By James Dungeon
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Jody Miller, member of Arts Prescott Cooperative Gallery, 134 S. Montezuma St., 928-776-7717, ArtsPrescott.Com, whose annual charity show opens with an artists’ reception on Nov. 24 and runs through Christmas.]
What is the Arts Prescott Cooperative’s annual charity show and how did it get started?
The gallery, itself, opened in 1994 and, ever since, there’s been a charity fundraiser show from Thanksgiving to Christmas. It’s kind of the gallery’s way of giving back to the community that’s supported it over the years. … The process goes like this: A couple of months before the holidays, members of the gallery do a sales pitch at the general meeting of a charity they think is deserving of support. The members get a month to think it over, then come back and vote. This year, it’s the charity that I pitched, Bethany’s Gait. In past years, there’ve been a lot of different groups. Last year it was Skyview School, which I think was the first time we supported a school. The year of the big fire, we did a fundraiser for the town of Yarnell. We’ve done groups like Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Yavapai Food Bank, and Hungry Kids. We try to do a different one every year and cover areas of the community we feel like are helping.
You pitched Bethany’s Gait. How did you come across that group?
As a horse photographer, I’m always looking for organizations that work with horses and might need financial assistance. I suggested Bethany’s Gait because they do equine therapy for veterans and first responders, which was something new for me. I’ve seen equine therapy for young kids and people with disabilities and handicaps — we have quite a few of those in this area — but I’d never seen one that does veterans. I just thought that we have a very large veteran community here and a very large retirement community, and we have the veterans’ hospital, so it’s a great fit. … Taking a step back, I feel like horses have helped me during emotional times. That’s why I continue to photograph them. I feel like they’re really kind, gentle animals. A lot of people are scared of them, but fortunately I’m not one of them. I find them very comforting creatures. I understand why they’re used for different therapeutic techniques.
How does the fundraising show work?
The 24 members of Arts Prescott all donate a piece to the show. It hangs the day before Thanksgiving, and opening night always coincides with the 4th Friday Art Walk, and it runs from that Black Friday launch through Christmas. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to the charity. We also reach out to the community and other artists to donate work, so it’s not just gallery artists whose work is for sale. I’ve already started receiving pieces from other artists. Anything that doesn’t sell is donated to the charity for future fundraisers. When you buy a piece, you pick it up that day. We’ll continue to take pieces throughout the entire show and put them up as pieces sell and go off the wall, so there’s not a strict submission deadline. … Most of the pieces sell from around $30 for a necklace or earrings all the way up to $1,000 for an original painting. As such, the amount of money raised by the show varies year to year. The checks we’ve written the last couple of years have been in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, but that doesn’t include the unsold artwork from the show donated to the charity for future fundraisers.
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Cristi Rose, founder and executive director of Bethany’s Gait Ranch for Heroes, who’ll receive 100 percent of proceeds from Arts Prescott Cooperative Gallery’s 2017 charity show. Find out more at BethanysGait.Org.]
So what is Bethany’s Gait and how long has it been around?
We’re a horse rescue that does rehabilitation of veterans and first responders and their families. We’ve been in the Prescott area since 2012, and before that we were in California for six years. … We ended up here because my husband was in the Marine Corps in California and, when he got out, he said he couldn’t take living in that awful state for another second. He’s from Kentucky, and I didn’t want to go there, so we settled on Prescott.
That explains the military connection. The rescue didn’t start that way, though, did it?
It kind of evolved into that. We started back in 2006 serving foster children, which had been my intention for a long time, going back 15 years before that. I was at Crystal Peaks (Youth Ranch) in Bend, Ore. and I saw their rescue. There was a little girl named Bethany there at a horse camp on the weekends and saw how she lit up when she was around horses. I thought someday I wanted to make that experience available for kids like Bethany 24/7. Once a week didn’t seem like enough. So, we started there. It evolved into working with active military because of my husband. For 24 years he was a marine and saw guys coming back with PTSD and sitting in an office talking about their feelings wasn’t working for them. He said, gosh, I’ve seen how well the kids do with the horses; what if we put together a program that helped people in the military? We were right outside the gates of Camp Pendleton, so active duty made sense. When we decided to move here, we realized it was mostly veterans right away. We also saw other groups in the area like Horses with H.E.A.R.T., so we knew those bases were already covered. … You know, the whole thing started with rescuing horses. When I met Kim and Troy Meter up at Crystal Peaks, I knew immediately that I wanted to start working with a horse rescue. Working with kids resonated with me, so that’s where I started. As I said, the active-duty military and then veterans were just a few more steps from there. Having these broken people work with broken horses really helps both the people and the horses. It’s all really coming from the same place. Helping veterans adds some cool dynamics to the mix.
