Photos by Asia Morris.
"This is what art is about," said Jacob Hanna, co-owner of Save Art, an organization focused on bringing art, artists and the community together. "It's not about being flashy and getting hip hop records out, it's about affecting people and creating things that could or will change people."
During Thursday's sweltering hot afternoon, artist Joe Cool, known for creating the artwork on Snoop Dogg's iconic debut album, Doggy Style, stood in front of rows of Safe Refuge clients and employees to give to them an original painting he had made for the local nonprofit.
The piece depicted an ocean of sharks surrounding an island with an inviting-looking house situated on the sand. The sharks, Joe Cool said, represent the temptations rampant outside the center, such as heroin, alcohol and other drugs, while the home, fittingly, represents Safe Refuge.
For 20 years, Safe Refuge, formerly known as the Substance Abuse Foundation of Long Beach, has served more than 20,000 people seeking sobriety in Southern California. The name was changed, according to Marketing Director Arthur Romo, because the nonprofit provides so much more than that, including community housing, job development and employment services.
While artist Joe Cool was never a client, he says the nonprofit helped many of his friends step away from the trials of addiction and create better lives. The artist has been sober himself for 12 years and was touched to have the opportunity to give back and inspire meaningful change.
"I never thought that I could be sober for such a long time. I have a long repertoire of art that I've done, but this one right here is the most important of all," he said. "This right here touches me, because it's helping the people. It's not helping hip hop fans, it's not helping lovers of Snoop Dog, this is for the people, the people that have been through the struggles that I've been through, are still going through, and for the ones that have made it."
Safe Refuge staff member Rachel Price has worked at the nonprofit for just a month. She endured her own struggle with drugs and alcohol then decided she wanted to "give back to not just those who still suffer from drug and alcohol [addiction] but to my community, to people at Safe Refuge."
While she just started, she had worked as a counselor for 11 years and loves what she does. She says that events like this provide empowerment and encouragement for the current residents, just one of many uplifting experiences provided by the home that create a family-like environment.
"Never ever underestimate someone that's going through a struggle because with the right help, the right tools and the right skills they can be successful," she said. "I know that for sure."
Hanna said this will be Save Art's fifth project. The first was a collaboration between nonprofit Pow! Wow! Hawai'i and Hawaiian artist Aaron Kai, the third a creative endeavor with Freddy Negrete, a tattoo artist who learned the trade in Prison. Project Save Art produced a limited edition temporary tattoo of the artist's famous "Smile Now, Cry Later" design, of which the proceeds went to the William James Association, which provides art workshops for inmates.
"The projects are a collaboration between an artist and a charity," explained Hanna. "Every project has an incentive to do something charitable as well as do something that pays the artist back. With Joe, he told us his story, it only made sense to do it with Safe Refuge."