Art Beat: Art That Heals | WMUK

Art Beat: Art That Heals

Mar 18, 2021

Gayle Swank Reyes in her studio
Credit Mary Whalen

When Gayle Swank Reyes began painting pet portraits, she found a lucrative business. People love to have portraits of their adorable cats and dogs, and Reyes loves to paint them.


“It started from the work I did with my students,” Reyes says. “I teach with the Education for the Arts at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. I was painting along with my kids, because I hadn’t painted in oil since I was in college. I chose to do my rescue pit bull, Mia, and did a 30 by 40-inch painting, and absolutely fell in love with the process of oil painting.”

Reyes continued to paint animals for the next couple years as her passion for the genre - and sales - grew.

But there is another business with a hold on Reyes’ heart. Reyes is the owner of Cultivating Creativity, where she leads restorative art activities at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home. Reyes works with young people there to help them address some of their social and emotional needs.

Pet portrait of a cat by Gayle Swank Reyes
Credit Mary Whalen

“There’s a program called Alternative Arts, which goes into some of the alternative schools like WoodsEdge Learning Center and Valley Center School and the school at the Kalamazoo Juvenile Home,” Reyes says. “I really enjoyed the energy of the kids and the creativity. The Juvenile Home teachers and staff are amazing. They really care about the kids and their successes and the choices they are making. I felt like this is a place I’d like to do more.”

Reyes teaches interdisciplinary arts, working with Juvenile Home teachers on projects that connect to other subjects in the children’s curriculum.

“But sometimes I just come in there because they need to paint,” she says. “Or they need to work in clay. They’re just kids. They’re kids. They deserve to get the best education possible.”

For the past twelve years, Reyes has also led teams of artists and young people in Kalamazoo to make murals and sculpture installations at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, Northglade Montessori Elementary, and New Genesis After School Program. She enjoys working in many mediums like ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, and encaustic as well as painting in oil.

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