What’s the biggest challenge of doing this kind of work?
Honestly, it’s probably funding. A lot of the veterans are OES, OIS veterans and most of them are disabled in some way, whether it’s mental or physical, and money isn’t something that comes easily for them. A lot of them have families and are trying to support them with whatever they’re getting from the V.A. Or other sources. Some can do little part time jobs or find other ways of getting money. Some of their wives are working. The primary thing regarding us, though, is that we offer our services free or for a small stipend. … The average horse costs about $300 a month when you work in all the veterinary care and fly masks and that kind of stuff. The tack does wear out, so there’s that on top of that, plus you’ve got to have the property to keep them on, or else you end up paying someone else for the space. … We have the capacity for ten horses, so that’s how many we usually have and it works well for the program. We don’t constantly rescue, but we do what we can. We just adopted out a horse from rehab that we got five years ago and realized that, hey, he didn’t enjoy this work and wanted to be a one-person horse. Having 10 horses is a lot, but it’s necessary for what we do, too. In California we actually had 20. At Bethany’s Gait we’re more about quality than quantity. We could do this six days a week all day long and have 100 clients a month, but we’d be just barely spending any time with them. It’s kind of like that little girl throwing a couple of starfish back in the ocean. We’ve found that just touching someone isn’t enough. To really make a difference, you have to put the time in. … And unto that end, we added first responders and the families of first responders. It’s not just for the veterans or first responders — this is for their spouses and children, too. We primarily work through a retreat model. We have four days of intense work with not just the horses, but also with people leading sessions. It’s about reintegrating back into society. With the spouses it’s about helping them understand the new normal for their partner and how to keep themselves and their kids safe. We do marriage retreats, too, with the Prescott Relationship Center — they do the classroom part, and we do the retreat part. One more thing we do on a regular basis is a mentorship program for the children. They’ll come out and get paired with a horse. About 90 percent of the time, the child picks a horse that’ll work, but we steer them another direction if we think a particular horse is too much. Anyway, with their mentor, they learn how to care for their horse from the ground up and how to ride. It’s an awesome thing for them. These kids might not know how to talk about feelings, but caring for a horse brings something out of them.
How did you hear about the Arts Prescott fundraising show and that you’d be this year’s recipient?
Jody contacted me last year and she pitched us in 2016. When she told me we didn’t get it, I figured that was that. You know, that happens sometimes, not a big deal. So when she told me I was surprised. I didn’t even realize we were in the running again. … We’re so thrilled, too, because art is something we really believe in. It’s an important part of healing. It’s fun to do, especially with kids, and can be quite therapeutic. In the same way that we see people express a different side of themselves with horses, they express different sides of themselves with art. I just love that idea. … The money raised will probably go toward retreats or horse care, but we always ask someone when they’re making a donation, if they want the money to go toward a particular aspect of Bethany’s Gait. We use a lot of volunteers, in fact we’re almost entirely staffed by volunteers. If anyone is looking for volunteer opportunities, that’d be great. Right now we probably have 10 solid volunteers. What we really need is people to help with events. … You know, if someone had told me when we started 11 years ago that we’d be serving veterans and first responders in Prescott, Arizona I would’ve laughed, but I’m so happy that’s what we’re doing.
Visit Arts Prescott Cooperative Gallery at 134 S. Montezuma St., 928-776-7717, ArtsPrescott.Com. The annual fundraising show opens with an artists’ reception during the 4th Friday Art Walk, Nov. 24, and runs through Christmas.
Find out more about Bethany’s Gait Ranch for Heroes at BethanysGait.Org.
See more of Jody Miller’s equine fine art at JodyLMiller.Com.
James Dungeon is a figment of his own imagination. And he likes cats. Contact him at JamesDungeoCats@Gmail.Com.