Pat Mattina is a painter, not a ceramicist, but once a year she glazes a plate to help survivors of domestic violence for REACH Beyond Domestic Violence’s annual gala fund-raiser, where plates designed by some of the Boston area’s finest artists are auctioned.
“Glazes are hard to work with. They’re nothing like paint,” Mattina said. “It goes into the fire and transforms. That’s a beautiful metaphor in so many ways.”
This year’s gala and auction on Oct. 17 will be virtual (although bidding is open now) and that’s not the only thing COVID has changed for REACH and its clients. Indeed, you might say it’s thrown everyone into the fire.
“Sheltering at home can be dangerous for people for whom home is not a safe place,” said REACH’s executive director, Laura R. Van Zandt. “Safety valves have been taken away — someone loses a job — and it escalates danger.”
The agency runs a shelter that houses up to eight families and offers community services around MetroWest, reaching 6,000 people a year. It’s part of Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, a network of 55 community organizations across the state.
During the lockdown, clients in REACH’s shelter were moved to hotels. Now, the shelter can host four families and puts four more up at a hotel. Social distancing has thrown a wrench into peer groups, and video conferencing isn’t an option, because it’s not secure enough. REACH staffers work more one-on-one with clients, helping them find places to live or get into the workforce, and providing them support in court.
“We have bilingual advocates on the phone help people with applications for housing or benefits,” Van Zandt said. “We used to be able to sit together at a desk. It’s a lot harder to do remotely.”
The gala fund-raiser, then, seems all the more urgent. The benefit began in 2004, when the Waltham Battered Women Support Committee Inc. changed its name to REACH — an acronym for refuge, education, advocacy, and change.
“They decided they wanted to auction off plates, so they brought me in,” said art collector Audrey Foster, who with her husband endowed the James and Audrey Foster Prize at the Institute of Contemporary Art, which recognizes Boston-area artists. She’s on REACH’s advisory board.
“I said I know a few artists,” Foster said.
Mattina took on the job of artist liaison. Over the years, she and Foster have invited artists with international followings, such as Rachel Perry, Judy McKie, and Eva Lundsager, to design plates. In past years, some have been sculptural — Perry adorned a crack in a damaged plate with a tiny doll-like figure.
“These are unique works of art, and we never got that kind of attention, never got the art community to really pay attention,” Foster said. “Unless you came to the auction and saw the plates.”
This year, though, plates by artists such as Lucy Kim, Joe Wardwell, and Bill Thompson can be seen online, along with more run-of-the-mill benefit auction items including pet portraits and a vacation in France.
In past years, survivors of domestic violence have also contributed plates. That’s not the case this year. COVID has thrown kinks into the whole process.
“Usually, we start meeting in January, gather our thoughts: Is there a theme? And my work is complete by April, May,” Mattina said. “But this year it was much later.”
In the end, they nixed the idea of a theme. “We were tossing around ‘thinking outside the box,’ ” Mattina said. “Little did we know how much it would turn out that way.”
Van Zandt sees the auction, and the plates themselves, as a way of educating the public.
“A lot of what we do is in secret,” she said. “If we’re doing this work to change the world but too busy saving lives through secrecy, how do we create a space, bring people in, talk about it, and send them out to talk to their neighbors?”
The plates can prompt those conversations. “Serve cheese and crackers on your plate, and someone says, ‘That’s an interesting plate,’ ” Van Zandt said. “And you say, well, ‘I went to this event, and this is what I learned.’ ”
Making plates for REACH hasn’t turned Mattina into a ceramic artist. But it has brought her other satisfactions. “It gives me the opportunity to be a messenger, to spread the word,” she said. “I can be a part of this greater light, shining out at the darkest of times.”
17TH ANNUAL REACH FOR THE STARS GALA
Oct. 17, 6:30 p.m. https://e.givesmart.com/events/dnA/