith said. "People share expenses, work together and learn from one another," she said.
At the same time, the staff can help with development and grant writing — even introductions to other organizations. Sort of like what Hensley did to fill the need for a decorative common space.
"The school and the center are close neighbors to Plantory," Henkel said, "and I wanted to make a meaningful contribution to a place that represents all of us in our effort to become good citizens.
"The puzzles serve as a metaphor for collaboration toward a greater good," she said.
And by being the first to plant those seeds, the children are leading us.