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It’s part “show and tell,” part story time and part support group.

Art Kaleidoscope is a monthly open forum for artists of all kinds to gather and share their work — and much more.

Hosted by Lisa Bennett at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Art Kaleidoscope brings together a variety of artists with a wide range of backgrounds and experience, working in diverse media, to create a nurturing communal group providing feedback, giving advice and simply appreciating each other’s talents.

Bennett drew inspiration for Art Kaleidoscope from similar groups in New York City, which brings together artists to share their work and experiences in casual gatherings. She began the event in January 2011, funded through a small grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

The format is simple: each artist gets five to 10 minutes to present up to five pieces of his or her work. Some bring Power Point presentations, others pass around their canvas; you hear about inspiration, humorous anecdotes and partially-developed ideas. It’s like watching the creative process in action.

Audience participation is encouraged and expected. Questions, compliments, suggestions; the artists gratefully accept them all. To the credit of the artists making the presentations, this interaction gives a public facet to their art, a unique collaboration of sorts.

Typically the viewer sees art in a show or museum with little chance to interact directly with the artist. At Art Kaleidoscope, the viewer and artist can become engaged in a dialogue, sharing thoughts and opinions.

Often we envision the work of the artist in solitude, in a studio guided by only their own thoughts. However, at the Art Kaleidoscope, the room quickly becomes a community, sharing updates and announcements of upcoming events in the local arts community. Ideas are shared and collaborations develop; a lively discussion on merits of acrylic versus oil paint erupts; all input is welcome.

Media represented throughout the year at Art Kaleidoscope include painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, film, music, fashion and writing. The April 30 Art Kaleidoscope featured three local artists who shared their talents with the audience.

Illustrator Dalaysa Chisholm presented her drawings of a series of comics in development. Her wit had the crowd laughing as she described her characters and storylines. Inspired by the elves of the “Lord of the Rings” series and favorite Comedy Central channel series, she uses colored drawing pencils to create her storyboards. Most inspirational was her personal story of living with autism, which was particularly relevant during National Autism Month. Dalaysa encouraged others to “show the world your talents . . .show that you are brave, brilliant and strong.”

Jo Ann Neal shared her vibrant acrylic paintings. Her self-described “Afro-centric, geometric, whimsical” art, featured a wide range of subjects. As an artist living with rheumatoid arthritis, she faces a physical challenge, which she appears to embrace. In “ARTritis” she depicts a gnarled hand with black and blue colors to portray her pain caused by the disease, yet includes a paintbrush to show the bright happy colors springing forth as her salvation.

With “Amazing Plus” Neal gave the group a lesson on global architecture by including the skylines of the world’s largest buildings and man-made islands. Her “Beauties” series focuses upon diversity within the commonly accepted icons of beauty. Full-figured ballerinas and African-American mermaids alongside women in traditional ethic costume all challenged the conventional depictions of beauty. Neal’s art carries the common threads of bold colors and emphasis on shape and form.

Bridget Carson, a recent student of Tyler School of Art, paints in oils. Her canvases display the development of her current series, which incorporates traditional still-life scenes with overlays of video game images of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Interestingly, Carson herself is not a gamer, but has drawn inspiration from her childhood. She instead appreciates the aesthetics of the video game imagery. She has begun to include her interest in Japanese culture and combining these images with the cartoon-like video game characters. It was intriguing to see the evolution of her series of work.

Art Kaleidoscope is not just a gathering for artists. Community members with an interest in art and the local art community are also welcome to participate. Artists and others can express opinions and ask questions, often providing a fresh perspective or insight. The discussion at Art Kaleidoscope is refreshing to hear because much of art commentary can be focused on the critical or negative. However, the input here comes across as more constructive, allowing the artists, both amateur and professional, to work through their creative processes with the support and encouragement of a like-minded audience.

Art Kaleidoscope is from 7 to 9 p.m. on the last Tuesday of each month at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore, 1302 N 3rd St., Harrisburg.

For more information on Art Kaleidoscope and its participants or to sign up ,go to http://artkaleidoscopehbg.com. The next event will be on June 25. Email Lisa Bennett, the director and host of Art Kaleidoscope, at info@artkaleidoscopehbg.com with any additional questions.

Joseph George holds a degree in history and art history from Dickinson College. Barrie Ann George is the development coordinator for the Susquehanna Art Museum. They have spent much of their 20 years together travelling and visiting art galleries locally and throughout the world. Their tastes range from fine art to street art.

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