|Proceeds from bags made from recycled materials benefit victims of human trafficking.|
Tucked into the corner of Las Olas Boulevard and Tarpon Drive sits Upper Room Gallery, an airy, eclectic space with an understated storefront -- easy to pass, though worth the stop. Lamps of bamboo and organic paper by Filipino artist Wendy Fernando Regalado hang from the walls in shapes that vaguely and beautifully resemble fish, and wooden chairs and benches dot the perimeter of the space, functional fine art by another Filipino artist, Benji Reyes.
|Painting by Mark Merrill|
Abstract paintings and photographs by the gallery's founder, Robin
Merrill, and floral paintings by her husband, Mark, accompany the works
of other featured artists in a mix of media and styles crowned by the
silver and multicolored glittery plastic chair that sits at the
entrance like a pretty, even desirable, sore thumb, assuming that's
The gallery, worth a stroll even for those naive of its mission, is a
"nonprofit global collective" that caters to artists who work with
"recycled materials and who are concerned with global poverty, social
justice, and enviornmental issues," according to its website. Upper Room
Gallery is a business subsidiary of Robin's nonprofit Christian Cultural
The gallery space also houses Mission Gifts, a marketplace of handmade
goods that supports women who have escaped prostitution in the
Phillipines and other countries and the shelters and rescue centers that care for
these women and others. Reclaimed flour sack aprons, shoulder bags of repurposed
rice sacks, and wine carriers made from recycled materials look surprisingly
trendy displayed on racks and in baskets. It's the "this is not a
plastic bag" movement without a catchy phrase. And who would ever guess
that rice sacks come in such vibrant colors and prints -- bright pinks
and greens, mermaids, and fish.
The idea for Mission Gifts grew out of Robin's experience living in the
Philippines for 15 years. As she was doing outreach helping prostitutes
in Manila, she says she realized that "the sex industry is an economy" and
that these women will return to prostitution if they do not have another way
to make a living. Robin says the Mission Gifts items made by former
prostitutes provide them with a modest temporary income as they look for
other work. Mission Gifts items come from all over -- Cambodia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Nepal, India. Shopping and browsing is not only a
tactile and aesthetic experience; it's a lesson in social justice.
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