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gaysavannah_community_lg
profile2WhoWhatWhenWhereWhy&How . . .

Karen Abato
...
a dark-haired, olive-skinned, one-woman powerhouse. She balances her work as an artist, soft-spoken activist and psychotherapist (primarily working with disadvantaged and abused children) while creating remarkable artwork and strengthening the ties that bind her to Savannah’s burgeoning LGBT community. Add to that the passion she shares with her partner, Corey, for gardening, good food and furry critters of all sorts, and you get a snapshot of this multi-talented woman who is constantly in search of new venues of expression and connection. 

 

I’ve known Karen for many years now and have always been in awe of her seemingly boundless energy.  I recently took the opportunity to find out a little more about what makes this girl ‘tick’.  Not terribly comfortable with talking about herself - out of modesty, rather than shyness-Karen grinned and said, “Well okay, here goes. I spent my early childhood on the outskirts of DC, but most of my school years were in the suburbs of Baltimore. I was raised by my beautiful mother who taught me and all of my friends how to tie-dye clothes, recycle, climb trees and appreciate a bare foot existence.”  Karen winks, “She also co-signed my theory that making art was sometimes more important than going to school. I grew up watching her use house paint on scraps of wood and drywall, and now recognize that influence on my predilection for using found wood, discarded metal and renovation scraps in some of the art that I make. Art was my first love and remains the single longest running thread of my life.”

 

I left Maryland as soon as was humanly possible after high school and spent the next 12 years moving around the country, working in the restaurant industry - I love
to cook -  and looking for my place in the world. I grew up in a time and place (after Stonewall, but in a conservative suburb) when coming out as an LGBTQ kid seemed dangerous and foreign. I knew two gay kids besides myself, one was my fourth grade boyfriend (imagine that!) and one was his high school boyfriend. I landed in Northern California in the mid eighties and began a long process of coming out - in layers - in different ways, to different people, in different parts of the country. Now Facebook is the big "second coming out" place - I get to  come out all over again to people who knew me before I really did.

 

I ended up putting down some roots in North Carolina for a while - this was where
I decided to return to college. I finished an abandoned Bachelor’s degree in Winston-Salem and created some lifelong friendships. It was also the beginning of my career working with other people in therapeutic and treatment settings. A couple of years later, I took the plunge and moved to New York to get a Masters in Art Therapy at NYU.

 

When asked about her experience as one of Savannah’s many ‘transplants’ from the North, she gives a coy grin, “ I miss New York - especially having so much access to gay neighborhoods and resources...and experiencing the openness with which the LGBTQ community exists. But, I love Savannah and really appreciate the resources provided here by GaySavannah.com,  FCN, Stand Out Youth, the Gay and Lesbian Film Society, and Pride. There is tremendous spirit in the activism here and what feels like
a community push for equality in a difficult political climate.


gaysavannahWHO has been the biggest influence on your artistic life and the direction you have taken with your artwork?

I have been the most influenced by Francesco Clemente - multiple genres in one lifetime, Georgia O'Keefe - feminist outlaw, and Lucien Freud - imperfect human bodies.


WHAT are your thoughts on the recent series of bullying-related suicides that have taken place around the country?


This spate of gay youth suicides has really cemented the notion I have generally held that LGBTQ culture has to do whatever is necessary to promote self-acceptance - the larger culture will not. I think establishing a gay community center in Savannah would be the best way to begin this process locally.


WHEN did you decide to move to Savannah, under what circumstances and so on...?


I moved here twice, once without work and once to accept a job offer. The last time was in early 2006. It's a physically beautiful town, and I am not a lover of
cold weather.


WHERE is a spot that a gay visitor to Savannah should not miss seeing?


The Sentient Bean is in the middle of town...right next to Forsyth Park; gay friendly, mixed   staff, environmentally conscious owner, good food, great meeting place with local and regional art and affordable music events. It's not a gay coffee shop, but has lots of LGBTQ patrons and staff and an open environment.


profile43WHY did you decide to pursue a career as an Art Therapist--what are the desired outcomes of such therapy and why is it pertinent to this community in particular?


I wanted to study art therapy when I was 15 and read an article about this strange marriage of art and psychology. I got sidetracked, however, and did not complete my masters until I was 40. Art therapy is a way of practicing psychotherapy in which visual art made by the client is the vehicle that promotes self-understanding. Words are less important, unconscious processes guide clients to identify what and how to change to create the lives they want. I imagine an art therapy studio as the perfect place to offer and facilitate groups for the LGBTQ community. Community art, another function of art therapists, is a great way for like minded people to gather and meet, an alternative to the bar scene.


profile23HOW do you envision Savannah's LGBT community evolving over the next few years?


I hope that Savannah's LGBTQ community can gather together to establish a functioning community center, complete with mental and physical health and legal services or referrals, room for groups to meet, support for the youth of our community, comfortable chairs, music, art, film and coffee. Some of these things are available through Stand Out Youth and FCN, but I envision a more comprehensive and accessible center for the whole community, open daily. SOY is an invaluable resource and FCN has generously allowed me to use their offices for a nominal fee so that art therapy can be offered to our community on a sliding scale, but a center would allow us to unify and work together toward true equality.


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Her artwork, which includes paintings, photography and found object pieces, can be seen on her website, kabatoart.com.